Halloween treat: How to master five of the most terrifying shots in golf
Halloween is right around the corner and if you’re a passionate golfer you may be thinking less about ghouls and goblins than something that truly terrifies you: The Most Scary Shots in the Game.
Let’s face it, there are certain shots that just seem to inspire universal dread among all golfers – having to hit the ball over water that is all carry with little margin for error, the 5-foot knee-knocker to save par, the buried lie in a greenside bunker, a slick downhill greenside chip, and the 80-yard bunker shot.
But fear not! With the right technique, a proper mindset and a little practice, you can learn to relax over these shots knowing that you’ve conquered your anxieties.
We spoke with some pros from around the region to see if we could take some of the trepidation out of the scariest shots in golf. Here is what we learned…
The par-3 fifth hole at Tijeras Creek Golf Club is all carry over the water from tee to green.
The shot: All carry over the water.
Why it’s so scary: There are few more sinking feelings on the course than watching your golf ball plummet into a water hazard. And it's not just your hard-earned cash you spent on that golf ball going down the drain. If you're not careful, your round can also take a dive – in some cases the penalty is one stroke and distance, so you’re dropping in front of the same lake and having to hit that shot all over again.
How to overcome the mental obstacles: It’s really like any other shot on the golf course – you want to recognize the trouble spots and figure out where you want to hit it, not where you don’t want to hit it. Instead of saying ‘Don’t hit it in the water,’ for example, pick a safe, sensible spot and tell yourself you want to hit it there. You give yourself positive affirmation. Golf is mostly mental anyway.
How to hit the shot: Consider taking one extra club and swinging smooth and easy, as opposed to trying to hit your exact yardage and counting on a perfect ball strike. If you take an extra club and swing within yourself, you know you’ll have plenty of club to carry the hazard.
When faced with a knee-knocker, stay very still and keep your eyes over the ball.
The shot: The 5-foot knee-knocker to save par.
Why it’s so scary: For most amateurs, it's the fear of failure and the fact that there's no way to get this shot back like you can with a wayward drive.
How to overcome the mental obstacles: Most players worry too much about it, then get over the ball, look up at the hole during their stroke and don't make a good pass through the ball. But the pros you see on TV will have practiced this putt 10,000 times – so it’s all about repetition and making it automatic. Everything that a pro does in their practice and pre-shot routine is designed to allow them to eliminate angst, anxiety and differential thoughts. By the time they hit it, it’s as mechanical as possible.
How to hit the shot: You have to accelerate through the putt, stay very still, keep your eyes over the ball and finish your stroke. If you train by doing those things and get used to them, you’ll make more of these putts. A lot of players watch the putter go back, watch the putter hit the ball, and then watch it miss. If you eliminated that, you’d make 50 percent more short putts.
When faced with a buried lie in the bunker, use the leading edge to get down deep under the sand.
The shot: Buried lie in a greenside bunker.
Why it’s so scary: First, it doesn’t happen very often, so golfers typically aren’t prepared for it and don’t practice the shot. Also, you have to play it completely different than a normal bunker shot that’s not plugged. If you don’t hit it right, you can either chunk it and leave it in the bunker or skull it 40 yards over the green. So there’s a lot of trepidation there.
How to overcome the mental obstacles: You have to put yourself in that situation. Go out to the practice area and plug 20-25 balls and get used to hitting that shot. If you don’t practice the technique, you’re not going to do it very well. If you practice it, the next time you’re in that situation, it won’t be nearly as scary.
How to hit the shot: There's a variety of ways to hit it. One way is by closing the club face as compared to a traditional bunker shot where the face stays open. You want to use the leading edge of the club to get down as deep under the sand as you can to get the ball out of the plugged hole. You really want to make sure you’re digging down into the sand under the ball. If you can cock your wrists on the way back, you can really dig in on your downswing and hit it hard. You don’t want a shallow, sweeping swing.
Monarch Beach Golf Links PGA General Manager Eric Lohman explains how to hit the downhill chip.
The shot: A downhill greenside chip.
Why it’s so scary: A downhill chip shot is scary because you have to have positive momentum into the back of the ball and avoid decelerating on your downswing. If you decelerate, you’re going to flub it. But there’s always that fear in the back or your head that you’re going to hit it much too far and put it in trouble on the other side of the green.
How to overcome the mental obstacles: The biggest part of it is knowing how to hit the shot and practicing it. You really have to practice this shot to get comfortable with it.
How to hit the shot: A lot of times golfers don’t use the right club. With a decent lie for this shot, generally you want to hit a lob wedge. Then you want to put the ball back in your stance, put your weight forward and hit the chip shot with a lot of loft. If you’re not using the right club, you’re just compounding the problem. The more you open the face and open your stance, if you hit it correctly the ball will land softer and roll slower.
The shot: 80 yards into the green from the bunker.
Why it’s so scary: Most golfers have no idea how to hit the long bunker shot. Do I hit the ball first? Do I take sand behind the ball? How big of a swing do I take? How hard do I swing? These are all thoughts that can run through your head.
How to overcome the mental obstacles: When faced with this shot, you must commit 100 percent to making a full swing and hitting the sand behind the ball. This shot is similar the greenside bunker shot. Practice with clubs other than the sand wedge so you can get a feel for distance control.
How to hit the shot: When executing a long bunker shot, you need to make these adjustments in the setup: Dig feet 1 inch into the sand, grip down on the club 1 inch, and position the ball slightly back in your stance. From this position, set your wrists early while keeping 60 percent of your weight forward. Then, accelerate the club through the sand starting behind the ball and into a full finish.
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Greetings, fellow golfers, and welcome to SoCal Golf Insider! We are Rob Lyon and Eric Marson and we've been reporting and writing about the game throughout the region since 1995. Here, we will provide you with the latest news, features, reviews and more on all things golf in Southern California. Let’s tee it up!
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