Dr. Bob Rotella has long been recognized as a leading figure in sports psychology. As director of sports psychology for 20 years at the University of Virginia, Dr. Rotella helped popularize the field of performance enhancement by giving practical, down to earth advice that could be understood and used by athletes, corporate executives, and truly everyone else. His work with professional golfers and his best selling book, Golf is Not a Game of Perfect (Simon & Schuster: 1995), helped demystify sports psychology for the general public.
Dr. Rotella’s latest book, The Golfer’s Mind: Play to Play Great (Free Press: 2004), is a follow-up handbook to Golf is Not a Game of Perfect and his three other golf books. As Rotella states, he teaches the “psychology of greatness.” Rotella believes that all golfers have the latent potential to become much better and that training the mind is essential to this improvement.
He offers his Ten Commandments for playing great golf. These following commandments are applicable to golfers of all abilities:
I. Play to play great. Don’t play to play poorly.
II. Love the challenge of the day, whatever it may be.
III. Get out of results and get into process.
IV. Know that nothing will bother or upset you on the golf course, and you will be in a great state of mind for every shot.
V. Playing with a feeling that the outcome doesn’t matter is almost always preferable to caring too much.
VI. Believe fully in yourself so that you can play freely.
VII. See where you want the ball to go before every shot.
VIII. Be decisive, committed, and clear.
IX. Be your own best friend.
X. Love your wedge and your putter.
Rotella presents practical advice about commitment, trust, confidence, patience, and pre-shot routine throughout the 29 short chapters in The Golfer’s Mind. Rotella concludes each chapter with a summary list of the main points he has covered. These “Thoughts to Play By” provide a practical reference and review. They can be used well after one has read the book as a reminder of Rotella’s simple concepts.
Here are some examples that “Thoughts” that represent the core of Rotella’s golfing philosophy: “A confident player thinks about what he wants to happen on the course. A player who lacks confidence thinks about what he doesn’t want to happen.” Think about this simple tenet.
Do you stand on the tee and focus on your target and the swing you will make to hit that target, or are you distracted by the water hazard, rough, and bunkers that surround your target? The confident golfer focuses on his target and allows his natural ability to react to that target combine with the trust in his swing that he has developed on the practice range and from being successful in other playing situations.
This leads to another important “Thought” from the “Staying in the Present” chapter: “Stay in the present. The only shot you think about is the one at hand.” Again, Rotella reminds the golfer that he/she can only control and concentrate on the shot at hand. The golfer is not concerned with result or score, simply in the total immersion of the present shot.
In order to achieve this immersion or focus, the golfer must be target oriented. Rotella writes, “Good golfers have a laser-like focus on their targets. The more your mind is consumed with the target, the more your instincts and subconscious will help you…. Pick out the smallest possible target you can easily see.” Target focus allows the golfer to swing freely and react to the shot, rather than guiding or steering it.
Rotella’s final commandment (“Love your wedge and your putter.”) is a key that all golf professionals recognize as the quickest way to lower scores. Rotella recommends that at least half of one’s practice time be dedicated to mastering the scoring clubs. He suggests competitive games and drills to simulate actual playing conditions and sharpen the golfer’s interest and focus.
The Golfer’s Mind is a tremendous handbook for golfers of all skill levels. It is Rotella’s homage to the late great teacher, Davis Love, Jr. Love, the father of PGA great Davis Love, III, worked with Rotella at numerous golf schools in the 1980s and wished that there was a handbook about the mental side of golf, one that golfers could keep with them in their golf bags and reference often for a quick reminder or mental mini-lesson.
There are now numerous excellent books about the mental aspects of golf, and Rotella’s The Golfing Mind is truly a must read for the serious golfer. He reminds us that commitment and success is a process and an evolution, but it is also tremendously fulfilling and fun. As Rotella notes in his introduction, “The players I know who have the best minds also have the most fun playing golf. They understand that it is, in the end, a game. They have a ball finding out how good they can be at it. So can you.”