Golf tips: Tackling a difficult stretch of holes
By T.J. Auclair
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA - Rickie Fowler reacts after a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on March 03, 2019 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
The Champion Course at PGA National, host of the Honda Classic, features one of the most difficult three-hole stretches in golf. Its par-3 15th, par-4 16th and par-3 17th holes are known as, "The Bear Trap."
What makes them so difficult — aside from the ever-present water hazards — are the swirling winds players encounter once they get there.
Even with a big lead late in 2017 when he captured a win at the Honda Classic, Rickie Fowler had a hiccup on the par-3 17th when his ball found the water right of the green. He recovered with a fantastic shot from the drop area and made a solid bogey.
Surely you can relate to a stretch of holes at your own course similar to the Bear Trap, right? Perhaps you're playing great, but dread that particular stretch that's coming up. What do you do to deal with it?
We enlisted the help of 2011 PGA Professional Champion David Hutsell to find out what you should do when faced with an especially difficult stretch of holes without blowing up your scorecard.
"I've had the pleasure of playing PGA National and the Champion Course a number of times," Hutsell told us. "On the Gold Bear Tour a number of years ago, I had my share of experiences with the Bear Trap. It's three difficult holes. One thing I've found in my career is that you really have to try not to get ahead of yourself. It's easy to look forward to holes in a round where you've had difficulty in the past. It's cliche, but staying in the moment is very important."
So is there anything special you should do when you get to those particularly tough holes?
No, says Hutsell.
"Sure, there are things that can happen before you get to those holes that might influence things," he said. "In Rickie's case, he had a nice cushion going into those holes. He also had the benefit of having leaderboards out there everywhere, which makes decisions a little easier. But, I believe the professionals have their decisions made before that. They go into a round with a game plan and they stick to it, which is something the amateur can benefit from too."
Just like any shot you face on the golf course, the ones you hit on a difficult hole or stretch of holes are no different. You want to stick to your strengths and give yourself room for error, Hutsell explained.
"Take Rickie on 17 Sunday," Hutsell said. "The wind was blowing hard from left to right and as soon as he hit it, you could read his lips, 'aim left.' He didn't do that and the ball went in the water. He had the great recovery with the shot from the drop area while he was dealing with a lot of pressure. Whatever happens out there, make it as positive as possible and have a short memory."
The biggest takeaway here is don't allow the thought of those difficult holes ahead ruin your round. Whatever happened there in the past doesn't define what you're going to do there in the future.
Playing a great round and thinking, "Shoot, I haven't hit that stretch of holes yet where I usually fall apart," isn't going to do you any good.
Have an open mind, don't get ahead of yourself and — when you do get there — approach it one shot at a time.
"Our perspective changes a lot during the round based on the score," Hutsell said. "That's how we measure ourselves. As a teacher working with players, we have goals of breaking 90-80-70, or whatever, and we put so much pressure on ourselves. Because of that darned scorecard a lot of 'ifs' come to mind.
"Forget that. Just stay focused on each shot and stick to the game plan. If that tough stretch isn't in the back of our minds, we can perform a little better. Instead of focusing on the end result, use that energy to focus on the process."