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How to get rid of nerves on the golf course?

I was recently asked by a student: “How do I get rid of nerves on the golf course?”

This is a common reason why golfers think they do not perform to their true potential. Golfers tend to think that if they could play every shot as if it were in practice, they would see a huge improvement in their scores.

This just simply isn’t true. The first and most important thing to understand here is that this energy, which we perceive to be negative, can be harnessed into more a positive force more powerful that you can ever imagine.

Whether it be fear of poor play in front of playing partners, not playing to your own expectations or not playing well in that big competition, there are several reasons which give you that emotion we call ” golf nerves”. You get nervous because what you are doing means a lot to you and you are greatly concerned by what might happen in the future. This in itself could be considered a positive. But we immediately think nerves are bad because we are used to associating them with fear and doubt, and then ultimately not playing to our potential.

If we can start putting a positive association with those feelings, we will no longer fear them but play better as a result.

The first thing to realize is that you will never “get rid of nerves”, you will just learn how to use them to become a better player. The best players in the world actually welcome golf nerves, as it increases their intensity and focus. It lets them know they are in contention and in a mental state that makes them capable of playing their best. Experience with managing this emotion and turning it into a positive will allow you to start realizing your potential as a golfer.

None of us know exactly what we are capable of doing or becoming in this world. But what we can say for sure, is that if we never leave our “comfort zone” we will never find out just how good we can be.

When we are out of our comfort zone we are in the realm of the unknown and this feeling of being frightened (or nervous) tells us this. Nerves tell us we are about to break into new possibilities and reach new scoring levels. You have to embrace it and realize this is the state you will be in when you break your best score or win that competition.

Think about this the next time you experience nervous feelings.

Being as prepared as you can be for each shot will increase your confidence and reduce negative interferences such as doubt and fear. But the feelings of nerves will give you that level of focus and awareness that you can never feel when you are practicing. Your senses are far more powerful.

A well practiced and disciplined shot routine is a great way to take you into the zone and keep you in the present moment. For me it’s a huge part of a good mental game and playing your best golf. If we can focus on the steps of our routine instead of our fears, we will feel more confident and make a better execution. You can even introduce specific breathing methods to relax you if you find this helps. Making it a habit to be focused on a positive intention for the shot instead of thinking about negative possibilities, or the past or future, is the key to getting better. In addition, our practice of golf as a more visual and feel based game instead of a technical one, will gradually reduce our tendency to think about our swing mechanics which is another major cause of doubt on the golf course. As Bob Rotella tells us “Confidence is playing with your eyes”.

Change your perspective of nerves from a negative to a positive and you will get better playing with them. Think about nerves, not as something that will hold you back in the future, but as something that will give you positive energy in the present. You are only feeling nervous because you are not in your comfort zone which is exactly what we need to break out of in order to get better.

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David MacKenzie

is a mental golf coach and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind, a teaching program designed to help golfers condition their minds to overcome fear and play with confidence.

This Post Has One Comment

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    Troy Vayanos

    Nice article,

    I read a good quote that says, ‘instead of being afraid of getting butterflies ‘try getting them to fly in formation’. I think this is the same sort of principle.

    Welcome the nerves and learn to play with them to your advantage.


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