You are standing on the final hole with a 6 foot putt to win. Your palms are sweaty, you’re fielding a myriad of thoughts, your body feels jittery, and your stomach seems to have a pinball game going on inside it. Suddenly, a mostly enjoyable round has become a battle of the nerves. Whether you are playing for skins with your buddies, or to qualify for the U.S. Open, stress and anxiety can play a big role when it comes to your performance. Winners learn how to take control when the stress of competition starts to emerge in their play and manage it so it doesn’t take over. But for many golfers, it’s all over when they allow their anxiety to drive them to play from a place of fear. Why does this happen so often? Because there is a misconception for many athletes that causes them to equate nerves with danger, or impending disaster, when all nerves are really doing is signaling that you are ready to go.
Maintaining control during pressure-filled moments begins when you accept the fact that nerves are part of the experience. Your body is going to physically respond to an experience you define as particularly meaningful — like the final putt in a tournament, or the first tee shot in front of a recruiting college coach. By following the 3 basic strategies below, you will be able to control your reaction to stressful scenarios on the course and start getting the butterflies in your stomach to start flying in formation.
#1 – Before You Play
Learn to manage your perception of the important moments in your game so that no single putt is more significant than any other, and that no practice round receives less attention or precision than a tournament round. Prior to heading out to the course, take time to think about what you are hoping to accomplish, where you will focus, and what kind of attitude you will uphold for 18 holes. Shift your focus from the outcome (winning) to the process (playing every shot from the right mindset) so that you don’t waste energy being fixated on something over which you have no control. The only way to reach the outcome you desire (final score) is to do the work in the moment by playing with excellence one shot at a time.
#2 – During Play
Having decided in advance to bring your “A” game, now you actually have to bring it. The best way to keep your head in the game and avoid creating pressure-filled moments is to view your game as a culmination of individual shots. Accept the fact that there is no “making up” in golf. You can’t change the past, so don’t look too far into the future trying to calculate how to make up for lost strokes or putts on the next hole. By doing so, a Par 3 gets turned into a chance for a hail Mary, putting unnecessary pressure on your shoulders, and diverting you from a smart game plan. It’s impossible to play from a play of relaxed confidence when you are standing over any shot with a mindset that this ONE SHOT could turn your game around.
#3 – Following Play
After every experience on the course (or practice range) take the time to extract the valuable take-aways. Too often golfers get so wrapped up in remembering everything they did wrong on the course, and completely lose sight of the great moments they had. Carrying the bad around doesn’t set you up for stress-free play the next time you are on the course. All it does is get you thinking about what you hope to avoid while you are playing. When you work to compile a written account of your best moments, and review them regularly, you direct your thoughts to positive examples of the things you wish to repeat. And by doing so, the next time you find yourself in a “sticky situation” with sweaty palms, being able to mentally review your great moments can be a simple antidote to out of control nerves, and give you the boost in confidence you need to relax and play great.
These are just a few strategies you can use to get a handle on your nerves. If you have specific questions about your game, I would be happy to talk to you. Contact Me to discuss how we can move your game forward.