So this week we saw PGA Tour player Kevin Na shoot 80 in the first round of the Valero Texas Open. A tour pro shooting 80 is surprising, but not unheard of. But Na shot 80 after he made a 16 – yes, a 16, on the par four ninth hole. Poor tee shot, unplayable lie, another poor tee shot, unplayable lie, whiff, penalty for hitting himself – the 16 had just about everything that you could imagine in it…but what could the average player watching this surreal event take away from it? Better yet, what could the average player take away from it that was positive???
Following his 12-over-par hole(!), Kevin Na played the final nine holes two under par. Hard to imagine that he didn’t lose it a little or just pack it in – it would have been understandable and very easy to make some more bad swings, post more big numbers, and record an epically horrible round. But that’s not what happened. Far from it. One of the most impressive things that I saw from Kevin Na was how he went right back to his routine on the 10th hole. There was no variation – simply right back to the same thing that has worked for him for many years. A lot of teachers will emphasize how important a pre-shot routine is – go through your check list before you hit the ball and make sure that you do it every single swing. This is no more important than when you hit a bad shot or have a bad hole – get right back to doing what you know works! If you can get back into your routine the good scores will come back. This also holds true when you are playing well – don’t change anything…keep doing the same thing that has been working and do it over and over and over again.
Each player’s pre-shot routine will be different and depend on their key swing thoughts or swing “triggers”. Do you look up two times before you hit? Do you waggle once? You and your PGA professional can work out a good pre-shot routine that will work for you and make you more comfortable – whether you are hitting the ball poorly or having the best round of your life. Your routine should be short, easy, and quick to run through. There’s no need to make your routine 10 items long – most good routines contain 2-3 items.
The true key to the pre-shot routine is simply in it’s name – PRE-shot. This is a mental checklist that a player should go through before he/she hits the ball – not during the swing. If you are thinking about a variety of different things during your actual swing then we have already failed and the results of your swing are sure to be poor. I’d like to see your swing be as instinctual as possible – remind yourself of what you want to do before you swing – and then let it happen. When teaching, I will often work with a student and hammer home the idea of what we are working on for an extended period of time and then turn to them and say, “Now we are at the point of the lesson where we need you to stop thinking and just swing”. I am sure you’ve made the same swing a bunch of times – now just trust what you’ve been working on…stop thinking…let the swing happen as naturally as possible.
Two weeks ago, it was Rory McIlroy who had a bad hole (though relatively, a seven isn’t so bad compared to 16,) and his wheels came off a little bit. But he bounced back to have a strong showing in the Malaysian Open this past week. His resilience will serve him well. The same thing goes for Mr. Kevin Na. That one hole was so bad, he lost count and had to go to the video tape to determine his score. Twice. But amazingly, it didn’t affect the rest of his round.
Remember, when you are out on the course you need to trust all of the work that you have done while practicing. Have a pre-shot routine (2-3 items at the most), trust your pre-shot routine, and repeat it on every single shot when possible. Kevin Na went right back to his – and he went from a 16 on hole number 9 to a 34 for the entire back nine at the Valero Texas Open. He even beat a few players on the day. Again, after scoring a 16 on one hole! That’s the “A Lesson Learned” for this week. And it’s one that could serve you well for a long time to come.
Kevin Hamluk is a 1997 graduate of the Penn State Professional Golf Management Program and has been a PGA Member since 1998. Currently the PGA Director of Instruction at South Riding Golf Course in South Riding, VA. You can follow Kevin on Twitter - @HamlukPGA  and @KevinHamlukGolf or friend him on Facebook - Kevin Hamluk Golf Instruction .