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, impress your playing partners and not look like a hacker to the group waiting. You can feel your hands shaking a little as you put your ball on the tee. Instead of going through your full pre shot routine, you just want to get it over with and forget to pick a clear target. You make a quick, tense swing at the ball and shake your head as the ball veers away from the fairway.

Does this sound familiar?

If it does, don’t worry. In this lesson, we’ll take a look at how you can get those first tee nerves under control and feel more confident in the moments leading up to your tee shot.

1. First Tee Nerves Are A Good Thing

It’s important to realize that we all get first tee nerves, even the world’s best players. Tour players say they want to feel nerves as it increases focus and heightens the senses. A little nerves can improve rhythm and timing in the swing. With a higher “intensity level”, it’s more likely you’ll shoot a low score, vs being completely relaxed. The key is to learn how to control nerves, so you can keep them at your “optimal arousal level”, instead of them turning into performance anxiety.

Nerves mean you’re no longer in your comfort zone, which is what you need to break out of in order to get better. Every time you feel first tee nerves, remember that it’s something powerful you can use to play well. But to do this, you’ll need to make sure you can control it.

2. Set The Right Goals For The Round

What is your goal for the round? Is it shooting a low score? If it is then you’re immediately putting pressure on yourself.

My students set goals for themselves that are within their control, such as their pre shot routine, staying present and being accepting (among others). 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 feel a lot less pressure to execute each shot perfectly, which will help you play better.

3. Use Your Breathing To Lower First Tee Nerves

“When I learned how to breathe, I learned how to win.” – Tom Watson

“Combat” or “Tactical” breathing is a breathing technique which is used by the Armed forces and Emergency Response personnel to deal with the effects of increased adrenaline in combat and emergency situations. It’s very simple and here’s how to do it.

  1. Inhale to the count of 4 (through your nose)
  2. Hold your breath for a count of 4
  3. Exhale for a count 4 (through your mouth)
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 4
  5. Repeat over and over again

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 can take your mind away from the feeling of anxiety ahead of the tee shot and the deep breaths will help you stay relaxed and oxygenate your muscles.

4. 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 properly 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? Do you have a strategy for each hole?

This might 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 and it affects your confidence. Have a pre round check-list complete before get to the first tee.

5. 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. You’ll also want to do a pre-round mental game warm-up, which include’s mental rehearsal. I’ve got plenty of exercises to get your mind and body synchronized before playing in my Mental Game Training System.

6. Look around and appreciate

Being grateful is a great way to put things in perspective and lower first tee nerves. Take in the beauty of your surroundings – look at the sky, the trees and the rolling fairways. Appreciate the moment and take your mind away from what might or might not happen in the upcoming holes. Remind yourself of how fortunate you are to be in this place and doing what you love for the next 4-5 hours and to enjoy it no matter what numbers go on the scorecard. There are far worse things you could be doing!

7. Visualize yourself hitting a great tee shot

While you’re waiting, try to imagine what you will look like hitting a great tee shot. See yourself as if you are on TV, making a beautiful swing and seeing the ball fly towards the target. Get a clear picture of the target and the shot you are intending to hit. This will get it into your subconscious mind which will tell your body what it needs to do during the swing.

Follow these 7 steps and I’ve no doubt you’ll begin to see the first tee as an opportunity and not a threat!

Get your FREE Mental Game Scorecard

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 4 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! 🙂

  3. Erick ooko obura professional golfer

    My name is Erick ooko obura professional golfer from Kenya, I really like the mental training, It has help me a lot, I am been following the training and it’s very good, is is very nice, I would like to encourage people to follow up the training and they can benefit from it, best regards Erick ooko obura professional golfer from Kenya

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *