Open Golf: How top Americans mentally prepare for links

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Sports psychologist Dr Mo Pickens works with many top American players. This is how helps them during the Open Championship...

All of the guys you’re working with are American players – are they any different when they’re playing away from home?
They just don’t have as many distractions, so it’s easier. Most of the time the family’s not over here. Occasionally someone’s family will be over here, but generally they don’t have a lot of friends here, so ticket requests are down. They don’t have their spouse either, so it’s kind of like “guys’ week” for us.

What particular problems do the players tend to bring you during Open week?
What’s different about this week is that visually the golf course is different, with all the bunkers. You’ve gotta be committed, because you could play several of these holes a lot of different ways. We don’t see a lot of that over where we are, so just figuring out how you’re going to play the hole is tough.

Emotion is everything, but in the Majors it’s important not to try too hard, not to press. This week should be no different from John Deere the previous week. Physically the golf course is going to be more demanding with physical elements like the rough, but their job is just to come out and play the best they can play it and get ready for the next day.
I think compared to the other Majors, from a physical standpoint, you have to be a better ball-striker at the Open Championship… Is it fair to say that some of your players are more comfortable in this event than others?
There are guys that enjoy playing more shots and embrace the wind and that sort of thing, versus guys who like to play American golf where it’s more similar week to week.

What is your own personal feeling towards this Championship compared to other Majors?
I think compared to the other Majors, from a physical standpoint, you have to be a better ball-striker. You’re going to get harder conditions, more wind, more cross-winds, that sort of thing. I don’t think you have to be a great putter, because the greens aren’t going to be as fast as Augusta or at the US Open.

Physically, I just think the Open favours better ball-strikers than the US Open and Augusta. Augusta definitely favours good putters. For the American guys, Augusta or the PGA, they’ll usually embrace. But the US Open and the Open, you either really like them or you don’t really like them. Usually that has a lot to do with your success.

A lot of guys come over here and they’re already defeated. They just play so scared, which it’s hard not to do. You’re going to make mistakes.

Do you agree that there’s a large element of luck involved in the Open or on a links course?
Maybe, just because the weather seems to switch here faster. There definitely can be luck in the draw. I think you get certain years – like Justin Leonard – when he was way back and moved up the leaderboard. I think it can be accentuated, but usually the guys on the opposite side of that use it as an excuse.

About Dr Mo

  • Dr. Morris M. Pickens received his Ph.D. in sports psychology from the University of Virginia in 1995. During this time, he studied under Dr. Bob Rotella and focused his research and consulting interests in the area of golf psychology, specifically the acquisition of putting confidence. Dr Mo currently works with PGA TOUR professionals Lucas Glover, Jonathan Byrd, Masters Champion Zach Johnson, and 2009 Open Champion Stewart Cink, among others. www.drmolearntowin.com
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