Do you feel pressure and nerves on the golf course? From my experience working with players of all levels, this is the most common reason given for not breaking into new scoring levels and consistently improving.
But what you have realize now, is all this pressure is self-created. We all know golf is a mental and emotional game, but what we don’t seem to know is that we have far more control over these negative mental states than we think. Putting pressure on yourself to perform and trying to meet expectations you set for yourself is probably the biggest mental mistake a golfer can make.
By simply re-framing your mind-set and being more disciplined in your approach, you can (over time) eliminate this pressure and play more focused yet relaxed golf. This takes practice, just like everything else. The best place you can be for doing anything to the best of your ability, is in the present moment, not thinking about what has been and gone or what might happen in the future (the cause of the pressure), and that’s the goal of the practice.
Here are 5 mental game tips to get you re-focused on a positive mind-set and stay relaxed and in the present on the golf course:
1. Focus on tempo and stay loose
When you find yourself in pressure situations everything gets quicker and tighter, without you knowing it. Tension in the muscles causes poorly hit golf shots. As soon as you’re feeling nervous, try to slow everything down. Your walk, your swing and lighten your grip a little.
2. Breathe yourself into relaxation
The more nervous we get, the shorter our breaths become. The more oxygen we have going in, the calmer and more focused we will be.
To counter golfs ups and downs, learning how to breathe is key.
During stressful moments on the golf course, breathing techniques can help you prevent any loss of motor skills you can experience in high pressure situations. Breathing can help you stay in the present and most importantly, remain calm.
PGA Tour Sport psychologist Dr. Leah Lagos trained a college team on breathing techniques for a 10 week period (this exercise is from Golf Digest January 2013), requiring the players to perform two 20 min breathing sessions per day.
“This isn’t a relaxation exercise,” says Lagos, who works with PGA Tour pros as well as other top athletes. “It’s a scientific and evidence-based method for controlling your body’s braking system. It allows golfers to put a stop to their stress response and reduce distractions in their mind.”
Here’s how the exercise goes:
1. Clear your mind after a bad hole with a “Power 10.” Inhale, slowly counting to four, then breathe out for six seconds. Repeat this nine times. This helps deliver oxygen to the brain to improve your focus. Counting uses the same part of the brain that we use to worry. It’s difficult to do both at the same time.
2. Whenever you feel tense, recall two of the best moments of your life. Focus on the joy you felt as you inhale, and feel as if any negative thoughts are being forced out as you exhale.*
Give this a try, the results of were surprisingly positive with the group tested. All the students that tried it improved their driving and putting.
3. Just stick to your routine
Another thing to do when we feel pressure and nerves on the golf course is the routine. The routine is a vital part of a good scoring game, so letting that slip is just like giving away shots. It keeps us firmly in the present moment, which is where you need to be to play your best golf. Have a meticulous routine and stick to it. This will give you a lot more confidence and focus over the ball.
4. Take a break
Golf is to be enjoyed. Unless you’re playing for your living, it should simply be fun. In those pressure moments, think about the fact that you’re not in the office. Look around and take note of the natural beauty. Free your mind from your performance.
5. Learn to accept
One of the best things you can do for your mental game is learn the power of acceptance. It’s well worth the effort. Before every shot (part of your pre-shot routine) say to yourself “I have a very positive intention for this shot, I can see it in my mind. But if this does not go where I want it to, I’m going to remain calm and accept it.
Photo by TourProGolfClub