How to keep your short game focused, fearless like Branden Grace

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Branden Grace was able to avoid disaster with an amazing short game en route to victory at the RBC Heritage.
By Mark Aumann
PGA.com

Published: Monday, April 18, 2016 | 12:22 p.m.

The ultimate goal of every golfer is to hit every fairway, every green in regulation and never three-putt. But that's not likely, even for the best players in the world.

For example, Harbour Town Golf Links boasts narrow fairways and some of the smallest greens on the PGA Tour, placing a premium on the ability to get up and down from some difficult locations. And that's exactly what Branden Grace did to win last week's RBC Heritage. His short game was nothing short of amazing, as he saved par several times during Sunday's final round to maintain his advantage en route to the victory.

And this shot to finish Saturday's third round was a perfect example of how good Grace was with his wedges.

 

 

His ability to maintain his confidence in his short game under pressure was a major key in his victory. You may never have a short game worthy of Grace, but PGA Professional Nicole Weller, head teaching professional at The Landings Club in Savannah, Ga., believes you can manage your potential, particularly when it comes to staying positive and confident on the course.

Weller said most golfers are great at practicing the physical part of the game: technique and fitness. They may even delve a bit into the mental part of the game -- working on strategies and plans. But the emotional portion of the game? With a master's degree in sports psychology, managing the fear or uncertainly of a situation is what Weller believes can separate a good golfer from a great one.

"You can have the best equipment and technique, but without being in an effective emotional state, it might not really matter," Weller said. "I love using concepts from Spirit of Golf (www.myspiritofgolf.com) as a Certified Instructor and we work with a term called Frontloading. It basically teaches us how to better manage the state we want to be in that we choose (with practice), not one we inherit from a shot or situation (fear being one of them)."

It not only comes down to understanding the correct strategy -- and having practiced or made that shot in the past -- but being comfortable with the decision and eliminating doubt, Weller said.

That may require an amateur to forego the "hero" shot -- the high risk/high reward opportunity -- in order to play within their comfort zone.

"It's important to assess what you are capable of doing skill-wise, strategy-wise and emotionally," Weller said. "Hit the shot you know you can hit, not what you think you can hit.

"What have you practiced and does it hold up in practice in simulated tougher situations? Play the better percentages, like a layup or bump and run to another area that might not be the direct route, or be OK with the gambled shot that doesn't turn out."

Which brings Weller to the next point: Don't be afraid to fail. But if you do, don't let it affect how you approach that situation in the future.

"We create this fear that's self-imposed and really isn't life threatening, like a potential snake bite or unsafe situation," Weller said. "We create the fear by not knowing what will happen and imagining the worst possible outcome, which we choose to dwell on.

"Change the picture, do something that has a better chance at succeeding. We either succeed or learn, right?"

In Grace's situation, he hit shots that he's practiced daily for years, until it's become almost automatic. When facing a pressure situation, his mind is almost on autopilot.

But as Jordan Spieth proved at the Masters, golf has a way of humbling even the world's best. And amateurs need to keep that in mind when they fail to pull off a shot the way they think they should.

"While the touring pros have trained with wedges off tight lies, it's never a guarantee that it will come out as imagined," Weller said. "We're humans and aren't perfect robots.

"Trust is a big word and sometimes you have to be able to let shots that didn't work as planned roll off your shoulders and move on. Don't get stuck dwelling on the past in an ineffective way."

Nicole Weller joined the staff at The Landings Club in 2005 alongside her husband Ty Weller. Nicole boasts a laundry list of awards, including Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers Award - Top 40 Under 40; U.S. Kids Master Professional Award; 2011 LPGA Southeast Region Teacher of the Year; and 2013 LPGA and PGA National Junior Golf Leader Awards. Learn more at her personal website.