Earlier this week, I asked Mike what he thought would be a good topic to write about when it comes to the mental side of the game. He threw out the notion of #17 at Sawgrass which allows for insight into the mental anguish players may feel on the tee. The island green strips away the confidence of some of the best players on tour. In reality, a tour pro hits a wedge to a 145 yard pin daily without any issue. Not being inside of 10 feet with a wedge in their hand seems like a failure. On the 17th, though, flaws and commitment are magnified.
Although the 17th at Sawgrass is an excellent story by itself each year at the Players Championship, another story has emerged when it comes to the mental side of the game.
Kevin Na, admittedly, is taking an abnormal amount of time to hit the golf ball. His pre-shot routine has morphed into a waggle-ridden, backoff, waggle again-spectacle. His pre-shot hesitancy is precedented. (See: SergioGarcia–regrip)
The question is-what is going through Kevin Na’s mind prior to hitting the ball? He has been a somewhat obscure tour pro up to this point with not many tour wins. Wouldn’t we all like to be an obscure tour pro?
I am not a psychologist. I apply what I know to what I see. What I see with Kevin Na is a hesitancy in his mind about his shot which is manifested physically in his pre-shot routine. As many of us can speak to, we all have thoughts going through our head prior to a shot. Most of them, for me, are horrendously bad.
I will try and correlate some of my own experiences. Take pitching for example. When I was either on the mound or coaching a player who was struggling with walks, most of the time the pitcher was trying to be too “fine”. The pitcher was trying to “place” the ball exactly where he wanted it to go. When this happens, the pitcher does not deliver the ball in a free and easy-fluid motion and the pitcher either walks the hitter or the hitter takes advantage of the pitchers inability to hit his spot. Hitting your spot in baseball and golf is essential for success.
A lesson that was told to me when I experienced this on the mound was to pick out a “soft spot”. The “Soft Spot” was area that I would throw to instead of a fine spot where I was exactly aiming. For example, mentally, when I needed a pitch on the inside corner to a right-handed hitter, I would picture a one foot circle in which I was going to throw the ball to. In contrast, when I trying to be “too fine” with my pitches, I was throwing to a one inch circle.
Let’s bring it back to golf. When looking at a shot (any shot), tour pros can pick a leaf off a tree (fine spot). Many of us hit the tree when aiming down the fairway. When we stand over a shot, we should be looking in an area similar to the pitching example above. This soft spot gives the average golfer the confidence to hit the shot with an understanding that it does not have to be perfect. Left side of the green away from trouble, right side of the green because water is on the left-this is the process I’m speaking about.
Is Kevin Na trying to be perfect (by the way, he is leading the tournament)?
Is Kevin Na picking out a spot that is so fine, it is creating hesitancy which is manifested in his pre-shot routine?
Sometimes, grip-it-and-rip-it works because you’re not thinking about it.
Remember, golf and baseball are easy.
Baseball: throw the ball, catch the ball and hit the ball.
Golf: hit the ball in the hole in the fewest attempts.
Scott Kapla, Mike Fay Golf Staff Writer