LOS ANGELES, June 8 (Reuters) – The key to survival for players tackling the longest U.S. Open course ever at Torrey Pines next week is to be mentally disciplined and prepared for setbacks, says a renowned physician and sports psychiatrist.
Dr. Michael Lardon, who has dedicated his career to helping elite athletes understand and more easily achieve peak performance, has advised his players to use this strategy to cope with the demands at the year’s second major championship.
U.S. Open layouts traditionally feature tight fairways, thick if graduated rough and slick greens. Regulation pars, rather than birdies, are often the most prized commodity.
“With the U.S. Open, you have to have a different expectation coming in,” Lardon told Reuters.
“You have to realise you are going to hit beautiful shots that will run through the fairway, perhaps just two inches in, and you won’t see the top of the ball in the rough.”
“You have to say to yourself: ‘This is the U.S. Open and it’s the same challenge for all the different players.’ They have to understand this is the nature of it.”
“I loved the movie The Silence of the Lambs when Jodie Foster asks Dr. Hannibal Lecter how to catch him (serial killer Buffalo Bill) and Lecter says to her: ‘You must understand the nature of what you covet.’”
“In majors, and especially the U.S. Open, the challenge is so difficult, you have to be so patient, your frustration tolerance has to be enormous and so I think you have to anticipate that this is going to be the nature of it.”
“Pars are fantastic and there is a lot of damage control,” added Lardon, who has 2002 PGA champion Rich Beem among his clients. “When you have the opening, then obviously you take it but it’s not like regular courses you can dominate.”
The South Course at Torrey Pines, which co-hosts the PGA Tour’s Buick Invitational early each year along with the North Course, will play to a par of 71 and measure 7,643 yards off the back tees.
World number one Tiger Woods, a six-times winner of the Buick, is heavy favourite to clinch his 14th major title next week. In Lardon’s view, the twice U.S. Open champion has no equal in the game when it comes to unwavering mental strength.
“What impressed me most is his almost surgeon-like attitude,” Lardon said. “He’s not a golfer, he’s a rock star and he has some pressures to deal with that are immense.”
“For the last two years in the majors here in the U.S., I have had real up-close access watching his preparation an hour or two before tee-off on the weekends and he is almost trance-like. I am very impressed with that peace.”
Lardon, whose book Finding Your Zone was published earlier this month, believes Woods best exemplifies ‘instant amnesia’, a pre-requisite for sporting success at the highest level.
“To be in the now, you have to accept what has just happened. If you can’t do that, you will be separate from the experience and that is when trouble lurks.”
“Instant amnesia is a quality that Tiger personifies and it’s absolutely essential because you’re not always going to hit a perfect shot and when you get up to that next shot, you have to not be thinking about the previous one.”
“We use that same attitude with place kickers in the NFL,” added Lardon, a former top-ranked U.S. junior table tennis player. “Instant amnesia is a concept you must have if you are going to perform at your very best.”
The 108th U.S. Open starts on Thursday. (Editing by Ed Osmond)