WHO: Heath Slocum, Robert Allenby and Bo Van Pelt
WHAT: Drives badly pushed to the right
WHERE: 470-yard par 4 18th hole at Sea Island’s Seaside course
WHEN: Final round of the McGladrey Classic
Three PGA Tour pros came to the 18th hole either in the lead or within one shot of the lead. All three players sliced their tee shots. Two of the players – Robert Allenby and Bo Van Pelt – hit such bad slices that their balls went into the water hazard to the right of the fairway and they took double bogies that cost them the tournament. The third player, Heath Slocum, luckily hit only a minor slice, so his ball landed in the rough and he made a bogey to win by one shot.
What drew the three players’ balls to the right? How did three of the best golfers in the world all make the same glaring mistake on the same shot?
The fact is, Tour pros are not as immortal as we think. They’re human too. Yes, the professionals have otherworldly talent, but under pressure they’re prone to the same silly mistakes that 25 handicappers make, especially blocking a drive into a water hazard.
Blocking a drive into water is usually a byproduct of fear. It’s typically a mental gaffe. The more a golfer, even a tour pro, tries to aim away from something, the more likely he is to end up hitting into what he was trying to avoid. Players get so focused on the water or other hazard that they forget to commit to their routines: look down the target line, align their body and aim at the target, and swing down the target line. With their minds fearful and frazzled, it’s easy to criss-cross your swing and hit a poor shot.
When a landing area is bordered by water or another hazard (sand, rocks, rough, etc.), I can’t overemphasize the need to commit to your target in your mind and your visual focus.
To increase your chance of not hitting a ball to the right, here’s a swing key to utilize. During your practice swing and the real swing, try to feel the handle (or grip) of the club traveling low and toward the left (think of third base) as the clubhead moves through the impact zone. Doing that helps insure that the forward swing path goes where it should to hit the ball straight or with a draw.
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher John Elliott teaches at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club in Ocala, Fla.