There were a couple of tee shots at Augusta National Golf Club that always challenged me – number 10 and number 18. Each is a long, tight, doglegging par 4, and on each hole I’ve hit my share of poor tee shots.
On holes such as these, my goal is to stay loose and relaxed – to prevent the difficulty of the shot from transferring to my body in the form of tension and tightness.
As I wait on the tee, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and then slowly tilt my head from side to side, lowering my right ear to my right shoulder, my left ear to my left shoulder a few times. In fact, I still do this on the first tee in any round I play.
Seve Ballesteros had a tension-relieving method of another sort. It’s a bit masochistic, but I’m sure it worked. He folded his arms, took a deep breath and then pressed his hands hard against the bottom of his rib cage for about 15 seconds. When he let go and exhaled, he had a great feeling of release and relaxation. This carried over to his next shot.
I saw other players who’d let their arms drop straight down and shake them so that their hands flapped around at the wrists, while others bent from the waist and touched their toes.
Whatever sort of exercise gets you feeling loose, give it a try when the pressure is tight.
BEFORE YOU HIT:
PLAY THE HOLE BACKWARDS
As I step onto the tee, my mind goes to the green. Before I decide which club to hit or how to play my tee shot, I want to know the exact position of the flag – once I know that, I play the hole backwards in my mind.
If I know, for instance, that the pin on a par-4 hole is cut on the right side of the green, behind a bunker, then the best approach to that pin will usually be from the left side of the fairway, with a shot that will not have to cross over sand. Thus, I’ll want to hit a tee shot to that left side, assuming there’s no dire trouble to dissuade me. This usually means I’ll tee my ball at the extreme right side of the teeing area and aim slightly leftward, towards position A.
I recommend that you do this type of ‘backward thinking’ on any hole where you can see the location of the flagstick from the tee. It’s a bit like playing pool – you use the shot at hand to set up the ideal situation for your next shot.