Mental Game Analysis: Techniques to Perform Under Pressure

Charley Hoffman had it all locked up. Holding a two-shot lead with two holes to play at The Travelers, all the two-time PGA Tour winner needed was a couple of pars to lock up another victory. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. He hit his tee shot in the water on the 17th, settling for a double-bogey, and made bogey on 18 dropping him from 16-under to 13-under, one shot back of Marc Leishman, the eventually winner. According to Hoffman he got a little quick on his swings, which reports is his tendency under pressure.

Reverting to more conditioned responses under pressure is a natural human occurrence. Well-conditioned actions that are in opposition to the actions we want to take, not only influences our performance under pressure, it affects our ability to develop new desirable conditioned actions. Let’s take a look at some normal daily behaviors that may affect your desire to develop a fundamentally sound swing (or other physical golf skills) and your performance under pressure.


Consistently using our hands to eat, drink, drive a car, do the dishes, or at least put them in the dish washer may interfere with your attempts to develop sound swing fundamentals as the hands
do not control the swing, they just hold the club. Your hands may tighten under pressure as a natural consequence of using them for all other activities throughout the day, slowing your swing or re-directing club head path. Does this tendency affect your performance?

Directing your attention to the ball at address may override your Target Orientation. How many times during the day do you focus your mind on locations other than where your eyes are looking? Reverting to this more natural habit may cause you to become ‘ball bound’ where your body becomes rigid during the swing trying to keep your eyes from moving off the ball.

Thinking about your swing when learning or practicing is natural given human’s normal daily reliance on our mind to solve problems throughout the day. However, Golf Professionals and
Sport Psychologists all tell us to ‘Trust’ our swing, which means not to think about it when swinging. How can we just turn off this habit when we are trained to use our minds to control our swings and do it naturally for everything else we do during the day?

These are just three daily tendencies or habits (conditioned responses or action) that make it very difficult to develop sound swing fundamentals or perform them under pressure. There are numerous others. This has a profound effect on how and what we practice. Traditional training methods, whether we work on our own or are directed by a qualified professional do not address normal daily human behaviors or habits. Most golfers will never learn sound fundamentals using traditional training methods. Those few who are lucky enough to overcome their natural tendencies can still be affected if they do not recognize the effects their use of normal daily behaviors exert on their performance and alter their training regimens to inhibit those responses.

New training methods that incorporate physical, visual, and attentional training in a comprehensive, alternative approach that addresses the effect of normal human tendencies and habits are now available for golfers of all levels. Stay tuned to this blog for more information, coming soon.


Photo by Keith Aliison

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Dr. Tony Piparo

Dr. Piparo has 25 years experience as a teaching professional, 15 as a head pro. He has also worked the last 20 years as a Sport Psychology Consultant, working with golfers of all ages and ability levels, from beginner to seasoned professional and elite level amateur. He earned his doctorate in 1992 from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and winning the American Psychological Association’s Dissertation of the Year Honors for his work on concentration and performance in golf. He has a Masters from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Kinesiology (Study of Human Movement) with emphasis in Biomechanics, Motor Learning, and Sports Vision as they apply to golf. He also has a Masters in Educational Evaluation and Development, specializing in Learning Theory. Dr. Piparo’s education training and field experience allowed him to study the golf performance needs from both inside and outside the sport to develop the most effective, efficient, and comprehensive training system available to date. His programs and protocols are a benefit to all golfers and he is capable of assisting the individual needs of each golfer he works with. His books include Kingdom of the Tiger: A Golfer’s Guide to Playing in The Zone, Master the Art and Science of Putting and his latest collaboration with Colin Cromack, Target Oriented Golf: Training the Eyes, Mind, and Body for Success, all of which can be purchased here at

This Post Has One Comment

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    Troy Vayanos

    Nice post Dr Piparo,

    It is difficult to change something like our hands when they are used so often in everyday movements.

    Perhaps in Hoffman’s case he may have been better off making some slower, smoother golf swings prior to the hitting the golf ball. It may have helped him get his rhythm right before pulling the trigger.


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