Rotella reveals Open secrets

Pádraig Harrington has come a long way since he spent two days in Dr Bob Rotella’s basement 11 years ago.

The Dubliner hooked up with the University of Virginia Director of sports pyschology in 1997 after reading his book, ‘Golf is Not a Game of Perfect.’

Sunday’s victory was the culmination of over a decade of talking and chatting.

But while Rotella knows the inner workings of Harrington’s mind better than almost anyone else, he was amazed by his pupil's mental strength in his darkest hour.

After hitting two balls into the Barry Burn at the 72nd hole, Harrington produced one of the great recovery pitch and putts of all time.

As Harrington said: “Bob once wrote that he’d rather meet somebody with great dreams rather than a great person with no dreams. It’s really about what you believe you can achieve. And that’s what limits you.”

Here Dr Bob Rotella, speaking just hours afterwards, tells the story of Harrington’s finest hour at Carnoustie and the key moment the dream came true.


When I met Padraig on Monday night, I told him: ‘You are understanding your mind, your emotions and your body and your golf game at an unbelievable level. You are really getting what we are trying to get and you're understanding it. Now you have just got to go deliver it.' And he said, yeah.

I love how he played Thursday and Friday, but on Friday night he wanted to get into a deep discussion about some topic related to the mind and golf.

I stopped him and I said, 'I don't want to have this discussion right now'. I love where you are at, let's just go do this. He said okay to that. I think he's basically playing golf with nothing in his mind but his target and has been attempting to look softly at his target and turn it loose. And I just said to his caddie Ronan, that when he watches the replay he is going to like what he sees so much, because of the way he just stepped up to the ball and hit it. It was beautiful.

You could really tell it was there. We worked for a long time on self-acceptance of anything and everything that happens and no matter how hard you work, you are going to make mistakes. It is a game. And you have got to accept it. And to watch him hit two balls in the water and then stay cool and then get that ball up and down was something I will never forget.

I told him on the putting green as we were waiting for the play-off, I said to him: ‘If there is anything about yourself you have ever wanted to know, you just found out with that up and down. You have got what it takes.’ I said, that was so awesome.

We work so hard on living in the moment. Our goal for the day was to be into your target and turn it loose unconsciously, and accept it wherever it goes. We don't want to be thinking about winning on the golf course, we don't want to think about not winning. We don't want to get excited if you get off to a great start. We don't want to get down if you have a bad start. I don't want you to care what anyone else is doing. We don't have any control about Sergio or anyone else. Let's just take care of you.

I told Padraig, ‘I want you to run out of holes like a track man running through the tape.’ If a trackman starts slowing down before the tape, he lose time. I want you to just run out of holes and then find out how you did.

He does that beautiful. Last night, and this is very unusual for Padraig, we don't usually talk about winning a hell of a lot. And last night, he started talking like he was going to win, which is unusual for him. And then the last thing he said was, I am going to my room and I am just going to do some visualising. He was ready for this.

When we went to the putting green before the play-off I just went over and told him: ‘You just found out everything you wanted to know about yourself.’

And Padraig looked at me and he said, 'I'm good. When you see me out in the play-off, you are going to think I'm waving but I am raising the Claret Jug to the sky. Oh boy. I have never heard him say that. I said wow - he is ready. Go back and watch the tape of 17 - you'll see him doing a bunch of this (does hand movement thing). He told me while he was waiting for the play-off, he is not waving, he is raising the Claret Jug to the sky. When he said that to me, I thought, 'Well, yeah. He's okay'.

And the other thing I will remember is, I thought his son running out to him on the 72nd hole was perfect. You talk about total acceptance. The kid was jacked out of his gourd. He has no idea what Padraig has just made at the hole or what he had shot or anything else.

It was just his dad and the crowd was cheering and he was loving it. So we go over to the putting green and every putt he hit the kid ran over and kicked the ball off the green. I said: 'Padraig, I think he is trying to tell you something'. He says, 'What do you mean?'. I said: 'I think he is trying to tell you that it is just a game. Go and enjoy this play-off.' In that regards, the kid played a role. It was beautiful. The kid was having a ball. He just wanted to play with dad on the putting green. He didn't care about a play-off or anything else. That was cool.

At the Masters this year I would have bet a lot of money that he was going to win on Sunday. He was so ready. And afterwards he said to me: 'I was a winner out there today. I just didn't win the tournament. The shot on 15. My mind was so there. When I turned that thing loose and hit it so good I still can't believe it hit the green and rolled back into the water. I'm telling you, I can't hit the ball any better than that. And I had a perfect yardage. I don't know how it didn't get a break.' But then he said, 'You know what. I am going to win some of these. I am seeing that I can do this.'

Now a couple of years ago, I forget which year it was, he had a similar experience. He didn't win. But he walked up on Sunday, this is getting clearer and clearer. He is putting the pieces together and it is so wonderful for him because he is so damn honest. He doesn’t kid himself. He said to me when we were waiting for the play-off. He said: 'I told you Doc. Nothing ever comes easy to me. But we are going to get this.'

He is such a good man and a good person. He just wants to see how good he can get. It is real nice to get one of these. The earlier you get it the better. The longer you have to wait, the harder.

We worked a lot on: You don't have to win the tournament to be a winner. If you have to be a winner to feel like a winner then the game will beat you up. But it is damned nice to get a win. It is nice to say, 'God, I did it.'

We are waiting for him to give his talk and he just turned round to Ronan, Adrian and me and said: 'How did I just win the British Open?'

And I said, 'I don't know, but you just did. You did some awesome stuff. Get up there and talk to the people.'

That was the funniest thing. Coming down the stretch, his mother was just about dying. But when he won, she was so damn happy. It was beautiful to watch. She went through every emotion I think a mother could possibly go through. I'm sure Sergio Garcia's mom and dad were going through the same thing.

I called my mom and dad and they said, that was some great television.

But I also felt that Andres Romero really helped Padraig in that for him to make so many birdies early in the day. When Padraig got two or three behind he started playing good again and he kind of freed up.

It changed the environment. I mean, that kid was making them from everywhere. And you know he had Angel Cabrera in his mind, thinking he won the US Open, I am going to win the British Open. He had that thought in his head and he had it going. It looked like he might run away.

But I'll you what. For me, that pitch and putt Padraig hit on the 18th in normal play was something else.

Anybody who had any urge to beat themselves up would have been a mess by that stage and decided they had lost. And to hang in and stay cool - and that was a tough pitch - to swing as aggressively to actually get some backspin. I am standing with David Pelz and he is saying, ‘Holy Christ, I can't believe how many practice swings he is making.'

He has gripped way down on it - and I have watched Padraig enough to know that's what he looks like - and he has hit an awesome shot. This turf is wet. And even the putt he hit, four feet form above the pin. If you don't make it ... You have to be careful with that thing and he just centre-cupped it.

I am just happy for him. And you know, no-one is going to treat people better and it ain't going to change Padraig one bit. He is just a good person. And I am just happy to see someone different win one of these things. They mean too much to these guys.