Mark Immelman with Dr. Bob Rotella on Golf, The Golfer’s Mind and How…
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Mark Immelman with Dr. Bob Rotella on Golf
The Golfer’s Mind and How….
Dr. Bob Rotella is one of the foremost golf coaches in the game. Specializing in Sports Psychology, Dr. Bob is consistently recognized as the leading mind in his field. Rotella joins the podcast to share thoughts and insights to help you navigate the challenges of being mentally astute on the course and in competition. He speaks about nerves, routines, visualization, temper and the balance between trying too hard and not trying enough. Rotella also talks about various leading PGA TOUR professionals, what they do to excel mentally, and what you can learn of them.
Introduction with Mark Immelman:
I am Mark Immelman. Yes, I am a college golf coach. I’m a golf instructor. I’m a broadcaster. And I am the host of On The Mark Podcast.
As a college coach, I really strive to be a coach who develops human beings into better people, who just happen to become better golfers. I am very interested in our young golfer’s character more than anything else. A part of that is helping players to emotional roundedness, to mental wellbeing. All of these elements that you can’t necessarily quantify. In my opinion, I love Bob Jones, he is my hero. He references that 5 inches between your ears, that is the most important fairway there is. Your 15th Club, as certain folks call it! Understanding the mind and how the mind works.
“Competitive Golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course….the space between your ears.”
~ Bob Jones
I have been fortunate in my career to have spent some time around Dr. Bob Rotella, who is one of the thought leaders. He was ranked as one of the top 10 golf teachers of the 20th century! He has written numerous best selling books. Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect is one of the best selling golf psychology books of all time. He doesn’t just work with athletes and top flight golfers. Bob Rotella also works with leading business people and organizations. Everyone seeks him out to help figure out what’s going on between the ears, to get the attitude straight, and help with visualizations, and also those other elements that help high achievers achieve consistently.
Welcome to Dr. Bob Rotella:
Mark Immelman: The Dr. Bob Rotella I know is a mentor, someone I would turn to for advise all the time. Before I get into too many questions, I want to dig into your theory and how you perceive how the mind works.
How Does the Mind Work?
Dr. Bob Rotella: The bottom line is as athletes, we have a free will, and we get to choose how we want to think about ourselves. We get to choose how we perceive ourselves. We get to choose how we perceive our golf swings and our talent and our game.
You just seem to do a lot better if you are in a great state of mind, rather than an average or mediocre state of mind.
Positive thinking doesn’t guarantee that you are going to be successful, but it guarantees that you are going to find out if you can play at the level you want to play. When you are negative, you don’t get to find out. You don’t know if it is your game, or your talent, or your attitude.
You basically have to learn how to stay in the present moment and get your head in a good place. Even at the top level, it is a challenge to think of nothing but where you want the ball to go.
Mark Immelman: As you are talking, it gets me thinking of the two things I have learned from you, and what I think of as the capstones. You reference your outlook. You shared a quote with me: “What people becomes depends largely on what they think of themselves.” You have also said to me time and time again that the mental games needs to be worked on, it needs to be trained, just as much as the physical aspects of the game.
Dr. Bob Rotella: It is very intriguing that people think they have to work on their physical swing. But don’t think they should have to work on their mental or emotional game. I think a lot of people just want to say “It’s just the way I am.”
We are very much a victim of habit, as human beings. The bottom line is that you have to get people to create good habits. To create good habits, you have to do it on a consistent basis, day after day. Eventually, it starts to become habitual to have an optimistic outlook and think positively.
Mental Game vs. Physical Game
Mark Immelman: Would you say that working on the mental elements and exercising yourself there is harder than getting out there and working on the putting strokes and spending time on the driving range?
Dr. Bob Rotella: It is actually easier to work on the mental elements, because you can sit in a chair, lie in bed, or go for a walk and work on those elements. But it is probably harder for most people because it is a lot easier to LIE about what is going on inside your head. In other words, we can’t take a picture of it. It doesn’t show up on TV. You are the only one who REALLY knows what you’re thinking. You have to be very honest with yourself.
People often ask me what is the number one thing I see in players who are successful. And it’s how unbelievably honest they are. They know the difference between missing a shot, and missing a shot because they had some doubt or fear in their head, or got distracted.
I don’t know how….but the golf ball knows what you’re thinking!
Mark Immelman: Two observations. I interviewed Jason Day at the Genesis Open (2017). He was driving it all over LA. I asked him about it afterward, and he said to me “Honestly, I just needed to clean up myself mentally.” I found that intriguing.
I think of a quote Byron Nelson made. He said, “If I ever want to hit the ball high, I think high. If I want to hit it low, I think low.”
Dr. Bob Rotella: [Timestamp: 11:50] Yep, that is the bottom line. Deep down they all know its there. But you need the ability to trust yourself when you’re in a tournament.
