Imagine, if you will. You're faced with a 25-yard lob shot from the rough over a tree to a tight green. If you get it close and make the putt, not only will you shoot the best score of your life, you'll pick up the carried-over Nassau and take the pot. Are you nervous just thinking about this scenario? Most golfers are, and when fear or anxiety creep into one's golf game, a slew of bad things can happen. The heart rate elevates, adrenaline streams into the bloodline and mentally, fundamentals are thrown out the window. Often, players then try to force a shot, or employ the classic hit-and-hope technique, praying to high heaven for an even decent result.
Touring professionals approach the same shot with fervor for the dramatic, however. Instead of being consumed with fear, they approach the shot with confidence, knowing that if they do get up and down, not only will they win, but a surefire recap on SportsCenter is bound to follow.
Why is that? One of the key reasons Tour pros have more success from this range than the good amateur player is they have complete confidence in their swing fundamentals. They instinctively know how to address the ball, swing and followthrough. The only variable they're concerned with is getting the ball over that tree, whereas it's not uncommon to find amateur players more perplexed with ball position and clubface angles than the task at hand. To help you clear your mind and start concentrating on the actual shot and not shot mechanics, let's look at a few fundamentals and a technique I like to use to get your mind off your swing and on the shot.
First, find a tree, or other obstacle around a green, or even a tall bench or picnic umbrella in your backyard. In my case, I've taken it to the extreme, using the Bay Hill scoreboard. Choke down on the grip and address the ball with an open stance, aiming your feet approximately 30 degrees more open than normal. As for ball position, play the ball in the middle of your stance. Position most of your body weight on your back foot, and align your body left of the target as well. Now comes the tricky part. When you address the ball, align the clubface directly square to the target, and position your hands directly above the ball. Voila! This is the proper position. Most amateurs fault by addressing the ball too square and instead open the face, thus causing skulled, fat or sometimes shanked shots.
The key to hitting this shot is to remember to take the club back along your body, even if that means approaching the ball on an outside-in path on the downswing. With a smooth motion and steady acceleration, maintain the bulk of your weight on your rear foot and allow your hands to release through the ball while still holding the face open.
Once you feel comfortable making a few practice swings in this position, it's time to alter your focus. Take your mind off your mechanics and hone in on the object you must lob the ball over. Be confident in your swing and visualize the ball flying up and over your obstacle and landing softly on the other side. Once you have a clear picture, it's time to execute with confidence. Now hit the shot!
Practice this several times and concentrate on the visual image of the ball crossing your obstacle. After a few attempts, with proper visualization, confidence and sound mechanics, you'll ingrain not only a better swing, but the confidence you'll need to hit this shot on the golf course. Practice this shot frequently and don't quit until you can successfully put 10 balls over your obstacle. Then come time to face the pressure situation, you'll have all the confidence you'll need to win. Good luck!
PGA professional John O'Leary III is the director of instruction at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge (www.bayhill.com) in Orlando, Fla.