The Hardest Shot In Golf And How To Play It (Well)

Today the best players in the world tee off in the tournament considered by some to be golf’s “5th major” and I can’t wait to watch it.

TPC Sawgrass, this week’s venue, was designed by Pete Dye with Tournament Golf in mind. He wanted to create a spectacle for the fans and that’s what he did.

Every shot on the course requires very careful thought, especially the famous Par 3, 17th. At just 137 yards, on paper you would expect it to yield a birdie for almost every player out there.

If the green was surrounded by grass this would almost certainly be the case. But being an island green in the middle of water creates a completely different challenge. And it’s a mental one.

Miss the green on this hole and it’s not a simple up and down, which for the pros is standard on most par 3s. Instead, miss the green here and you’re looking at a penalty drop and a bogey at best. And in the heat of one of the biggest tournaments in golf, it can make the difference between win or lose. This is why the tee shot on this short Par 3 is one of the hardest shots in golf.

The fact that most players would hit the green if the water wasn’t there means that this hole is all about the strength of a player’s mental approach.

I’m sure you have those holes at your local course, that for some reason, you find more difficult than others because you allow them to get inside your head. But I’m going to show you how to approach every shot with the ease of hitting the ball at your local driving range.

Just as the Tour players at Sawgrass will have to make certain of their mental approach to holes such as the 17th, you can need to do the same next time you tee it up.

For me, good golf is all about a consistent, positive process. Every shot should feel the same no matter what the situation and that’s what a good routine does. However difficult the shot, develop a really strong process and focus on it before and after every shot.

Here’s what the player’s will need to go through this weekend before playing shots such as the 17th, and I highly recommend you do the same.


The island green at TPC Sawgrass is completely exposed meaning the wind is a big factor. Just as you need to consider factors such as how the wind and lie of the ball will affect the shot, making sure this is factored into the shot selection is huge. Making this determination will allow you pick a very precise target to aim at.


Once the player has factored in the wind and determined the target, it’s time to get really connected with it. This involves visualization – seeing in your mind’s eye exactly how the ball will move in the air and land at the target


With their practice swings, the players will be feeling that particular shot they’re about to hit. Most won’t be thinking about anything technical. At this time, you’re absorbing as much information about the look and feel of the shot so you can play it with your subconscious.


Those moments before hitting the shot are about reinforcing those decisions you’ve made, not having any doubt. You need to commit to the shot and trust your swing.


Swing aggressively with no technical thoughts


The post-shot routine is about acceptance and being able to move on quickly. Whether the ball lands within 10ft or hits the water, trying to remain neutral is best.

Now it’s your turn! To help you train and make a good Pre Shot Routine a habit, download my mental game scorecard below.

Photo courtesy of Phillip Larson

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David MacKenzie

is a mental golf coach and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind, a teaching program designed to help golfers condition their minds to overcome fear and play with confidence.

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