Nervous to tackle a bucket-list hole? Here’s your game plan

November 9, 2019
The gorgeous—and gut-wrenching—16th at Port Royal Golf Club.

The debut of last week’s Bermuda Championship pitted PGA Tour players against one of the world’s most beautiful — and difficult — par 3s: the 235-yard 16th at Port Royal GC on the island’s southwest shore (above). Pros take note: This signature hole has confounded locals and visitors alike for decades.

From the tee, the most obvious challenge is a forced carry over scrub, rocks and the Atlantic Ocean. Then there’s the wind, which roars left to right off the water. But the hardest part may well be the same special sauce that makes No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass or No. 7 at Pebble Beach extra-stressful: It’s that bucket-list anticipation that’s been building in your mind the entire round, perhaps your entire vacation.

Dr. Joseph Parent, a longtime mental coach and the author of Zen Golf, believes that anticipation can add pressure and lead to negative results. If you build up one shot to be particularly special, you’ll convince yourself you need to produce a particularly special swing to measure up. What happens is even accomplished players suddenly abandon their usual technique, convinced they need something brand-new. The good news is that Dr. Parent has a three-step plan to combat this affliction.

1. Be positive.

It’s easy to adopt a mindset of “How can I not screw this up?” rather than “How can I hit a great shot here?” Favor the latter. Take an active, positive mental game plan and let aggression and determination be your friends.

2. Pre-accept any result.

If you’re trying too hard, your body and swing will freeze up. As Dr. Parent says, “You have to give up control to get control.” To put it more bluntly, “Accept that s— happens.”

3. Get your body ready.

Take a deep breath. Let any tension out all the way into the ground. Then take what Dr. Parent refers to as a “programming swing” (rather than a practice swing) where you “program in” a specific feel and then let it run. If you trust that feel, you won’t over-manipulate your motion. Oh, and make sure someone gets a picture.