Thursday, April 16, 2009

Breaking the Slump: Q&A with Author and NBC Golf Analyst Jimmy Roberts

With 11 Emmy Awards, a Golf Writers Association of America award and coverage of 10 Olympic Games to his credit, Jimmy Roberts has been serving as a key figure in NBC's golf coverage since 2000.

In his book Breaking the Slump: How Great Players Survived Their Darkest Moments in Golf--and What You Can Learn from Them (released last month), Roberts intimately profiles 17 of the game's icons (as well as a former leader of the Free World), and discusses the physical and mental tolls of the sport and the adjustments they've made to overcome them throughout their notable careers.

Roberts' access and insight allows for candid conversation with individuals whose insights transcend the greens and fairways. We caught up with Roberts to discuss the book and what we can take away from it.

HuggingHaroldReynolds: Throughout the book there are two recurring themes. The first being the players' mental states. The other being their making physical adjustments to offset their course troubles. How are they related and how do you compare the two?

Jimmy Roberts: I'm not sure there's any sport where the mental element plays such a large role as it does in golf. That might be because there's so much time to think about what you've done right and wrong. If the average round of golf is 4-1/2 hours ... we spend roughly 18 minutes actually standing over the ball. The rest of the time we spend walking (or riding) and thinking. Without a level of mental comfort, I can't imagine any elite player could exercise mastery over the game no matter HOW dialed in their swing might be. On the other hand, you could be at peace with a horrific swing, and that's not going to work either. I think the physical element is more important, but listening to all these successful people, I get the idea that a good swing is only going to take you so far.

HHR: Would you say that the stories of the individuals you told were as much a metaphor for life as they were insights into the game of golf?

JR: I started out to write a golf book and at some point -- I don't exactly know when it was -- I realized that it wasn't only that, but it was a book about how successful people handle adversity. George H.W. Bush says that the way we handle our challenges on the golf course is often the way we handle our challenges in life. Paul Azinger had Cancer. Ben Crenshaw got divorced. Phil Mickelson almost lost his wife and son in childbirth. While these examples might not be metaphors for life, all of these great players had to battle back from these -- the same type of issues that effect ordinary people everyday.

HHR: How would you compare golf slumps to those in other sports?

JR: Often similar, but the difference is, for the most part, we don't play baseball or basketball for as long as, or to the extent we play golf. One interesting thing I stumbled accross while doing interviews for the book though...when Labron James felt he was struggling with his outside shooting and free throws, he turned to Bob Rotella, a man known primarily as a GOLF psychologist.

HHR: You've had the opportunity to cover, as well as play a round or two, with some of the biggest names the sport has ever known. At any point, with the risk of sounding somewhat unprofessional (we'll give you a pass), do you ever sit back as a fan in awe of the company? Who most bowled you over?

JR: I'm always in awe of their talent ... mostly becasue i know first hand how hard the game is, but I long ago got over the awe of being in the company of these people. It's just what happens when you do this for a while. There was and continues to be one exception: spending time with George Bush (both 41 and 43) is a little sobering. No matter your political leanings, here's the fact: the president of the United States is likely the single most powerful person on earth. If that doesn't awe you, nothing will.

Photo: Golf Digest

HHR: It seems that in every chapter and player profile, the name "Tiger Woods" couldn't go without being mentioned. We have all heard just about every accolade that could possibly be laid upon the man. Specifically when speaking with his competition, though, is there a sense that even they recognize his superiority, or, psychologically, would that be too mentally taxing to be able to compete with him if they hold him in such high regard?

JR: We may all marvel at Tiger Woods accomplishments and gush about his talent, but we're just hackers. It's the people who can really play who have the truest appreciation for what the man can do. I do think there are a large number of players who are awed by his talent and it thus puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

HHR: What were you able to take away from your work on the book that you hadn't already known?

JR: After walking away from all the discussions I had to research the book, I think I came away with a renewed appreciation for the importance of confidence in everything we do. As David Duval said: "At all costs, protect your confidence."

Photo: BBC

HHR: Many of our readers are likely happy to break 100. For those who leisurely enjoy the game, what advice do you have for them to, at the very least, improve what little game they have?

JR: Player after player talked to me about the importance of the fundamentals. Ben Crenshaw told me that the one thing all golf instructors agree on is the importance of having a good grip. If you do nothing else, pay attention to your grip and your setup.

HHR: Phil Mickelson, in my opinion, seems to have one of the better outlooks on the sport, specifically as a profession. When you reach the level that your subjects have, does the idea that golf is "just a sport" diminish? At any point does it become simply unenjoyable to any of the professionals?

JR: Just my opinion -- that's to say, not what i've been told-- but I think those who play the game at the highest level live in two different worlds. On the one hand, who better than these people can appreciate the precision and beauty of a perfectly executed shot? Who could possibly enjoy this game more? But play as much as they do, and for the stakes they do, and at some point, golf becomes a grind. Look, it's not the same for them as it is for us in many ways. Who among us doesn't sleepwalk through certain parts of our workday, no matter how appealing others might think our job might be.


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