How you can attack a 'target course' like the pros at RBC Heritage
By T.J. Auclair
Breathtaking Harbour Town Golf Links played host to the RBC Heritage week, as it always does the week following the Masters.
At just a shade under 7,100 yards, it's not necessarily a short course, but it most certainly is one that requires more strategy than most. This isn't one of those bomb-and-gouge places. It's one where you always need to be in position. If you're not, you'll pay dearly -- something Bryson DeChambeau learned on the par-5 second hole in Round 3 on Saturday.
He was leading the tournament until he took a triple-bogey 8 on that par 5.
Simply put, Harbour Town is a healthy does of "target golf."
We caught up with 2013 PGA National Teacher of the Year Lou Guzzi to find out some best practices when you're faced with "target courses" like Harbour Town, or courses where the fairways are a little tighter and there's not much margin for error.
"It all comes down to how you handle your swing and how much you trust it when it comes to target golf," Guzzi said. "When the target is a little tighter, that could put some tension into allowing you to swing freely."
Here's what you need to do to get the most out of your game on those "target courses."
1. Plan the strategy for the hole and give yourself some wiggle room.
"When I'm looking at my target, I always want to make sure I have a little wiggle room," Guzzi said. "Maybe the fairway is only 25-30 yards wide. And maybe on the left side, it's really tight with trees, but perhaps the right side has a little more room -- a landing area if you miss. Emotionally, I want to know that I have a little room to miss because it will allow me to swing more freely. Sometimes hitting it in the rough isn't the end of the world and when you think that way, it'll make a tight hole wider."
2. Play the hole backwards in your head.
"When you plan out the way you're going to play the hole from the green backwards, a couple of things happen," Guzzi said. "First of all, if you imagine you're on the green and looking back toward the tee, you're going to see where you want to be for the approach. Secondly, you might also notice that though the tee shot might seem real narrow and tight, at 200 yards, the fairway really opens up. From the tee, you can't see that there's room there, but if you've done your homework, you'll know there's room there. You want to know how far you can hit it to open up more space. That gives you the opportunity to make the freeist swing you can."
3. Recognize your abilities and play accordingly.
"Not everyone can hit a long ball and that's OK," Guzzi said. "So don't try to force shots when you're playing a target course. On most courses, the greens slope from back to front. If you hit it long, you're going to have a devilish shot back toward the hole with the green running away from you. Rather than try and hit that low, hybrid shot that is undoubtedly going to run through the green, just lay up in front of that greenside bunker. Hit it where you know. The green is going to accept that chip or pitch shot much better than one from the back. Amateurs are rarely going to get up and down with a downhill chip. Hit it where you know and keep that hole in front of you."
4. Know that, sometimes, you're just going to have to hit the perfect shot.
"Back in my amateur playing days, I remember playing the Philadelphia Publinks one year," Guzzi said. "The fifth hole was a really tight par 4. All four days I made par. I had to hit directlty over this little bridge, over a hazard. It was 220 to clear the bridge and it was a precision shot. I used a 2-iron each day to a very small landing area. The second shot was a 7- or 8-iron onto the green -- another difficult shot. In the four rounds, standing on the tee, in the pre-shot routine, I knew there was no bail out.
"Once in a while, you play a hole where you just have to hit a good shot," he added. "There's no bail out. That's where the pre-shot routine, breathing and execution come into play. You have to stand there sometimes and say to yourself, 'you have to make a good swing.' There's no second strategy. There's a lot of holes at Harbour Town like that."
Guzzi has a fun drill you can implement on the range to help with target golf.
He wants students to imagine field-goal posts. The longer the club you're hitting, the wider the posts can be. But as you hit shorter clubs -- your scoring clubs -- you want to imagine those posts moving closer together for a more precise shot to the target.
Ultimately, with target golf, you want to be able to possess a tension-free swing rather than trying to steer a shot. That's when you overthink things.
Keep it simple and, Guzzi says, "I like to let the ball get in the way of my clubface and I like to let the fairways, greens and the hole get in the way of my ball."