Beating Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi in 2012. Starting his journey in golf as a local club pro. Making the wrong choices for his game. Coaching over 20 players on Tour. Robert Rock relives the best moments of his career and talks about the tough times in this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
As the years go by, you just feel lucky to have played with Tiger Woods. Win or lose you just feel lucky to have played with Tiger in a tournament as a European player. You’re never expected to win that tournament, so I was just happy to have played with him. He plays in Europe very rarely and so you have to play your way into facing him which is quite hard to do. For a normal Tour pro like me, just to get the chance was pretty cool. I get asked a lot what he was like to play with and it’s nice to be able to report that he was just a class golfer and a pro and that’s all you can want from the greatest player, isn’t it? It’s nice to be able to say that.
I took on Tiger in his Sunday red. Going into that day I was just happy just to be in that group and watch him potentially win a tournament. I’d watched most of them, I’ve watched some of them in the pro shop as an assistant pro, I’ve watched some of them in the evenings at home, some of them while out on the road playing tournaments myself and that was the closest you could get to watch, so I was prepared to enjoy it. It became much more than that, though. When you beat that fella in a tournament people don’t forget it. I never will. Even some of the younger guys now. I played with Rasmus Højgaard on Tuesday morning and he asked me about it, he’d have been 11! It’s just brilliant.
My golf hasn’t been very good since. I made some choices about my golf game that I see a lot of my colleagues doing. You reach a certain point where you play your best and you want to get better, which is right in its idea but how we go about it is really a big decision. I got it wrong for a year or two and I’ve played ok since but I probably spoilt the run I was on. I should have picked and chose where I played and just made the most of my game as it was, rather than try and make everything great because it already was good. I didn’t get to play long enough with it, I probably played for a year with my best golf and I reckon I could have got as much as I’d of wanted out of it if I’d made the right choices. I was obviously over-achieving and to just maintain that would have been wise. I could have taken the tension off my long game and really started working a lot harder on my short game, but I didn’t enjoy it back then and I really, really do now. It’s weird. I’m now more content with my long game and I enjoy learning and practising, pitching and chipping. My putting now is so much better than it was during that period. I never thought I’d be a good putter but now I’d class myself as quite a good one, I’ve got a good understanding of what I’m trying to do and that’s surprised me coming right at the end of my career. You spend twenty years as a pro and really struggle with putting, you’re almost right to think that you’ll not be a good putter at any point but I found something and with the help of somebody else I now feel good at it, I could have done with learning that a long time ago and it might have saved me a lot of graft but you don’t find it unless you’re looking for it.
The 60 in Ireland saved my whole year last year. That was an amazing day! It came out of nothing really, I mean I had been putting good and there were a lot of tournaments where I’d been putting quite well, but to have a chance for a 59 that day was awesome. I guess that starts to come when you believe you’re a better putter, that would never have happened before. That round saved my whole year last year. I played very averagely and took most of April off because my son was doing his exams at school, so the early part of the season didn’t go great. I made a ten on the last hole during the third round in India when I was going well. Then I did very little through until Ireland and just had a great week. After that I got in The Open and played poorly there, really hurt my thumb on holiday and I did nothing after that, so without that week in Ireland I’d be gone.
This is my 19th year on the European Tour. The last couple of years have been frustrating really. I had a problem with my back just through travelling and sleeping funny and I’d managed that for a season, but it stopped me hitting loads of balls. Then last year after Ireland I felt really good but hurt my thumb and couldn’t hit any balls, so I tried to play the rest of the year without any practice, which I hated, and then only from December onwards I’ve been able to hit balls again, so I’ve hit loads since. But, having that period where I wasn’t able to practice when I wanted to, that just makes you keener. I didn’t like it when it was happening, but it’s done me some good.
