Golf tips: Train your brain to tackle an intimidating hole

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There are few holes in golf as intimidating as the par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass. But with the right training and mindset, you can make holes like that play a lot easier than they look.
By T.J. Auclair
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Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2019 | 9:01 a.m.

As with any Players Championship week, much of the talk is centered around one specific hole at TPC Sawgrass — the iconic, par-3 17th.

The hole measures no more than 130 yards when it's playing its longest — a pitching wedge for most guys.

But, when you factor in the wind and the fact that you're hitting the ball to a small, island green, that's where it can get extra intimidating.

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Designer Pete Dye is known for that kind of thing. He's an evil genius. He designs his courses so that even the best players in the world are never comfortable.

So how do you conquer a hole as intimidating as 17 at Sawgrass so not to ruin an otherwise great round?

PGA Professional Rob Labritz, Director of Golf at GlenArbor in Bedford Hills, N.Y. has the answer.

"When you look at a hole like No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass, the average golfer sees the trouble," Labritz said. "The pro is focused on where he or she wants to land the ball. It's a mindset and all about how you train yourself. As you get more control over the ball, you can pinpoint it like a sniper. On a hole like that, you want to be thinking 'aim small, miss small.'"

Being able to apply that philosophy is a trained skill, Labritz said.

"It's not as easy as just going out there and doing it," he told "It's about reps and training your mind to trick your brain. It's about commitment -- standing up to the shot, picking a target, having done your due diligence on the yardage and outside factors like wind, and then forgetting about everything else and hitting your target."

Thankfully for most of us, playing a tee shot from the 17th tee at TPC Sawgrass isn't going to be the same as it is in the final round of a Players Championship with the pressure of contending and all the crowds.

MORE: These are the craziest things that have happened on TPC Sawgrass' 17th hole

And that's a good thing, Labritz said, because it's much easier to train yourself when there isn't a ton of pressure to start out.

If you're like a lot of golfers, an intimidating hole on a golf course you're playing might be something you start thinking about before even arriving at the course.

For stronger players, Labritz said, you don't think about what's going on in the future -- just the task at hand, the one in the present.

"Don't let your brain drift there," he said. "Stay with the hole you're on and the shot you're on. Totally stay in the present. It's a skill you've got to learn. You can't all of the sudden say, 'I'm only going to focus on the shot I'm on.' You have to trick your brain. It takes time and effort, just like learning how to hit a high draw."

As is the case with anything in life, confidence goes a long way.

"If you're thinking about water, you're probably going to hit it there," Labritz said. "If you're thinking solely about a spot on the green you want to hit it to, chances are you're going to hit it there. Have a 'sniper mentality.' Aim small, miss small." 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.