First Tee Nerves

How To Overcome And Use First Tee Nerves To Your Advantage

We’ve all felt ‘em.

You’re on the first tee…The player before you has just ripped it down the middle…You want to get your round off to the best possible start and not to mention, impress your playing partners and not look like a hacker to the group waiting.

Sound familiar? I’m sure it is.

Here are a few tips to keep those first tee nerves under control and use them to your advantage.

Equate nerves with a positive

The most important thing to recognize is that we all get first tee nerves, even the very best players. Tour pros say they want to feel nerves as it increases their focus and determination. It’s more likely they’ll shoot a 62 in competition than in practice. The key is to learn how to control nerves, so they work for you instead of becoming fear and affect your thinking and your swing. Breathing is a great way to do it, (which we’ll get to later), but even a simple shift in perspective will help.

Nerves mean you’re no longer in your comfort zone, which is what you need to break out of in order to get better. Your best round will come when you’re under pressure, as your senses become heightened and your mind-set is more competitive. It’s easier to get into the zone. Every time you feel nerves, you have something powerful you can use to play your best. Even just thinking in this way will help.

Be prepared.

Being prepared for a round means taking care of everything possible to give you a sense of calm on the first tee. Just like the pre-shot routine does, before swinging.

Did you eat well before your round? Are you hydrated? Do you have water and snacks in the bag? Do you have a ball marker, tees and pitch mark repairer in your pocket? Is your phone switched off? Is your glove in good condition? Plenty of balls? All 14 clubs nicely cleaned off from your range session?

This might all sound like it wouldn’t affect your game, but I know how it feels when you get to the tee and you’ve got 3 dirty balls in your bag and a glove that looks like it’s played 150 rounds, the last one being in the rain. You don’t feel ready. Have a check-list before you leave the house and another one when you’re leaving the range to go to the first tee. This will help settle you down.

Have a good warm up.

If you’re standing on the first tee knowing that you’ve warmed up your physical and mental muscles, you’re going to feel more prepared, which will make you feel more confident. Running from the parking lot straight to the first tee will only create stress. A good pre-round warm up lasts about 45 minutes and involves stretching and a good putting, short and long game routine. I’ve got plenty of drills for this for a great warm up to get your mind and body synchronized in my Golf State of Mind Practice Drills eBook.

Have goals for the round.

What is your goal for the round? Is it shooting your best score? If it is then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Don’t have any expectations about your score.

How about making a good pre-shot routine and controlling your reactions your goal? This is something that is completely within your control. Putting all your focus on the process of hitting each individual shot as best you can and staying in the moment will help you more than continuously looking ahead to what your score could be when you finish. You’ll enjoy the game a lot more this way.

Think about what your attitude will be when you hit those less than perfect shots. Set yourself the goal of reacting calmly and quickly forgetting about it – not taking it with you to the next shot. Try to take a positive from every shot.

If having a good pre and post-shot routine is your goal (not your score), you’ll have a lot less pressure on yourself and you won’t feel as nervous. Try the “Circle 18” game (where if you stuck to your routine for an entire hole, you circle the hole on your scorecard and total up your holes at the end).


While you’re waiting on the first tee, try power breaths. Count to 6 on your inhales and 4 on your exhales. When you are anxious, the logical (left) side of the brain is bypassed and you’re mostly using the “feeling” (right) side of the brain. Even just the counting to ten can take your mind away from the feeling of anxiety ahead of the tee shot and the deep breaths help you stay relaxed and oxygenate your muscles.


While you’re waiting, try stretching. Stretching keeps your muscles loose and counters the tightening brought on by nerves.

Look around and appreciate.

Take in the beauty of your surroundings – take a look around and try to focus on the sky, the trees and the rolling fairways. Take your mind away from your round and tell yourself how lucky you are to have this opportunity to play the game you love for the next 4-5 hours. Tell yourself you’re going to enjoy it whatever happens.

Know the hole you’re about to play.

This is really the beginning of your pre-shot routine, but while you’re waiting, study your yardage book, so you know exactly how far it is to various points on the hole. Knowing that you’re not going to do anything careless, like hit your driver on a hole that doesn’t really need it or has a large fairway bunker at 250 yards, will help you feel more confident and prepared.

Would love to know what you do to make sure you’re best prepared for a great experience on the golf course, so please leave your comments!

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David MacKenzie

is a golf coach and golf publisher and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind a teaching program designed to help golfers eliminate negative mental interference and play with confidence.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Eric Laycock

    Are you one of Tim Galloway pupils

    1. David MacKenzie
      David MacKenzie

      Hi Eric, Thanks for the comment. Yes, I am! Have read his book on the inner game of golf several times over. What made you think that?

  2. Ralph

    I love these articles that you write about the other 50% of the game, the mental part. Most people only think about how to improve their wing or the physical part of the game but I believe that the mental aspects are equally as important. I like that you are asking for players to replace nervous and anxious tension thoughts with positive thinking, this can work in golf and in life. Keep up the good work David! 🙂

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