Monday 19 August 2019

'Forget the Grand Slam, Rory... stay in the moment'

MAN OF THE MOMENT: Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy poses with Erica Stoll, now his wife, and the World Tour Championship trophy in Dubai after he clinched his one-shot win in the final round of the 2015 contest. Photo: David Cannon, Getty Images
MAN OF THE MOMENT: Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy poses with Erica Stoll, now his wife, and the World Tour Championship trophy in Dubai after he clinched his one-shot win in the final round of the 2015 contest. Photo: David Cannon, Getty Images
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

In a New York Times Magazine profile by Charles Siebert, there's an anecdote about how much self-belief Rory McIlroy had when he was a child.

Aged nine, he wrote a letter to Tiger Woods. As Brian McIlroy, Rory's uncle, paraphrased to Siebert, its general thrust was: "I'm coming to get you. This is the beginning. Watch this space."

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Back then there was no pressure and no multi-million dollar deals, and millions of eyeballs weren't watching and judging his every move. He just played golf because he enjoyed it.

That's the space Dr Bob Rotella, who worked as a mind coach for last year's Masters champion Patrick Reed, wants the Co Down man to be in when he steps up to the first tee at Augusta this week.

The Masters should have been the first major Rory McIlroy won.

Now it is the only piece of the jigsaw puzzle he is missing and - as he aims for the famed career Grand Slam (winning all four of the professional majors in men's golf, the Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA Championship) - Dr Rotella told the Sunday Independent he would offer the golfer some simple advice.

"Keep your expectations in check. Once the tournament starts, turn off your computer, phone, don't take emails or texts or phone calls and just get lost in your own little world," he advised.

"I said after his last win he looked like he was playing golf like the 12-year-old he used to be and I think the more he can just go and have fun playing the game he is so talented at - taking it one shot at a time - the better chance he has."

The challenge, Dr Rotella said, was "not to think about the meaning of winning, not to think about the Grand Slam and not to think about what it would mean to win the Masters. That's a lot.

"But if he can he should just go out there and have fun, like he is back home playing with his buddies and get lost in that world, then he could do it. If he is doing that he will be patient and he will be accepting if he misses a shot or putt."

Dr Rotella, who advises everyone from the world's leading golfers and NBA superstars to business executives on how to flourish under pressure, said perfection was the enemy.

"Players I have worked with have won 85 majors and I promise you it never happens the way you dream it up. You are going to miss shots, you are going to make mistakes. You just have to accept that and realise everyone else is going to make mistakes, too. You just have to deal with it better than everybody else.

"The moment you get into trouble is the moment you panic and start getting upset with yourself, thinking you can't make mistakes like this if you want to win the Masters. The truth is you can make mistakes like that and still win if you control how you respond."

He added: "Get your mind in the right place on every shot and putt until you run out of holes.

"Most great golfers have been kind of like still water. They are like a wall, they just don't react to anything and play each shot."

On having a personal mantra at hand, he said: "I remember when Darren Clarke won the British Open his was 'You're unstoppable if you're unflappable' and I think that's a pretty darn good one for most players."

On the dreaded golfer palm sweats, Dr Rotella said they were meaningless. "I almost couldn't care if they had sweaty palms. You know what?" he laughed. "You want to get in a position at the weekend where you are a little sweaty and a little nervous.

"It's really more about getting your mind in the right place.

"Your body is going to feel different, there's going to be physiological changes but you have just got to have your mind quiet and calm and clear."

Meanwhile, all eyes will be on the other main Masters attraction, Tiger Woods.

Last year a mob of tens of thousands surrounded him and chanted his name as he walked the 18th fairway at the TOUR championship towards his first win since 2013.

With his return to golf, television ratings have rocketed - the TOUR win sent audience figures up by 206pc.

Dr Rotella said his pulling power was in part down to his self-belief.

"The number one draw is that, as a young kid, he told the whole world that his quest was to break Jack Nicklaus's record for majors.

"That got everybody excited. It made people go 'Wow!' and to this day we haven't heard anybody else make that statement."

The psychologist said Woods's belief in himself was most apparent in his putting - the one skill difficult for McIlroy to master.

"Maybe statistically Tiger is not the greatest putter but he's like Jack Nicklaus in that any time he had a chance to win it seemed like he made a putt. And I think that's because he believes he can win. He makes putts because he thinks he is supposed to be great. He is a believer and we get excited about believers."

Sunday Independent

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