Getting even with your nemesis hole

This article orginally appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of ClubLink Life.

Ezine #8—For as long as Jordan Spieth steps on the tee box of No. 12 at Augusta National, I’ll bet he will suffer a little pinch of pain in his psyche. I’m also betting he’ll get over it.

The talented Texan has made a mess of the beautiful par-three in the last two Masters: in 2016, Spieth was leading when he dunked two shots in Rae’s Creek, made a seven and eventually finished second. In the fourth round this year, he rinsed his tee shot on 12 enroute to a five and a T11.

Whether you are a two-time major champion or a weekend warrior, every golfer has blow-up holes and recounted the drama blow-by-blow: ‘I knocked my drive in the water, my third hit a tree and went OB, the next one plugged, I hit out sideways, I shanked my … “

Ideally, we can laugh it off. But if, say, you have a few more altercations with that hole, it’s like a relationship that turns nasty, and your every encounter is emotionally charged—a recurring nightmare.

There are a number of ways to reconcile your relationship with a nemesis hole.

First, don’t make up a story about what happens. Spieth’s 2016 seven was not horrific or a disaster. He made a seven. It was nothing more than that.

When we create a story around what happens, we are investing ourselves emotionally and identifying with it. But the story is not real. You hit a certain number of shots, and you add them up. The score is real. A story is just a story.

I recall PGA Tour coach Sean Foley suggesting that players refrain from saying, for example, they had a “double” or “triple,” labels that are laden with judgment. Just say your score. “I made a six.”

Fred Shoemaker of Extraordinary Golf schools says the way you play a hole correlates to the way you perceive the hole. If you believe it’s difficult or scary, you will likely be anxious and tight. Change your perception and you will change how you respond to the hole.

Lowering your emotional temperature on your nemesis hole often requires after-hours visits for some conciliation work. If a certain situation is giving you fits—such as a tough drive into a fairway, or a forced carry over a pond—go out there when the course is quiet and hit a number of shots in that situation. (Use old balls if necessary.)

Here’s the trick: don’t judge the results. Work on paying  attention to what is happening in your mind and in your body. Most likely, your mind is full of thoughts, your emotions are high and your body is on alert.

When you pay attention to what’s happening within you, you will gain insight into what’s going on. You cannot change anything unless you are aware of it. View this as a long-term process and you’ll gradually adjust.

The damage usually begins on the tee. Your driver can transform from your best friend on other holes to your worst enemy on your nemesis hole. If so, consider putting it in the penalty box for a while and using another club. That might mean a three-wood or hybrid, or even a mid- to low-iron. Whatever it takes.

So what if your second shot is long into a par-four, or it takes three shots to get to the green? Your objective is to dial down your emotions so that you can get used to feeling calmer in that situation.

Consider determining a personal par for your nemesis hole (and other holes that you find difficult). Don’t be a slave to the par on the card, which just invites judgment whether we measure up. For your ability, a certain par four might be less stressful when viewed as a five.

Focus on your process, especially on a nemesis hole. You can control your pre-shot routine 100% of the time, but you have no control over the result. If your process is intentional and mindful, you will become more aware of the trouble spots in your assessment and execution of a shot and you will correct them. The better your processes, the better your golf scores.

Lastly, while you’re struggling with a golf hole, try talking nicely to it. At least it might put you in a better mood, which counts for a lot. But I think flowers and chocolate is going overboard.

Graphic by Lorenzo Del Bianco 

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!