At The Honda Classic, the famed three-hole stretch tests the mettle of the game’s best. Here’s how they survive.
The notorious Bear Trap — holes 15, 16 and 17 — at PGA National’s Champion course is the gauntlet all Honda Classic winners must master. “It’s not about length,” says Jack Nicklaus, the golf legend who designed these holes. “It’s about precision. It’s about guts.” Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Mike Bender, whose students include PGA Tour stars Zach Johnson and Jonathan Byrd, explains how the best golfers will approach one of the sport’s toughest three-hole stretches when they compete in The Honda Classic from Feb. 27 to March 2.
179 yards, par 3
The view from this tee box gets guys nervous — water short, right and long makes the green seem even smaller than it is, especially if there’s wind. Nerves cause tension, which restricts muscle movement. This leads to shorter, quicker swings that produce errant shots.
Nervousness results when you’re afraid of what might happen. The best chance for success, then, is to commit fully to the shot you want to hit. That means establishing a starting point target and a finishing point target. The players at The Honda Classic will need both, because virtually every shot curves. After addressing the ball, it’s critical that their eyes focus on the starting line, not the finish line. Another key: You’ll notice players waggle their clubs, rather than standing still and staring at the ball, as part of their pre-shot routine. This helps reduce tension in the hands and arms.
434 yards, par 4
Even a solid drive in the fairway leaves an uphill approach over water and sand — another classic anxiety-inducing situation. Concern with where the ball is headed, especially on tough shots, often causes players to come up out of their posture too early. For pros, this flaw generally results in a miss short and right.
Too many golfers don’t take a practice swing, or take it above the ground, simply rehearsing trouble. It’s important to take a meaningful practice swing, always hitting the ground. This develops confidence when you’re over the ball, and increases the chances for a smooth, free-flowing swing when it counts. The best pros remember to be 100% committed to the shot while using 80% effort — not vice versa.
190 yards, par 3
A hole like No. 17 has an important lesson to teach: When playing in the wind, let the ball ride the breeze if you have room on the safe side. Here, the prevailing wind is left to right, and the water is to the green’s right. Yes, there’s a bunker left of the green, but that’s certainly the better alternative.
The tee is also elevated, so it’s a great time for players to use a punch shot to keep the ball low. They’ll have far more control over the ball flight, plus the shot will spend less time in the air, limiting the wind’s effect. I advise my guys to position the ball back in their stance, remembering to open up the stance to adjust for this change, and then strike the ball with a very limited, low follow-through. It’s important to be prepared for these signature moments, especially in a setting like the Bear Trap, with a Honda Classic title on the line.