Celebrity Golfer: Dr. Bob Rotella

Dr. Bob Rotella, one of the country’s most eminent sports psychologists, has been able to imbue many successful athletes and corporate executives with the ability to respond well under pressure and to overcome challenges. What he calls “performance enhancement” is the result, Dr. Rotella says, of getting yourself in the right frame of mind to find out how good you can be.
He has been a consultant to athletes and coaches in the NBA, NFL, NCAA, NASCAR, MLB, and U.S. Olympic teams and to such organizations as AT&T, Coke, Ford, Coke, FBI, GE, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Pepsi, Titleist, and YUM! Brands. Golf, however, has long been his specialty. Since 1984, “Doc,” as his clients and friends call him, has seen his professional golf students on the PGA, Champions, and LPGA tours amass more than 300 tournament and 75 Major victories.

Some of his Major winners include Paul Azinger, Keegan Bradley, Pat Bradley, Darren Clarke, David Frost, Padraig Harrington, Trevor Immelman, Tom Kite, Davis Love, III, Graeme McDowell, Rory Mcllroy, Nick Price, Dana Quigley, Jeff Sluman, and David Toms. Links magazine has recognized Doc as one of the “Top 25 Instructors of All Time,” Golf Magazine has included him as one of the “Top 10 Teachers of the Decade,” and Golf World has honored him as one of the “Top 10 Golf Teachers of the 20th Century” and named him “Godfather of Sports Psychology for Golf.”
Doc is a prolific writer and has published 18 books and has written hundreds of articles for golf, business, and psychology magazines. Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect is the best-selling sports psychology book of all time and one of the three best-selling golf books in history. Doc, now 67, and his wife Darlene live in Keswick, Virginia, close to UVA, where he is a volunteer assistant golf coach.

2Bob&Paddy2NEGM: What was important in your life before college?

BR: I grew up in Rutland, Vermont, living about 100 yards away from the Catholic world that shaped my early life: the church, the elementary and junior high schools, the high school Mount St. Joseph Academy, and the playgrounds. I loved team sports and in high school played football, basketball, and baseball. I also played the clarinet in the band.
I admired the coaches so much at Mount St. Joe’s, and I enjoyed my entire high-school experience. The priests and nuns were very disciplined and encouraging, and my father insisted that I had to earn good grades or I could not play sports. I had two brothers and two sisters, and I grew up in a close-knit and loving family.
I didn’t really play golf in those days, but I did caddy at Rutland CC for about two and a half months each summer, in between baseball and football. Bobby Locke, winner of four Opens and 15 PGA events, married a Rutland girl, Mary Fenton, and I caddied for him whenever he played the course.


NEGM: When did you realize that you wanted to be a Sports Psychologist?

BR: I never did! It just happened through a fortuitous series of events. I had always planned on being a high school or college coach. When I left Mount St. Joe’s for nearby Castleton State College [now Castleton University], I majored in Sports Science and Psychology and played basketball and lacrosse. I also taught basketball and swimming to retarded and handicapped children from a local institution and discovered the fulfillment of watching these kids enjoy themselves and learn to participate.
I then went to UConn to get a Master’s in Special Education. I coached basketball and lacrosse and took an elective in Sports Psychology, which I really enjoyed because it helped me with my coaching.
I also continued to teach sports skills to disabled students, and I realized that I got the same satisfaction from watching their improvement in performance as I did in coaching winning basketball and lacrosse teams.
While still at UConn, I earned my PhD in Sports Psychology and took all my theories to the University of Virginia where I first coached lacrosse. I had this feeling that I was better at human relationships and getting players to believe in themselves and to develop winning attitudes so that they could play their best on game day. I could see so easily that potential for performance in these athletes, but I couldn’t explain where that insight came from.
Then UVA asked me if I would work with all the athletic teams on mental training and start Master’s and PhD programs as well, but I would have to give up coaching. So, unplanned and not envisioned, that’s how my career began, and I spent 21 years as a Professor of Sports Psychology and became the Director of the Sports Psychology Department.


3Bob&DarrenNEGM: What do you enjoy most about your profession?

BR: What I love the most is helping people with their dreams, working with people who know they need the help to realize those dreams. I like working with people who are really committed and are going after a goal that is very difficult to get. I like working with people who don’t mind handling the disappointment they must endure along the way but are willing to sustain their desires over time.
Foge Fazio, head football coach at Pitt in the 1980’s, said it the best, “A coach is someone who takes you where you couldn’t go on your own.”
I am so pleased and grateful that I have had a number of men and women who have trusted their careers with me. It’s been fun for me to see these players enter a certain mind set and mood state where they play very well and feel good about their games, even if they don’t win the tournament.
I would say that my greatest gift is that I have the ability to see talent in people that they may not be able to see in themselves.


NEGM: Which of your two books should every golfer read?

BR: Hmm. Only two? Definitely Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect because it provides good advice for everyone who plays the game. Then you can choose among three others that are for competitive golfers who are looking for that extra edge: The Golfer’s Mind, Your 15th Club, and The Unstoppable Golfer.


NEGM: Will you be working with Captain Davis Love and his Ryder Cup team?

BR: Yes, Davis, who has been a student of mine for years, and I have already shared a lot of ideas. I’m not sure yet in what capacity I’ll be utilized, but we’ll decide that at a later date. I’m looking forward to the Ryder Cup because I have worked closely with both Davis and European Captain Darren Clarke, and they are the best of friends. Certainly, America needs to win one of these things. I know that Davis will get these guys believing in themselves and relaxing enough. I think it’s pretty clear that at times in this event we have put too much pressure on ourselves.


NEGM: Where do you play your most golf now? Handicap? Lowest round?

BR: I belong to Glenmore CC, very close to UVA. My handicap is a low single digit, usually a one or a two. I co-hold the course record at Glenmore with a 10-under par 62.


NEGM: Favorite courses in New England? Favorite courses elsewhere in the US?

BR: Rutland CC (VT), Old Sandwich GC (MA), Wannamoisett CC (RI), Burlington CC (VT), and my first club as a member, Neshobe GC (VT).
Augusta National (GA), McArthur GC (FL), Pine Valley (NJ), and Cypress Point (CA).


NEGM: Who would be in your Dream Foursome of today? Of any time period?

BR: My 96-year-old dad Guy, my daughter Casey who played golf at Notre Dame, and her six-year-old son Max.
Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, and Ben Hogan.


NEGM: Final words about the relationship between a golfer’s ability to play golf and his mind set to enjoy it?

BR: If you can only enjoy golf when you’re getting the results you’re after, when you’re hitting it pure, when you’re getting the good bounces, not the bad, and getting the lip-ins, not the lip-outs, then you don’t love golf. If you love the game, you have to love it unconditionally—or it will drive you nuts.

(Photographs courtesy of Bob Cullen.)