Whatever your level of play, I’m sure you’ve experienced the feeling of playing under pressure on the golf course. How you cope with it can make or break your success.
Do you have techniques you can rely on to keep you calm and focused on the task at hand and not get carried away into the future?
In this article, I’m going to show you 5 mental game techniques that have helped the shakiest of players cope with pressure and use nervous energy to succeed. Many of these skills can be learned off the golf course, with no need for a club and ball.
These are techniques that you can apply to any high pressure situation, whether on the golf course or other areas of your life. Each one gets more powerful, the more you practice it.
1. Improve your response control to fear
How we respond in pressure situations can be improved with regular mental exercises. Set a little time aside each day to imagine yourself in high-pressure situations that you fear, and work on controlling your physical and emotional response.
In golf, you need to be somewhat aroused to play your best. That’s why nerves are a positive. But if you’re too aroused, that’s when it hurts your game – you lose focus and become tense, which affects your decision making and your execution.
So being able to control your arousal state is key to playing your best. Your current physical response to pressure is probably an increased heart rate and tension in your muscles. Let’s make sure this response is kept at a manageable level.
There are 2 exercises you can try. Imagine (visualize) yourself in a situation you fear – like teeing off in a big tournament with lots of people watching, or needing a par on the last to win. I want you to feel that increase in heart rate and even a little shaking in your hands.
Now imagine yourself overcoming that fear, using your relaxation response. Breathing is a great way to do that and focusing on the positive outcome you desire. Imagine making a smooth swing with a nice tempo and hitting a really pure shot. With this practice, you increase the self-image of your performance self, which will help you with confidence in real situations.
When you’ve successfully achieved a more relaxed response to the situation in your mind, move onto the real situation of practicing it on the course. When you’re playing, mentally put yourself in those situations you fear, like leading the club championship and needing a par on the 18th to win. Imagine the intensity and distractions going on around you and practice staying calm and relaxed. You can even try running on the spot and increasing your heart rate even more and then going through your routine to control your arousal state and get as focused and relaxed as possible.
2. Inflate the positive and deflate the negative
Being able to find the positive in any situation can become a habit, which can really help you during a round of golf. It’s something that you get better at, the more you practice it. Over time, it will help you see the positive possibilities only, instead of those negative images which damage your confidence.
Make a goal to find a positive after every shot and at least 3 positive things after every round. After a while, you’ll find yourself searching for the positives a lot more in any situation (and replacing negatives) and you’ll cultivate a much better attitude for successful golf.
3. Focus attention outside of yourself
One tendency of a lot of amateur golfers when playing under pressure is to get focused on the body and making a good swing or stroke. They try to steer the shot instead of trusting their swing. Their focus becomes more “internal”, instead of on the desired outcome. Conscious control of any movement makes it less smooth and fluid, which is required for your best good golf.
Instead of focusing on your body, focus on what the successful outcome looks like and keep that image firmly imprinted on your mind through the shot routine.
4. Be your own inner caddy
Positive self-talk can really help give you a lift when you’re playing under pressure. Finding what words or phrases work for you is a personal thing, but create your own set of positive statements and practice them daily. Perhaps something like “I love playing under pressure! This is when the game is most interesting.”
5. Pre and post shot routine
The routine is your “sanctuary” on the golf course. When you’re going through your shot routine, you’re in your bubble. It’s a familiar place whatever is going on around you. Your focus needs to be executing the process – the outcome of the shot is secondary. Be sure to get into the habit of accepting every shot quickly (post-shot), good or bad, and doing that will help take the pressure off going forward, instead of you subconsciously fearing your own criticism.
Lastly, try to have fun however you’re playing and however the serious the situation becomes!