What does it take to win the Open? Golf psychologist ‘Dr. Mo’ has coached two champions | CNN


Dr. Morris Pickens remembers the precise second he knew he wished to be a sports psychologist.

Tuning in for a night of basketball, a teenage Pickens stared at his TV in awe as a person chatted with NBA icons Karl Malone and John Stockton within the Utah Jazz health club.

That very same man, revealed to be a sports activities psychologist for the staff, was then proven boarding the Jazz’s non-public aircraft because the staff jetted off to face the Los Angeles Lakers, the place he sat courtside at The Discussion board – instantly behind the bench – consuming popcorn and sipping soda.

“As a 17-year-old child in rural South Carolina I’m pondering, ‘they’re paying this man?’” Pickens advised CNN.

“‘That is ridiculous. I need to try this as a result of that doesn’t appear like a job.’”

And so started a journey that has seen “Dr. Mo” assist coach skilled athletes throughout a variety of sports activities – from the NFL to Nascar. However his true residence has at all times been on the green.

A eager golfer in his youth, Pickens penned a dissertation on “The Acquisition of Placing Confidence” en path to receiving his Ph.D. in sport psychology from the College of Virginia. Since then he has cast a reputation as certainly one of golf’s high psychologists, working with a number of the recreation’s largest stars throughout a 27-year profession.

A star-studded clientele has racked up 28 PGA Tour victories whereas working with Pickens, headlined with 4 main triumphs by Zach Johnson, Lucas Glover, and Stewart Cink.

With the extremely anticipated 150th Open Championship at St Andrews, Scotland, set to start out on July 14, Pickens is well-placed to supply perception into what it takes to elevate the Claret Jug.

Mere months after starting work with Pickens in 2009, Cink clinched his first major on the 138th version of the occasion. Six years later, Johnson – a 16-year consumer of Pickens – won at St Andrews for his second main triumph.

Fittingly, each gamers gained by way of nail-biting four-hole playoffs. For Pickens, making an attempt to copy game-day stress is the most important problem he faces as a sports activities psychologist. Attempt as he would possibly – discuss by way of it and run demanding drills – there’s merely no manner for Pickens to simulate the psychological pressure of an occasion, not to mention a major-deciding playoff.

“It’s nearly unattainable – as a result of it’s a physiological factor – to get their adrenaline going prefer it’s going to be going Sunday,” Pickens mentioned.

And but, the psychologist’s efforts appear to get the perfect out of Johnson, a self-confessed hypercompetitive particular person who relishes Pickens’ observe wagers that stake small sums on the result.

“I simply like to compete, I like something that drives me to attempt to higher myself,” Johnson mentioned in a video on Pickens’ website.

“I’m at all times making an attempt one thing I’m doing in my observe in order that in the case of the underside line of competing, week in week out on tour, I do know I’ve been there earlier than. I’ve seen it, I’ve felt it, and I could be profitable.”

The flexibility to coach effectively touches on what Pickens believes to be the 2 important psychological traits required of elite golfers: self-discipline and the power to regulate the thoughts.

It could appear paradoxical, however Pickens says the most important psychological problem going through golfers as they swing is just that the ball is stationary.

Whereas in soccer or tennis, gamers’ ideas and corresponding actions are instinctively occupied by the shifting ball, golfers – pressured to consciously fill this psychological silence – should as a substitute prepare themselves to “occupy their thoughts.” Cross-sport comparisons could be present in basketball’s free throw and baseball’s pitching.

In essence, that is what Pickens’ position boils right down to – serving to gamers to handle their thoughts, particularly within the important 5 to 6 seconds earlier than the swing. Like a type of meditation, gamers must know exactly what ideas are coming by way of their heads.

“Some gamers depend,” Pickens explains. “Stroll in. One, membership behind the ball. Two, ft down. Three, take a look at the goal. 4, again to the ball. 5, again swing. Six, by way of swing.

“When you’ve got consistency within the enter out of your pondering, you’ve acquired a greater probability to get consistency out of your output to hit the shot.”

Pickens with Jonathan Byrd, another of his clients and a five-time winner on the PGA Tour.

For Johnson, who had suspected there was one thing “off” in his recreation previous to working with Pickens in 2006, the recommendation caught instantly and has endured all through his 24-year professional profession.

“I assumed I had a very good routine, I assumed it was constant, I assumed it was repeatable, nevertheless it was something however that,” Johnson mentioned in a video on Pickens’ web site.

“It was extraordinarily inconsistent, it was not thought out, it didn’t enable me to play at my greatest nor did it give me confidence and consistency shot-to-shot.”

Comparable strategies helped Cink to clear his thoughts from an over-fixation on outcomes, the American says in a video on Pickens’ web site. At 49 years previous, Cink continues so as to add to his eight PGA Tour wins, claiming a 3rd RBC Heritage title in April 2021.

In the meantime, managing the thoughts was a lesson hot-headed younger Glover – US Open champion in 2009 – picked up shortly when he began working with Pickens after graduating from Clemson College in 2001.

“I discovered instantly that my mood was affecting my rounds a bit of an excessive amount of,” Glover mentioned in a video on the psychologist’s web site. “Dr. Mo principally taught me that it was alright to get upset and mad however to let it go shortly and don’t let it have an effect on the following shot.”

Glover poses with the US Open trophy after his two-stroke victory at Bethpage State Park in 2009.

Nevertheless, the power to occupy the thoughts is nothing with out disciplined observe, Pickens asserts.

Slightly than going out and easily hitting some balls, high professionals should be laser-focused of their coaching. Crucially, as with the pre-swing routine, gamers ought to take away emotion from their observe – not merely reflecting on a very good or unhealthy day however dispassionately analyzing their efficiency.

For Pickens, that is certainly one of Johnson’s most exemplary – although typically misunderstood – property.

“It’s not that Zach doesn’t have feelings. Generally folks misread and assume he didn’t have them,” Pickens explains. “He’s simply actually good at managing them and specializing in what he desires to deal with.

“And he’s unimaginable at going ‘okay, that is what I need to get carried out and right here’s how I’m going to go do it.’

“Lots of people name themselves professionals however they nonetheless simply go play golf. The blokes that make it, they perceive, ‘I’ve to deal with this like a job.’”

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