WHO: Rory Sabbatini
WHAT: Tee shot to 26 feet from the hole
WHEN: Final round of the Honda Classic
WHERE: 190-yard par 3 17th hole at PGA National
I’ve played PGA National several times, and I’ve been lucky enough to have won a few club pro events there, including a South Florida PGA section championship. That course is harder than hard. It’s like a poisonous snake crouched behind a log you’re about to sit on. At almost any point on the course, it can snap up and bite. Errant shots are so severely penalized, whether it is from wind, water, rough, sand or something else.
There’s no safe place to miss most shots. So you can be sure that Sabbatini was concerned about getting his ball onto the green, and nothing else, when he stood on the 17th tee, which was the hardest hole last week with a 3.526 stroke average. After starting his day with a five-shot lead, Sabbatini was clinging to a two-shot edge, and he was staring at the lake surrounding the front and right of an itty bitty green and the bunkers to the left of the putting surface.
You really find out a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of when you have to hit a green and two-putt to win. Sabbatini had to do just that on the 17th and 18th holes in the final round, and he did it perfectly.
THE DRILL: Never play out of fear — play out of confidence. One way to do that is to make practice swings count. Every practice swing should be as precise and accurate as a real thing. Too often, players set up nonchalantly for a practice swing and then make a sloppy practice motion. That usually leads to poor shots.
Instead, you should specifically rehearse the swing you want to make. One key is to try to make the clubhead contact point on a spot on the ground ahead of the ball. So in practice, pick a spot on the turf ahead of where the ball would be, and then aim for that spot. Every time you make a correct practice swing, you’re training your body and hand-eye coordination for the real swing moments later.
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher John Elliott is the director of instruction at Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club in Ocala, Fla.