Dr. Joe Parent, noted mental game guru who works out of the Ojai Valley Inn, has coached the mental game in golf for over 30 years. Among his clients are Vijay Singh, David Toms, Juli Inkster and Cristie Kerr. In addition, Dr. Parent coaches many top level amateurs and juniors, and is the mental game coach for the men's and women's golf teams at Pepperdine University. Dr. Parent is also the author of the bestselling book ZEN GOLF: Mastering the Mental Game, and also Zen. As a result of his writing and his instruction of PGA TOUR players, Golf Digest named Dr. Parent to their first list of “Top Ten Mental Game Experts” in the world.
Parent has been out at Riviera CC all week working with another of his clients, Tim Petrovic, who he has worked with since just before the Massachusetts-native won the 2005 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
As Petrovic prepped for his Thusrday morning tee time, he and Dr. Parent frequently went over some of the basic thoughts they had been working on to try and allow Petrovic to perform at the level he wants to reach.
“Riviera is one course where your preparation schedule is different depending on the tee you are starting on,” Dr. Parent said. “If Tim starts on the first tee like today, he starts his practice with some putting, than goes to the range and the short game area before finishing with some putting. If he starts on 10, he finishes on the range because he doesn’t want to have to climb back up the hill to the putting green.”
As Petrovic worked on hitting shots out of the bunker before his round, Dr. Parent took an empty driving range ball basket and put it about 15 yards from Petrovic. He then challenged him to try and hit his chips into the basket.
“Tim, like most of the guys out here, is just a big kid, and he likes playing games,” Dr. Parent said. “When I challenge him to try and hit balls into the basket, he’s not thinking about his swing mechanics, he’s just focusing on the result. That’s what I want him to do out the golf course.”
At this year’s Bob Hope Classic, Parent was standing on the range with Petrovic when they noticed a bank of portable toilets about 100 yards away sitting just over a fence. Knowing how much Petrovic loves to play games, Parent challenged him to land a shot off the roof of a porta potty.
“Tim goes a step further and says he will slip the ball between the fence and the potties and then does it with several shots,” Parent said. “So I told him when you go out on the course imagine a bank of porta potties sitting on the green and aim to hit them. He went out, played well, made the cut and made some money.”
On the practice range Thursday morning, Parent mentioned to Petrovic that Jack Nicklaus was quoted as saying when he played at Riviera, he never looked at a pin sheet, he simply aimed at the middle of the greens.
“Aiming at greens and not pins takes some pressure off, and allows him to just try and hit good shots,” Parent said.
In addition to getting Petrovic focused on what they have been working on, Dr. Parent also kept his client loose, joking with him and keeping the mood light.
Just before Petrovic stepped inside the ropes at the first tee, Dr. Parent gave him one last piece of advice, to have fun.
From that point on, all Dr. Parent became was a concerned witness, following his client around Riviera from outside the ropes. He encouraged him and pulled for him, all the while watching to see what areas might need some work after the round.
Dr. Parent discourages his clients from thinking about their scores during the round.
“I do not want him thinking about score because it can be a limiting factor and a pressure factor,” Dr. Parent said. “I want him playing quality golf shots, I want him focusing on whatever shot he is hitting and staying in the moment. If you keep playing quality shots, the score takes care of itself.”
Not thinking about score ideally means not looking at scoreboards. That said, Parent leaves it up to each player he works with to whether he or she looks at scoreboards during the round.
If they must look, he tells them to look at results this way.
“If someone goes low, you tell yourself it’s hard to do that two straight rounds, reducing pressure to try and match the other guy’s low round,” Dr. Parent said. “If no one goes low, you remind yourself to keep grinding because 1 or 2 under is going to put you in good position.”
Parent said the advice he gives to pros like Petrovic can be just as effective for us weekend hackers, who are all trying to play a little better.