Why the 17th at TPC Sawgrass is so hard appears to be simple at first – it’s surrounded by water. Up to a point that is true. However, it’s not actually the water, but the “fear of failure” that really makes it so difficult.
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The 17th at Sawgrass is the shortest hole on the course at 137 yards, which should really make it a birdie hole for the best players in the world, with their exceptional ability to control the distance the ball travels. If you give them 137 yards from the middle of the fairway with a perfect lie on any of the other holes on the course they would definitely be thinking of making birdie. On number 17 the fear of failure kicks in and the shot becomes incredibly difficult. Pete Dye is a master of visual intimidation.
Fear of failure is something we all experience to some degree and it inhibits our ability to perform tasks that would normally be simple. My favorite example of it is placing a 10’ board that is 12” wide down on the ground and offering someone a free drink of their choice for walking it without falling off. Everyone would jump on that deal. However, if I place that same board between two five-story buildings and make the same offer I would get very few takers. The consequences for making a mistake are now severe and people suddenly start thinking about walking which is something they never do. Once you start thinking about it and consciously trying to make your muscles perform you lose your balance and fall.
“It is like having a 3 o’clock appointment for a root canal. You’re thinking about it all morning and you feel bad all day. You kind of know sooner or later you’ve got to get to it.” — Mark Calcavecchia
If I give you a simple shot of 135 yards to a green it is not particularly difficult to do. If, however, I put a sand trap in front of the green it becomes a little more difficult. If I take the trap out and put a pond in the shot becomes much more difficult. If I take the pond out and surround the green with water, it becomes an almost impossible shot for most of us. The most interesting thing about this is nothing about the requirements to hit the green changed – only the penalty for missing it. Your subconscious could hit that shot all day, but when the conscious sees the sand and water it tries to take over.
Your mind/body responds to the last thought in your head. “Don’t hit it in the water” is going to produce a bad shot that will usually end up in the worst possible place. If your last vision in your mind is ripples on the water from your ball, guess where the ball is going to end up.
I highly recommend finding a copy of The Inner Game of Golf by Timothy Gallwey. It will give you some wonderful ways to understand and control this. Most bad shots are caused by the mind and not by the body so you will see a dramatic improvement in your golf game using your own golf swing.
True champions have the ability to control their doubts so it will be interesting to watch how everyone plays one of the most famous holes in golf this weekend.