The one thing you can do it to commit and trust your routine and your process. It is amazing how many people justify being indecisive because their swing is not where they want it. They will say, “When I get it in the slot, then I will think good.” Anybody can do that!
On tour, about 40% of time their game isn’t where they want it, and you’ve got to be able to score regardless. At some point, you’ve got to have belief that you can get the ball in the hole. It really doesn’t have much to do with your skills once you’re on the golf course. Once you’re on the course, you’ve got to take what you’ve got and go play with it.
Golf and Imagination
Mark Immelman: You have a wonderful way of making it reactive and athletic when working with a player. You will stand on the range with a good player and help get them into the visualization process. Please, share that with the listeners.
Dr. Bon Rotella: It is about hitting golf shots, instead of working on your swing. It is really a matter of making sure you understand that when you get in competition and on a golf course, you’ve got to be able to hit golf shots. You’ve got to keep your imagination alive.
Most people have a lot of imagination when they are little kids, but overtime they learn how to do everything with the conscious brain. To be a good golfer you have to learn to do it with your imagination and your subconscious brain. It takes a lot of trust to do that.
Information Era vs Imaginative Thought
Mark Immelman: In the era of information, where almost everything is quantifiable, do you think that for the lay golfer that it is hard to look upon things with such imaginative, childlike, responsive, opened sort of mind?
Dr. Bob Rotella: Oh yeah. I think it’s hard. When I was a kid, my dad bought me a 50 page book on How to Shoot a Basketball. No one has disagreed with anything in that book since 1959. You can go to any country in the world and people will use the same language, same vocabulary, and would agree on the techniques. There is no war on the correct technique of shooting a basketball.
Now, in golf….there is no uniform agreement on what a correct golf swing is. You would think there IS a war going on! You can basically get a different lesson form a different teacher every day for the next 10 years and every day it would be a different lesson. I think that makes it very difficult for people to really go practice one approach.
Mind, Body, Soul
Mark Immelman: You having had a big influence on me, being a golf instructor, of having an overall picture and not just the physical element of golf. I am firmly of the belief that mind, body, spirit, soul…if it is jiving then the player is able to deliver nicely. But if there is incoherence somewhere, then things start working against each other.
Dr. Bob Rotella: We tend to make the mistake of pretending — You are the golf instructor, I am the sports psychologist. You work on the body and I work on the brain. As though the body and brain are separate entities.
I don’t know where the mind ends and the body starts. All I know is they are unbelievable intertwined and interconnected. You have to have them both at a very nice place in order to do the things you teach.
I think it is fascinating that Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, became the best selling sports book in history….not just in golf….but in all sports! People loved it and told their friends to read it. Then they would say, “It’s a really good book, but this doesn’t explain anything about the golf swing.” BUT all of his students became really good golfers, because he made it so simple. He didn’t want people to be confused. And one of the unique things is, he never made anybody worse, he always made people better. That is the danger when you start making it too complicated.
At some point, you get the point of being an athlete means you are unconsciously reacting to a target or a pitcher or trajectory, etc.
Mark Immelman: I want to talk about visualization because I know you are big on that one.
Dr. Bob Rotella: First off, there are a lot of different ways to visualize. I think we tend to take it very literally and think “I have to stand behind the ball, I have to see the golf ball fly through the air and land.” If you just pick a target out in the distance, you don’t have to tell your brain ‘That is where I want the ball to go.’ You don’t have to actually see it in your mind. Your brain is so brilliant that if you pick a target it automatically knows you want the ball to go there.
In golf we make visualizing into this hard, serious thing that you have to do. When it is really a very unconscious activity. I want to make it as simple as possible. I want people to do whatever comes most natural.
I’ve heard a lot of different descriptions of it. Some actually see it. Some see it in black and white, some in color. Like with putting… you have some people say they see a laser burn in the green, you have other say they see a slide in the ground, and still others will say it is like there is a magnet under the ground. There are a lot of ways people see things that are very unique to them. Whatever comes naturally as long as it is consistent with where you want the ball to go.
What you DON’T want to be doing is thinking about where you DON’T want the ball to go!
Mark Immelman: Ok, say you have one of those second pin positions. You shouldn’t be going there, and you are trying to aim away, but your mind is wondering back to the flag? I hear what you are saying. You don’t have to think about the target, it’s just there.
Dr. Bob Rotella: I would say that is where most double crosses happen. It is a mental discipline. If your target is 15 steps left of the flag, you have to be picking a target that is over there and you have to have the discipline to look at YOUR target, and not the flag. The flag is only your target if you are shooting at it.
It is a mental discipline and you have to practice it a lot.
Mark Immelman: What about the listener that is say “I don’t have a pre-shot routine.” What would your recommendation be?
Dr. Bob Rotella: The first thing I would say is….You need to get one! I would make it as short and simple as possible. I don’t care if you stand behind the ball or stand next to it. But don’t step up to the ball until you’ve picked a target and committed to the shot you are going to hit.
