When Padraig Harrington stepped up to the tee at PGA National's daunting par-3 17th hole Monday for the first time, he was holding a one-shot lead. All he needed to do was make solid contact, put the ball on the green and walk away with par.
After all, he had put together a string of four consecutive birdies earlier in the round to put himself in that situation.
Instead, he blocked a 5-iron into the lake and wound up carding a double bogey. A clutch birdie putt on No. 18 got Harrington into a playoff with 21-year-old Daniel Berger -- and after both players parred their first playoff hole, Harrington found himself once again staring across the water at the 17th green.
And this is what happened:
So how did Harrington put the memory of that terrible first shot aside to hit the shot that won the Honda Classic?
PGA Professional Christian Czaja of Boca West Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., said it's a matter of believing in yourself and your abilities -- and that comes from having mental toughness. If you've been in that situation before -- and had a positive result -- you can draw on that.
"If I'm Padraig Harrington, I'm thinking 'I'm a major champion, I've been there, I can do this,' " Czaja said. "Drawing upon his previous experience has got to be helpful. Even if you haven't won for awhile, you never forget how to win. That really gives you that belief in your ability."
You may never face that kind of shot to win a tournament, but Czaja said you can hone your own mental game -- both on the range and the course. There's no reason one bad shot should snowball into a bad day, if you learn how to eliminate it from your mind before you step up to hit your next one.
"The mental part of the game is so important, and it's often overlooked," Czaja said. "When you're practicing on the range, or especially when you're on the course, it's more important to focus on the process -- what you're supposed to do and how to do it -- rather than focusing on only the results. You should be thinking about what you need to do to create a good swing, not on what went wrong the last time."
And that's what separates the professionals from the recreational players, Czaja said. Sure, they have caddies and coaches to settle them down and help them refocus. But staying in the moment -- especially when it comes to developing a consistent routine -- is part of why they're able to shake off a shank or worry less about the water.
And that was never more evident than in the final round of the Honda Classic, when it seemed like everyone who grabbed the lead at some point ran into serious trouble.
"The best players in the world can have these poor shots, but almost always they're able to regroup and come back on the very next shot," Czaja said. "Even after hitting it in the water at No. 17, Harrington had enough composure to get a ruling on the very next shot.
"That's something players have to work on. And that's training yourself to go through a routine to prepare yourself for the next shot rather than worrying about what's already happened."
Czaja suggested a great pre-shot routine using these three steps:
1. Have a positive mental picture of the shot you want to hit
"Without question, you always visualize the shot in a positive light. Jack Nicklaus was one of the best at it. You want to see that successful shot in your mind first -- because it clears away any negative thoughts carried over from the previous one."
2. Prepare yourself by knowing the situation
"Before you hit a shot, you have to have a plan in mind of what you want to do. Look at the yardage. Check the conditions. Look at the lie. For pros, it's automatic. But what it does is puts you back in the moment. You're no longer worried about what happened in the past. Get in the habit of doing a checklist with every shot and you'll gain confidence in pressure situations."
3. Step up to the ball and execute
"The more you practice the routine, the more it becomes automatic under pressure. You go into autopilot. You'll know when to pull the trigger, because you've practiced it so much in your mind."
Czaja said any PGA Professional will be happy to help teach you more about the mental game, as well as assist you in improving your physical one.
Christian Czaja has been named PGA Teacher of the Year for South Florida. To reach him, visit his website at http://www.christianczaja.com or call (844) 236-8465.