SCARY TEE SHOTS: Don't Forget To Turn Fear can be a great detriment not only to the mind, but also to how the body performs. Often, when we get fearful, the bigger muscles in the body shut down and the smaller muscles try to take over. In the case of a tee shot like this, that's exactly what you don't want. The key when getting fearful and nervous is to always remember that better shots are achieved when the body rotates down and through. If you get fearful and stop turning, the hands will take over and flip through the shot. Now, you may get away with that sometimes, but it's not a good way to maintain any sense of consistency. Remember to always turn and hit down into the golf ball. And don't be afraid to make a divot!
Hey, most course architects are on your side, right? As diabolical as some may be, often there's a bail-out area somewhere on a difficult hole. In the case of the above par-3 at The Vintage Club in Indian Wells, Calif., Tom Fazio left some room to the left for players who just don't have the gusto to clear the water to a difficult green. Now, here's the rub. Not every shot needs to be a hero shot. If you're uncomfortable for whatever reason, don't force a shot that just doesn't feel right. Bail out and get up and down. It's a lot easier to play it safe than forcing a shot you're not comfortable with.
_È_TOO MUCH TENSION: Rehearse to relax
It's not how fast you swing, it's how you swing fast! When you get tense over a tee shot, whether it's the first or last, it becomes easy to decelerate and try and steer the ball down the fairway, which as you'd guess, hardly ever works. To relax and remember to accelerate, practice making some driver swings with the club slowly falling from the top of the swing and swinging fastest past the ball. I like to actually tee up a ball so I can get a visual for where the ball is and accelerate alongside it. The fastest part of my rehearsal swing should occur in front of the ball, not behind it.
RICK'S TAKE CALM YOUR MIND
Play your pattern: If you normally hit a 20-yard fade, then play for the pattern of that shot. Under pressure, you'll tend to hit your pattern of shot and sometimes it will get even more exaggerated. Don't try to hit a shot that's uncomfortable for you to pull off, even if the hole is more suited for, let's say, a 20-yard draw. Stick with the shot that works best for you that's also the easiest for you to pull off.
Club selection: Just because the first hole is a par-4 or par-5, it doesn't mean you need to hit a driver. If you're more confident you can hit a solid shot with a 3-wood or hybrid, then keep the driver in the bag on the first hole, second hole or any hole thereafter. If you do feel confident with the driver, be ready to swing it 100%. Any less than that likely will result in a swing that tries to steer the golf ball.
Stay calm & breathe: Fear shows up in your body through increasing your grip pressure, which in turn, changes swing mechanics and how the clubface goes through the shot. Get your grip pressure in the proper place by moving the club in a circular pattern. This will help you become aware of how tight you're gripping the club and get your feel back before you get over the golf ball.
Fear equals tension, and tension destroys golf swings. Use careful breathing to regain control to minimize tension and help you swing in good tempo. Breathing should be done with deep, diaphragmatic breaths that will change your focus from the result of the shot to getting relaxed.
INTIMIDATIING PITCH SHOTS: Master the fundamentals
To hit better pitch shots, it's always best to stick with basic fundamentals and avoid trying to finesse the ball with the hands. Instead, play the ball with a slightly open stance, put the ball ahead of center in your stance, and use a very light grip pressure. From there, swing the handle low and left while sliding the clubhead under the ball. I like to think of keeping the clubface facing the sky through impact, which helps me get the ball higher into the air. Also, notice the divot I took in the photo above? Yes, that's right. Divots are for short shots, too, so don't be afraid to cut some turf. Notice my weight, too, and how at impact it's leaning left. That's a surefire sign I wasn't intimidated by the bunker and I swung with an accelerating stroke.
RICK'S TAKE NO BALL, NO FEAR
Here are two keys to keep you smooth and confident on your pitch shots. First, hitting a solid pitch shot requires soft arms. Feel that the arms are relaxed and remain loose on both the backswing and followthrough. You'll want to match the length of motion on both sides to ensure a smooth motion. Second, have a metronome-like tempo. Keeping your tempo the same back and through will reinforce being smooth through the shot. I use a metronome app on my phone to swing back and forth on the same tempo. It works wonders.
FRIGHTFUL SAND SHOTS: Hinge & go for it!
If there's one fearful shot where it's okay to use the hands more, the bunker shot is it! As for the 30-yard bunker shot? Well, it's even scarier. What I recommend is along the lines of what Glenn Deck says in his article in this same issue. Don't set up with a big open stance and an open blade. Instead, set up with the ball slightly forward and aim directly at your target. Now, here's the key. You must swing aggressively into the sand behind the ball. The goal is to hit it "fat," so to speak, and to do so, I recommend using one club longer than usual. And, by the way, let those hands hinge at the top of the backswing. You're going to need that extra clubhead speed as you approach the sand.
RICK'S TAKE FIND SAND!
The mid-length bunker shot is a tough one, mainly since it's not a traditional greenside bunker explosion shot or a fairway bunker shot, which require different mechanics. This "in-between" shot causes havoc for golfers because they start to fear either leaving the ball in the bunker or skulling it over the green. To play this shot, always remember that, in most cases, a slightly fat shot is going to be better than a skulled one. Even if you don't reach the green, you'll likely still get out of the bunker, whereas a skulled shot either will stay in the sand or fly just about anywhere. So stay aggressive, hit the sand, and have no fear!
DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF: Be confident
Even high-handicappers are expected to drain these easy four-footers, right? Well, then why are we so fearful of them? Usually, it's a confidence issue, a lack of acceleration and too much head movement in the stroke, meaning you should make a smooth, accelerating stroke and try to hear the ball drop before you lift your head and see where it went. The next time you practice, grab five to six golf balls and keep putting from four feet until you hear all the balls find the cup. It will work wonders for your ability not only to make a more aggressive stroke, but it will help you stay in the proper putting position and avoid the temptation to look up midway through your forwardstroke.
David Woods, PGA, is the Director of Golf at The Vintage Club in Indian Wells, California, one of the finest private clubs in America. He's also the former coach of Masters champion Mike Weir.
RICK'S TAKE TRUST IT!
Imagine you're in a situation to shoot a low score, but you feel nervous to hit what's usually a very easy putt. If you stay focused on "What if I miss?" you'll lose the proper focus to execute a solid stroke.
Consider embracing the preshot process instead. This involves going through an effective routine that's focused on the speed and line you intend to stroke the putt. Be as specific as possible as you see the ball enter the cup. Take the few extra seconds to visualize the putt going in right before you take the putt back. React to a clear picture of what you want instead of thinking about all the possible outcomes. Then trust your line and roll it in!
Rick Sessinghaus Psy.D, PGA, is known as "Golf's Mental Coach" and is the author of Golf: The Ultimate Mind Game. He's based in Los Angeles, Calif., and his website is www.RickSessinghaus.com.