Then, if I had my choice, I would say take one look and one waggle or two looks and two waggles. (The longer you take, the more disciple you have to have to not get distracted.)
Whether it is a waggle, or a knee kick, or a head turn….but you need something as a trigger that is really simple for you to do that keeps you moving.
The second thing I want to tell you about routine is, that it is amazing in my mind how many people have a putting routine, but they won’t have a routine when pitching. You want to have a routine with every part of your game. I don’t care if it is a little different for long game verses putting verses pitching.
The simplest thing I can say is go sit down in your room and write, down physically and mentally, what your routine is for every part of your game. Then go out and practice doing that. If any other thought gets in your mind, walk away and start over. If you start taking an extra waggle, stop and walk away and start over. Really discipline yourself to mentally and physically commit to the routine until you can do it with every club in your bag ALL of the time.
Mark Immelman: I want your take on temper. Folks getting irate about shots not going their way.
Dr. Bob Rotella: First off, before a person goes to the first tee I want them to admit that “Golf is a game of mistakes and they are going to make plenty of mistakes.”
Secondly, you’ve got to be prepared with “How am I going to respond to my mistakes?” Are you going to beat yourself up and decide they are stupid and you are a joke? Or are you just going to accept the mistake.
People need to prepare their mind that they are going to make mistakes, but you are not going to be bothered by it. A lot of people want to give their mistakes meaning.
Just like when you work with someone on their golf swing, you are trying to increase predictability. We want people to be more predictive of what their emotions are going to be and where their minds are going to be.
Most great players have been pretty calm and don’t overreact to situations.
Mark Immelman: Here are a few questions that has been Tweeted to us especially for you.
Q: How does the golfer get into the proverbial zone?
A: I don’t think you “get in the zone” intentionally. The zone is something that happens 1/10th of 1 percent of all the time that you play golf. Become a good golfer is all about how good you play when you are NOT in the zone. Once in a blue moon you might slip into a “zone” and all you can really do is help encourage its possibilities by:
- having a good routine
- staying in the present moment
- being very accepting
….and you might have a moment once and a while.
When people want to “chase the zone”, it is a big mistake. You will drive yourself crazy if you are upset every time you are not in the zone.
Q: Why do people tend to think negative and get more afraid when they are under pressure?
A: Basically, it is fear and doubt. When people are afraid that things are not going to turn out the way the would like it to turn out they start to get very negative.
That’s why in my last book, How Champions Think, I talk a lot about role of optimism. I think it is so important that you can see yourself winning tournaments in the future, that all of your work on the game is going to get rewarded somewhere down the line. The more comfortable you are with good things happening, you can make mistakes and not care. It is really, accepting the fact that this is a game of mistakes by its nature, and as a human being you are prone to error.
I think when people panic they start convincing themselves that, “No one else is going to make a mistake. I’m the only idiot making a mistake.” Then they start beating themselves up and start to panic.
The neat thing about golf is….the other people on the course don’t have to have any impact on you at all. You’re just playing yourself and the golf course.
Q: When a golfer gets to Worlds #1, what advise would you offer to remain focused and motivated?
A: First, I would ask if your only goal was to get to #1 or do you have bigger ideas in your head?
Secondly, have the conversation about, you are #1 in the world because you earned it, and you deserve it. You don’t have to prove to anybody that you belong there. A lot of people say they feel pressure to live up to that title. You got there by your performance. Enjoy it!
The mistake people make is they are worried about loosing it now that they’ve got it. Just go play your game. You wouldn’t be #1 if you weren’t good.
I would like it if people used it to take pressure OFF themselves. Thinking, “Ok, now I know my stuff works at the highest level, now I just have to go ahead and be in the best mindset that I have been in recently on a regular basis.
When you are at your best, write down: What are you doing with your practice? What are you doing with your teacher? What are you doing with your mind and emotions? Then you can go back to it.
Q: You reference your most recent book and the great tips you have in there. One of those great tips is walking the fine line between caring too much and not caring enough. Please talk more on that.
A: First of all, you have to have a lot of self-awareness and figure out “Am I am really serious, hard-working dude, with some perfectionistic tendencies, who is more than likely to mess up because I care too much and try too hard? OR Am I a lazy, good-for-nothing who doesn’t put anything into it, tends to get lazy and not prepare or practice?”
Once you figure out who you are, it is easier to work in the direction you need to go in. The problem is most people tend to think they are the people who don’t get serious enough or try hard enough. And the lazy, good-for-nothing bums tend to be the other way around, and think they are really serious and hard working.
Wrap Up With Mark Immelman:
I want to share one of antidotes Dr. Bob Rotella always mentions:
“Play to play great. Do not play not to play poorly.”
~DR. BOB ROTELLA
“Love the challenge of the day, whatever it might be.”
~DR. BOB ROTELLA
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