Nerves In Golf

How Do Nerves in Golf Affect Your Game?

If you are going to become a good competitive player and achieve your goals, you are going to feel nerves in golf at various stages of a round.
Fact is, it’s perfectly normal.
What’s important is that you have a strategy to be able to manage nerves in golf so you can use this energy to enhance your performance. Here are 5 ways to do it:

1. Embrace Nerves in Golf

Nerves in golf are part of your journey to better. When they appear, they’re telling you that you are exactly where you need to be – making big strides on that journey. If you CHOOSE to enjoy the feeling you are experiencing, it will soften them. If you resist them, and tell yourself that it’s wrong to be feeling nervous, you’ll make them stronger. By thinking of nerves as a positive, rather than fear or anxiety, you’ll get more of the positive effects – increased focus and sensory awareness and less of the negatives – the shakes, tension, poor thinking, etc.

2. Be Aware of your Thinking

Nerves can be brought on subconsciously (without you being aware of why), but your awareness of the feeling of them can trigger negative thoughts, such as: “What if I don’t succeed? What if I hit a bad shot here and blow my chance? What will others think of me?”
These are all thoughts that can appear when a player is experiencing “Performance Anxiety” before or during a round, which can affect the mood and performance of the player. The key skill, which you will have read several times in my lessons, is Mindfulness and having the ability to control your attention, so you can move it away from negative thoughts and back to the present moment.
What self talk in golf do you have when you are under pressure? If you have the lead, do you say: “You better not screw this up”, or do you say: “You have what it takes to get the job done!”. Make sure you do the latter…

3. Know your Tendencies

What (do you know) happens mentally and physically to YOU when you feel nervous?

Do you have a specific miss that tends to show up?
Does your swing get quick?
Do you leave the club face open?
Do you start guiding the ball instead of swinging aggressively?

If you keep a Performance Journal (like my students), you will have a record of all your reflections from each round and what happened in the big moments. You’ll know how your thinking changes when you are nervous and what can happen to your swing and stroke.
Quick tip: If you know what your tendencies are, you’ll be able to make a rehearsal of the opposite. I.e. if you swing fast and leave the face open, you’ll rehearse a swing that is slow and closes the face immediately after impact.

4. Slow Down

One of the most common tendencies under pressure is speeding up. Because they feel uncomfortable, players walk faster, think through the shot quicker, walk into the shot quicker and then swing faster. If this is you, you need to be your “Inner Caddie” and remind yourself to SLOW DOWN. What feels slow will actually be your normal pace.

5. Breathe!

When we feel nervous, it’s the sympathetic nervous system preparing us to “fight or flight” against imminent danger, characterized by tension and a faster heart rate. Of course, we aren’t actually being threatened by danger on the golf course, so the upper level of this “Fight or Flight Response” isn’t needed (the lower levels are beneficial to us). With awareness and knowing the right techniques, you can tell the body that you are not under threat and keep it at the lower level. One of the best techniques to get control over your physiology is breathing techniques, which I go through in module 4 of the Winner’s Mental Game Training Program.

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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.

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