To win THE PLAYERS Championship a golfer must endure the most nerve-wracking series of closing holes on Tour. It begins with the second shot, over water, to reach the par-5 16th hole at TPC Sawgrass in two. Then the heat goes up at a hole that can hurt and humiliate, the short par-3 17th and its island green. And if you make it past those two gut-checks, one more jump-scare awaits – the tee shot on the par-4 18th.
From the tee, all you see is water stretching down the entire left side of the hole. The hole curves left-to-right, adding to the visual illusion that the water has flooded over half of the fairway, leaving you no safe place to bail out. The 18th at Sawgrass is extreme, but it’s a great example of a challenge that many courses present. What do you do when there’s nothing but trouble on one side of the hole?
As Titleist staff member Michael Breed explains, there are two main approaches – aim at the trouble and work the ball away from trouble or aim away from trouble and work the ball towards it. Both solutions involve purposely curving the golf ball. Why not just hit a straight shot? The answer lies in playing the odds. By aiming at one side of the hole and knowing that your ball WILL curve away from that side, you can essentially double the safe landing area for your shot. Even a bad miss, a ball that over-curves will still be playable, in the rough at worst. In contrast, if you aim down the middle of the fairway and play a straight shot (the hardest shot to hit, by the way), a small miss left or right could put you in the rough. A big miss playing a straight shot at Sawgrass No. 18 will put you in jail or in the drink.
In this video, Michael shares the finer points in set-up, body alignment and club selection for both strategies when you face big trouble on one side of the hole. Which solution is right for your game? Try them both, but you’ll probably find that one shape (left-to-right or right-to-left) is easier to pull off, especially under pressure.
The big key is to practice that shot-shape until it’s bullet-proof. Once you’re able to eliminate any chance of a double-cross (a fade when you’re trying to draw it or a draw when you’re trying to fade it) you’ll know that you can remove the fear factor on almost any tee shot.