PGA Golf: How the world’s best prepare mentally for Majors

Sports psychologist Dr Mo Pickens works with many top American players. This is how he helps them during Major championships

Will all your players want to see you on a Major day?

I’ll station myself around the putting green and see them there, and then I might go with them on the range if I have time. But usually I’m on the putting green just hanging out. Maybe reiterating a couple of things we said earlier in the week, or maybe something that came up on the previous day.

Is it important that you see them before every round?

Yes, we may not say much. A lot of it’s “what did you do last night?”, just keeping it light. If someone’s played poorly or if they’ve had a bad finish, you just remind them that every day you’re just trying to play the course as well as you can. The only time you need to worry about the “tournament” is if there are three or four holes to go. Then you might change strategy. 

How difficult is it to keep things fresh – obviously you know your players very well and often have a long-standing relationship?

I kind of have a system that I work within. But it depends on the course, how they’re playing, where they may or not be in relation to the cut or the tournament. Basically, there are three key areas:  1) on the course – course management, your routines, how you handle your emotions and distractions 2) practice and preparation – what you’re doing, how you set it up, what we do in the practice rounds, what you do in your warm up, and 3) what’s going on off the course that could impact on the other two – distractions, scheduling, making sure you do some mental preparation before you come out. 

All my players have two or three things they’d be focusing on. Either in the shower in morning, or on a walk – somewhere where they can be alone – they’ll try to visualise and think about the attitude and mindset they want to have out there. 
You’ve got to throw yesterday away whether you’ve shot five-under or five-over. How difficult is it to keep players grounded?

It definitely takes a lot out of you. When you’re playing well I believe you should value rest over preparation. You can study the course until you’re blue in the face, but you’ve got to get some rest, because it takes it out of you being in contention. You’ve got to throw yesterday away whether you’ve shot five-under or five-over.

How do you get players to stop thinking about the day before?

I would just say that the pins are going to be in different places and the wind’s probably going to go a different direction. You go out and say, “it’s a new day, and I’m going to try to play this course better than I did yesterday, and let’s just go see”. It’s hard to do, but the example I give people is keeping it physical. We talk about keeping it physical, which is the opposite of emotion. Somebody on the 18th hole today is going to have an eight-foot, slightly downhill, right-to-left putt. 

That’s physically what they’re going to face. But, emotionally – and this happens very fast – the way they think about it is: “this is eight feet for birdie, to shoot even par and make the cut so I can move up in the world rankings”. 

It just happens like that. That guy’s five times more emotional than another guy. 

If one of your players gets to a play-off, what would you say?

I’d say “this is what you’ve practised for, to put yourself in this position”. 

If it’s a two-man play-off, then you might need to know what the other guy’s doing. 

There’s definitely a difference between guys that look at an eight-foot putt, or a four-hole play-off or a Friday. You’re either going to look at that as an opportunity to have fun and succeed, and try to show off or you’re going to look at that as a burden, like “I’ve gotta get it done and if I don’t, I’m a failure”.

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