Oh No H2O

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The best players in the world will soon descend on the Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass for The Players Championship. Whether watching in person, on television or online, viewers will tune in overwhelmingly for one-shot ' the tee shot on the par-3, 17th hole. This 137-yard gem with the island green has certainly earned its reputation as one of the most anticipated and mentally challenging holes in golf. On the final day of the 2008 Players Championship, 16 of 74 shots ended up in the drink. That's an astounding 22 percent. Even on the PGA Tour, there are holes that turn 'these guys are good!' into 'these guys are human!' Such humility is ironically welcomed by observers who enjoy seeing their Tour idols struggle with the same fears and negative thoughts that are all too familiar to the weekend warrior.
 
Over the course of a year, approximately 45,000 players take their shot at the famed island green. The number of balls making a splash is estimated to be 120,000 per year; that equates to almost three balls per player. Do the math and you'll discover that the average player fails 15 times more often than does a Tour player. It appears 'these guys are good' after all.
 
So, just what is it that Tour players are thinking as they stand over the ball on No. 17? What strategies can you learn from them to help overcome similar situations ' greens protected by water, water-lined fairways, forced carries over water, or any other condition in which H2O saturates your brain? Below are Tour-tested strategies that you can use the next time you are facing that dreaded water hole.
 
Strategy I: Put Your Symptoms Into Reverse One of the reasons why holes like No. 17 at Sawgrass are so difficult is that they present an 'all-or-nothing' scenario. 'The hardest thing about that hole is that you need to be committed on the shot and you know you can't really hit a poor shot and get away with it,' Tiger Woods said. When facing a hole with extreme difficulty, no bail-out and no forgiveness, the average golfer experiences a range of performance-inhibiting symptoms ' elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, fear of embarrassment, etc. To combat these symptoms, do the opposite. Reverse the identified effects as soon as possible to minimize the associated negative impact on your mind and body. Try these specific reversal strategies:
 
  • When your breathing becomes shallow, take three to four long, deep breaths.
  • When your heart begins to race, slow down your pre-shot routine.
  • When you doubt your club selection, pick one club and commit 100 percent to HOW you need to hit it.
  • When you reach for an old 'water ball,' dont do it ' instead, select a brand new ball deserving of its rightful place in the center of the green.

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    Strategy II: Focus on the Opportunity, Not the Threat If you've ever played darts, you know what it means to focus on the opportunity. Every throw is another opportunity to make a 'bull's-eye.' Hitting a ball to an island green should feel the same ' simply, an opportunity to succeed. To hit the bull's-eye, you must control two factors: 1) your self-talk, and 2) your attention.
     
    Keep your self-talk positive when hitting over water. Rather than saying, 'Oh no, I hope I have enough balls in my bag,' be more intentional and positive. Statements such as, 'I love the challenge of these types of shots,' or, 'Lets see if I can pull it off today' can minimize the counter-productive symptoms that we discussed in strategy No. 1.
     
    Focus your attention on where you intend to hit the ball, not the threat of losing your ball in the water. Choose a challenging, yet realistic target (e.g., the 15-foot area left of the pin and right of the tree that sits behind the green). You may also find it helpful to use a supporting swing image to trigger your desired ball flight. Once you have primed your mind and body with the opportunity of success, simply throw your dart.
     
    Strategy III: Play Your 'Go-To' Shot Although their strengths vary significantly, rest assured that every PGA Tour player facing the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass will go to their strength under pressure. Players who fade the ball will let it fade, and those that like to hit a controlled knock-down will come in low.
     
    I recall a conversation years ago with Charlie Earp, the renowned Australian instructor and mentor to Greg Norman. Charlie told me that he advised Norman to play his go-to shot 80 to 85 percent of the time. Earp explained that going to one's bread-and-butter shot not only promoted confidence, but minimized the doubt and fear that often arise under pressure situations.
     
    So while you're watching your favorite Tour pro navigate the 17th at The Players Championship, consider which of the three above strategies he might be using. Better yet, get off the couch, head to your favorite 'Oh No, H2O' hole, and give them a try. You might just find that you'll hit the bull's-eye!
     
    Balls in the water at No. 17, The Players Championship:
    YearRound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4Total
    200820181016*64
    20075021101293
    2006191712957
    200578252868
    20049104730
    200361031029
    *Goydos hit 1 additional ball in the water on the 1st hole of the playoff (statistics provided by PGA Tour)
     
    Rick Jensen, Ph.D., is a nationally recognized sport psychologist and author of Drive to the Top: 5 Timeless Business Lessons Learned from Golfs Greatest Champions. Dr. Jensens clients include more than 50 touring pros on the PGA, LPGA and Champions tours. For additional information, go to www.drrickjensen.com.