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Golfers benefit from top sports psychologist
Buddy Harston
Buddy Harston

Friday, June 18, 2010

Like many professional golfers, Lipscomb golf coach Buddy Harston often calls on Dr. Bob Rotella for motivation and information.

Earlier this month he made a pilgrimage to Rotella’s house in Charlottesville, Va. , a trip he has made six or seven times during the 22 years he has sought guidance from Rotella who is billed as the “world’s foremost sports psychologist, golf guru , author and peak performance expert”.

This time around he took four of his golfers with him _ Alex Cox, Katie Pursell, Blanton Farmer and Zack Pursell. They drove to Charlottesville, spent a day with Rotella and then drove back to Nashville.

“I told them they could go, but they would have to pay their own expenses,” Harston said. “To spend the day with that man is something that will pay dividends for our whole team.”

While they were there Trevor Immelman, the 2006 PGA Rookie of the Year, and the 2008 Masters Champion, called.

“Trevor was about an hour-and-half from teeing off at the Byron Nelson Classic,” Harston said. “He wanted to talk.”

Harston and Lipscomb Bisons basketball coach Scott Sanderson are both big fans of Rotella’s philosophies on getting the most out of athletes. Harston has spoken to the Bisons baseball team and members of the tennis teams about some of the lessons learned from Rotella.

“I am kind of the resident sports psychologist,” Harston said. “I have realized how important this is when you are competing at this level.

“What I try to get them to realize is this is an ongoing process,” Harston said. “It is just like working your muscles out.” Most athletes in high school do not have the opportunity to talk with a sports psychologist or deal with the mental aspects of the game.

“It is mainly about teaching them what to do with all of these thoughts they have,” Harston said. “They have to deal with performance anxiety. Most of the time it gets down to being present. Can they be right here, right now?”

Rotella passed along a story about Tiger Woods that explains why he became such a powerful force on a golf course. When Woods was asked about his approach to the game by a fellow golfer, it was all about the mental aspects of the game and not his physical talent.

“He didn’t say he worked harder or that he has the best swing or the best short game,” Harston said. “He didn’t say anything about that.

“He said, No.1, `I’m mentally tougher than anyone else on the tour’. And No. 2, `I can stay in the present better than anybody’. What that means is when he has a 10-foot putt to win the U.S. Open he can be so present that there is nothing attached to the putt. It is just a putt that he made over and over and over. You don’t think about that if you make the putt you are going to win the U.S. Open.”

Harston found himself in that kind of a zone in a Champions Tour event in Austin, Texas on a par three. He hit the ball to the left of the hole.

“There were lots of people there,” Harston recalled. “It was like a 40-foot putt and I actually made it. I got so into the putt that I forgot where I was. It was just me and my putter, the golf ball and the target. The roar of the crowd scared me because I had forgotten where I was. I jumped a foot. That is what they are talking about when they say you are in the zone.”

Athletes that move from high school to college often think the sport they play has changed, but that is not necessarily the case.

“They think it is a major jump and it is not,” Harston said. “If you are good you just play the same game you have been playing. “Division I… big deal. When I played in the PGA Championship I put so much pressure on myself because it was a major championship and on national TV. But when I looked back I realized it was just golf.

The champions know that. It is not that they don’t care, but they don’t put the pressure on themselves. That is how you rise to the occasion.”

Harston also stresses the desire to have fun, especially in a game or match situation.

“Anybody in any sport will tell you that when they are playing well it is easy,” Harston said. “You have to relax and have fun.

“When you practice, you practice like it is the most important thing in the world. You have to diligent about our fundamentals and you have to polish them. But when you get to the game or the match you have to chill out and have as much fun as you possibly can.”

Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.