Dr Bob’s Guide to Winning Majors

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Brutal rough, deep grass, long holes, short holes, sand traps, church pews, slopey greens, slick greens, narrow fairways, fast fairways.

Whichever way you look at it, Oakmont is going to batter the players this week at the US Open.

Years ago Sam Snead said of Oakmont’s greens: "I once tried to mark my ball, but the coin slid off."

Lee Trevino’s take was that, "Every time I two-putt one of these greens, I know I'm passing people."

It’s clear then: this week is not just about beating the field, it’s also about dealing with the course.

And Dr Bob Rotella knows it. 

In a newly released video Rotella, one of the foremost thinkers about the game, says of top class golfers playing the majors: “The real opponent is themselves and the golf course.”

Rotella has worked with both of this year’s Ryder Cup captains, Davis Love III and Darren Clarke, who credit him with helping them close out victories. In the video (see below) the three discuss the difficulties faced by golfers performing at the highest level.

It’s a subject Rotella specifically addressed to major championship golf a few years ago.

Rotella has worked with U.S. Open winners Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk, and he says that the importance of mental approach can start as high as 20% on the Monday of major week, dip to as low as 3% on the Wednesday and reach a peak of 95% by the Sunday evening. 

His study for HSBC focussed on the Open Championship, but his thoughts easily transfer to this week’s U.S. Open test at Oakmont.

“It’s a very tough week,” said Rotella. “Early on there will be some worry or anxiety about your game but by Wednesday you are looking to go from getting your physical game in shape to getting your mental game ready.

“You have to be mentally ready for anything – terrible weather, the bad side of the draw, anything that the week throws at you. You really don’t know what you are going to get.”

He was talking of links golf but it applies equally to the vagaries of the tests the U.S.G.A. likes to throw at players – how quick and how hard will they allow the greens to become? how deep will they permit the rough to be? how fast will the fairways run?

“Players have been preparing for this moment all their life,” Rotella goes on, “but the more you want it and the bigger a deal you make it, the harder it is to imagine winning it. It is easy to try too hard, to care too much and to let that get in your way because you want it so badly.

“Players have to ask: ‘Can I come down to the last couple of holes and make myself do something I know I can already do? Am I going to let myself do this?’ And it’s that little bit of doubt – they are not scared to death, it’s more likely they are trying too hard to do everything perfectly.”

Here was Rotella’s Ten Point Guide to winning a major:

1 Build a clear and comfortable mental picture of yourself winning

2 Adopt the attitude that nothing is going to bother or upset you – you’re unstoppable if you’re unflappable

3 You’ve been training for this since you were a child – now go out and enjoy it

4 Be patient and accept every shot – from the first tee shot to the last putt

5 Trust your imagination – it will take you a long way

6 Mental toughness and emotional resilience will get you through

7 You’ve done your homework, now play your game – don’t try and be perfect

8 Be decisive and totally committed to every shot you play

9 Be in a state of mind where process is more important than outcome

10 Embrace the challenge – weather, course conditions, the whole lot

And here is Rotella in person, discussing golf’s mind games with this year’s Ryder Cup captains Davis Love III and Darren Clarke in a video from Standard Life Investments –