What we do when the pressure’s on in golf makes or breaks us as golfers. How to control nerves and play well under pressure is probably the most common question I get as a mental golf coach. But nerves are a lot easier to deal with than you might think. The top players have many techniques to control nerves and use them for better performance. With practice of these 7 keys, you’ll find this gets easier every time you play.
1. Don’t try to shoot your best golf score (have NO expectations of how you will play)
Golf is a rather counter-intuitive game in the sense that the harder you try, the harder it becomes. You won’t shoot your best score simply by trying harder. Good players that I work with have told me that when they’re playing their best, it’s like they don’t care. When you make a good score your goal, it creates expectations that are always going to be hard to live up to because we all hit bad shots, even the very best. For example, if your goal for the round is to go out there and play your best and on the first hole you score a triple bogey, what’s that going to do for your confidence? You’re going to think that the whole purpose of you being on the golf course is now being questioned and your ego (which you’ve attached to your score) is dented. If you get off to a bad start, think about the confidence boost you’ll get from turning it around.
If you’ve read The Golf State of Mind Training System, you’ll know the correct way to shoot good scores, is to make process your goal and the scores will follow. Focus on perfecting your shot routine and you’ll be surprised at what happens…
For most of us who are not playing in major tournaments, having fun should be the ultimate goal (irrespective of score). If you’re playing a casual weekend game and not having fun, there’s something wrong. Enjoy the adventure and the unexpected!
2. Accept that nerves are good (if controlled)
Having those nerves or butterflies in your stomach while you’re warming up or about to tee off is a good thing. The top players in the world want that feeling – it heightens senses and increases focus. Without it, they know they’re not going to play their best. You’re much more likely to play your best golf in competition or under pressure, when you have those butterflies.
3. Learn how to breathe
Playing with nerves requires stress-control techniques for golf. The most popular way to control nerves in golf is by breathing. Try this basic breathing technique when walking between holes or during your pre-shot routine:
Exhale fully, until your stomach pushes against your spine (hold for 2 counts).
Inhale fresh, clean oxygen which provides new energy and centers the mind and body (hold for 2 counts).
Exhale slowly for 4 counts. You can equate this with getting rid of any negative energy.
Make Breathing Part of Your Pre-shot Routine
Stand behind the ball just before you’re about to approach it (you’re about to enter the play-box).
Go through the breathing technique above 3 times, and focus on the breaths. Your attention (thinking) is no longer on what’s happened (the last shot) or what will happen (the consequences of not making this shot), only on what’s happening now, the process of hitting a good golf shot.
Try this and you’ll feel more relaxed, focused and centered before every shot.
4. Play without fear
This means deciding on your shot and your target and swinging aggressively at it. Commitment is key here and playing with a conservative aggressive strategy.
5. Loosen your grip
When the pressure is on, your swing becomes affected by increased pressure from your hands. Most golfers start to analyze their swing when things start to go wrong, when a simple grip check can find a lost swing. When you’re under pressire, try to scale your grip pressure back to about 75% and it will be about right.
6. Have an escape subject
When it’s all getting too much, you’ll need to completely remove yourself from the situation. You need to lower your heart rate so you can think clearly and not make silly mistakes (or let nerves become choking). This may require taking your mind somewhere other than golf (in between shots only). If you can strike up a conversation with your playing partners this is the best way, but if not, have something up your sleeve to take your mind away from the game. This could be a thinking about how to make a favorite dish or having a problem to solve (anything as long as your mind is taken away from your swing, score etc). Jesper Parnevik is known to have tried to solve math problems while walking between shots (which might not be everyone’s cup of tea). Find something that works for you.
7. Put yourself in pressure situations
The more you can practice in high pressure situations, the better you’ll become at handling them and you will see your scores improve. PGA Tour players aren’t born being able to handle the lime-light, it’s a progression which takes time and being out of their comfort zone. Every time you feel nerves out there, see it as a great opportunity to become a better player.
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