How Do You Get Past a Mental Blocker Hole?

We’ve all experienced this at some point.  You’re on the course and come to the hole that’s always problematic.  No matter how well or poorly you’re playing, the hole just cannot be solved and leads to the inevitable big number or the start of a poor run.  You’ve never played it well and can’t get it out of your head, and the distraction affects your preparation and subsequent play.  What do you do?

Mine is the par-3 16th at Rattlewood and it happened again last weekend.  The hole is a typically benign 160-yard play with bunkers guarding front right and left.  Golf courses are full of these mediocre par-3s and there’s no reason a reasonably struck short to mid-iron to the center of the green shouldn’t get the job done, but I can never recall making par or better here.  So I stepped to the tee and pulled a six.  Right away I felt uncomfortable at address.  Perhaps I was misaligned or wasn’t in a good athletic posture, but it didn’t feel right.  I probably should have reset but didn’t and pulled the trigger on a big push slice.  The ball was heading OB but cracked off a tree and caromed into the right greenside bunker.  I felt fortunate for the break but very uneasy standing over the long bunker shot from wet sand with the thought of the tee shot still in my mind.  You guessed it, I skulled the bunker shot low and right and hit my playing partner in the foot.  The ricochet actually prevented my ball from going into the tall fescue behind the green and left me behind a large mound but with plenty of green to work with.  After the obligatory round of apologies, I managed to pitch to three feet and hole the bogey putt.

After muttering a few non-printables, I exited the green but felt strangely good about myself for making a nice pitch on the third and saving bogey, where a triple or quad was definitely in play.  I finished up par – birdie and the lousy 16th didn’t seem to factor in.

So how do you extricate these demon holes?   What strategies have you used?  I’m thinking next time to pull a three or four-iron and bunt a little controlled knockdown run-up between the bunkers.  Basically, anything to change my thought process and remove all negative thoughts from previous blunders.  All suggestions are welcome, please share!

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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15 Responses to How Do You Get Past a Mental Blocker Hole?

  1. Brian

    WOW, does your situation sound familiar. At Osprey Links in Callander, hole 15 caused me the same problem. I used to dislike this hole with a passion! I convinced myself that I was going to bogey the hole, or worse, everytime because I did not know what club to hit; that is until about 1 month ago. A friend told me to forget the hole….He told me to image I was 100 yards out with a one club helping wind. Do not aim for the pin, just the middle of the green. So I pulled out my sand wedge, hit a solid shot to the middle of the green. After a two putt par, I was very happy and now the demons for this hole are gone! I now feel confident that par is the norm and birdies can be expected

    My point or tip is to equate the hole with a different par 3 that you have success with. Visualize the good hole, aim for the center of the green and you might be surprised at the results. For me, this falls into the mental training of “change your thoughts, change your world!”

    Good luck and I hope it helps.
    Jim

  2. First of all par 3’s are toughest when it comes to demon holes because it is just one shot. On par 4’s and 5’s you can always hit lay up shots etc. It appears that there is out of bounds on the right. I would always try to hit a draw on the hole, away from the o.b. If worse comes to worse I would even consider hitting short of the green and pitching up for a 3 or 4. Once you have confidence hitting the lay up shot a few times then try to hit the green. It’s like any jinx once you break it, this may become your favorite hole.

    • Brian Penn says:

      Vet, I like the suggestion to play away from the trouble but the OB isn’t even in play, or shouldn’t be, if you know what I mean. Seems like my “personal par” for the hole is five. You are right, got to break my maiden on this thing and just manage a three somehow. Thanks!

  3. I’m not a very good golfer but I love playing. I’ve always found the mental aspect of golf is my biggest challenge and demon holes are all about psychological impact so I feel your pain.

    There are only two things that I focus on when I approach any shot and they’ve helped me immensely. The first is confidence in my ability. Every single time I’m holding my lob wedge, regardless of lie or the type of shot I have to play, I feel like I can make something good happen and, funnily enough, I often do. Remind yourself of your own ability. The second thing is something you alluded to when you said you set up and didn’t feel 100% but swung anyway. Every time I set up, the only real pre-shot routine I go through is to make sure I feel 100% confident in my set up. Once I feel that it’s good, I completely and utterly shut it out of my mind because I know that I’ve put myself in the best possible position to make a good swing.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that I eliminate the hole from my thinking entirely. I only think about the things I can control: my mind, my set up and my swing. I figure that if I get those right, it won’t matter which hole I’m playing on, I’ll just end up playing it as well as I possibly can.

    Having said that, those long up hill par fives always seem to get inside my head as I’m teeing up because I’m not long off the tee…

    I feel your pain!

  4. I really like some of the visualization mentioned above here and thing that would be a great place to start. My fix might seem a little bit reckless compared to some of the others. I have a demon par 4 hole that I always think of making bogey when I step on the tee. It is a dog leg left with a big bunker and tree blocking any shot at cutting the dog leg out. The problem is there are dense trees right and a lay up leaves you 220 out. I never knew how to play the hole until one day I had enough and tried to start carrying the bunker with driver. I have found that when I try to be more aggressive on trouble holes it changes my perception and lets me get rid of the past negative thoughts. Sometimes just changing the strategy is enough to get your mind thinking in a different way. If the above couple of comments don’t work I would say step up to that hole and tell yourself you are going right at it no matter what. Worse case scenario you are probably in the same shape as before and being more aggressive could promote a more confident swing. Good luck.

    • Brian Penn says:

      I don’t think your approach is reckless. To the contrary, it is an aggressive confidence building approach similar to the one used by Tom Watson on bad ball striking days. He’d just rip it and go after it harder the worse he played. And it turned out pretty good for him. Thanks!

  5. I know the feeling, its not every time I play the par 4 3rd at Paraparaumu Beach, bit if something is going to go wrong, it will be that hole.
    .

  6. Brian Penn says:

    I revisited my demon hole today (par-3 #16 at Rattlewood). It was playing to 170 yards downwind and to a back flag. I changed strategy and choked down halfway on a 4-iron and hit a little punch knockdown which came off perfectly and left me 10 feet behind the hole. Demon hole conquered, or so I thought until I ran my birdie putt 8 feet past and missed the comeback bid for par. So the demon hole tee shot component has been whipped, but I still haven’t made a par there. Oh well, such is golf.

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