Busy week for Dr. Bob

June 16, 2009

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- A PGA Tour driving range is always a busy place on Tuesday afternoons, but on Tuesday afternoons before a U.S. Open, it's noticeably quieter, too. There is the consistent sound of club on ball, of course, and still a fair amount of banter between players, equipment reps and instructors. But unlike those lazy weeks when a five-minute conversation can drag into a second hour, the conversations here are often kept to a minimum.

An exception would be a conversation with someone like Bob Rotella, the sports psychologist who makes his living trying to convince professional golfers that the four biggest weeks of the year aren't all that big. Those conversations aren't necessarily brief, and they're aren't always easy, either.

"What gets blown up is they want to play so well and want to peak to the point where everything is where they want it to be, and for 80 percent of them, that won't be the case," Rotella said. "So then it's not about panicking over the next day-and-a-half and just tell yourself you've got to play golf with what you got. But how do you explain that to people who ever since the age of five, they got up to play golf and dreamed of winning the U.S. Open?"

Rotella's best answer may lie in his recent results. His pupils include Padraig Harrington, who's only won three majors in the last two years; and Henrik Stenson, who managed to win the Players in May despite the small matter that he couldn't hit a driver. How big a role Rotella played in any of those wins is open for debate. But put it this way: whatever thoughts he put in their head couldn't have hurt.

"I have a lot of comfort with what you need to do, which is play in the moment, trust what you're doing and keep it simple," Rotella said. "You've got to get your head in the right place before you hit a shot, and a lot of it is telling yourself that it's just like any other golf tournament and to do the same stuff. Now, they give out a bigger trophy and people look at you different. But you're going to be the same guy."

-- Sam Weinman