My amateur career wasn’t great, so I knew I was going to be a coach one day. My background was in coaching, I started off as a club pro, and during my amateur career I felt there wasn’t anything there that showed I could be a professional. I knew I could win money in smaller events but doing it on this stage for twenty years, I’d never have thought that, so my plan was to be a coach because I’d always worked on my own game and always studied. I wasn’t in county golf squads or getting England coaching, so your choices are paying for lessons, which for a young pro are expensive, or you learn it yourself and that was the only option really for me. So, I learnt as much as I could, through books, watching, listening, then I got to play out here surrounded by the best coaches and best players, so I kept my eyes and ears open.
Before I came out on Tour I’d only had a couple of lessons. I had one or two from local pros growing up but the people you want lessons from, your David Leadbetters and Butch Harmons, was just unrealistic. They’re busy and expensive. So, I learnt through the best way I could – just for my own benefit. I also thought it might help my teaching, which I was doing at the time, and then some of the pros started to trust my opinion after seeing the work I put in over the years. Sometimes as a golfer you get a little confused as to what you want to work on and you want to be able to ask somebody, so I guess I was the fella who was around who would give an honest opinion and it’s gone from there really.
Now I coach 20 players. It’s a real mixed bag and that’s the beauty of it. There’s those with so much experience and then there’s the younger lads who have their whole careers ahead of them and I can hopefully help them avoid the same mistakes I’ve made, keep them working harder, give them a plan to stick to so they don’t go off on tangents. We haven’t had to say no to people because of Liam James and Benn Barham who help me so now we’re near 20 players. Matt Wallace, Matthias Schwab, Jason Scrivener, Wade Ormsby, Pablo Larrazábal, Thomas Bjørn, Lee Westwood to name a few. I’ve learnt a lot from them too, Larrazábal and Bjørn in particular have helped me with my short game. That’s the nice part about having a group of players, as I can say to one player ‘he’s good so let’s watch him’ and they can bounce off each other. I can have a pool of thoughts after seeing how they all tackle certain shots.
I don’t use Trackman. I have my own method. Trackman is probably one of the reasons that sends players down the wrong route and stops them from playing their best golf. It’s a new piece of technology and you’re left to interpret it how you choose because it doesn’t come with a set of instructions. I’ve learnt to trust my own judgement of what I see and I think I’ve been around enough good players to see good golf shots, you can see them, hear them, tell people when they’re in the right frame of mind and when their swings are in order you can see it clearly. But, the game has changed and that is a massive part of it now, hitting it a long way. I was talking to Bryson the other day; we get on well and he tells me what he’s been doing all the time. When he first came out to Abu Dhabi in 2016 as an amateur, I just about knew his name and he was right behind me on the range hitting balls. I didn’t look round, but he was just machine-gunning these three woods, like ball-after-ball, his caddie was popping them down and the strike just sounded awesome. So, I turned around to see who it was, interested in his style after seeing his clubs and just watched him hit balls. We’ve been chatting ever since. Back then he was a normally built young fella, but I saw him the other day and he’s massive now. He’s increased his ball speed from 180mph to 200mph which is a huge increase and to think you’re capable of doing that in your early twenties! If I’d known the way the game was heading, I would have probably geared my game slightly differently.
The game in my opinion is ruined. The R&A and everyone else were way too slow at doing anything about it because you assumed there’d be some sort of distance limit and that accuracy would always be a primary part of golf but it’s not and they’ve let it go out of control. It’s too far gone now and the game in my opinion is ruined. I don’t like this type of golf but it’s what we’re facing and that’s what we’ve got to learn to manage, it’s tough but it’s twenty years too late. I used to hit my driver as hard as I possibly could all the time and I was good off the tee but thought this couldn’t possibly last, I’ve got to be better at the rest of it as well. I used to hit it 300 yards, but I can’t anymore so that’s the way everything’s changed and it’s disappointing. For the young lads now, they’ve got to plan for the future which is endless distance, so why not get yourself super ripped and have 200mph ball speed.