If you’ve played golf for any length of time, you have undoubtedly encountered a situation or two which made you nervous. This phenomena is called ‘tee box pressure’, or TBP for short.
Perhaps it’s happened when you were getting ready to hit your tee shot off #1 with a dozen people watching. Maybe it was when you were paired with the top golfer in your club championship. Whatever the situation, one thing is sure: every golfer will find themselves dealing with TBP sooner or later!
WHY THE NERVES?
What is it about golf that gets us feeling this way in the first place? After all, when you step onto the golf course, there usually aren’t any lives at stake. In addition, whether you perform well or not on any given day, there are a billion people in China who will not care!
This is a complicated question which will have different answers for different people. Often times, we have too much of our egos wrapped up in the game. The more we invest in something (and we all know that golf can be all-consuming), the more we expect in return. When the ‘game is on’, we fear failure. With this fear in our mind, our muscles tighten. This, in turn, makes it harder to have the free-flowing swing and effective touch game that is needed to score well.
Here are a few tips which will help you the next time you are getting ready to play a pressure round.
1. PREPARE MENTALLY
During the days leading up to the big game, prepare yourself mentally for the atmosphere you will be facing. You know you are going to be nervous. Being nervous, however, does not mean you cannot hit good golf shots. Think of all the times you have hit good shots under pressure before.
Picture yourself dealing with various situations that will occur during the upcoming round. Think of the feeling as you prepare to hit your first tee shot. Your heart is beating out of control. Then, you swing under control, in good tempo, and strike a solid one right down the middle of the fairway.
Next, imagine hitting one into trouble. You’re confronted with the options and weigh the risks of punching a miracle shot through the trees. Instead, you calm yourself and ‘take your medicine’ by chipping back out to the fairway. This type of clear thinking will help you to avoid those double and triple bogeys which ruin rounds.
2. CONSERVATIVE STRATEGY – CONFIDENT SWING
The term ‘choke’ is applied to people who don’t perform well under pressure. Who can forget poor Greg Norman losing that 6-shot lead to Nick Faldo at the Masters tournament? The main reason people choke is simply because their thought processes become illogical. They start thinking negatively as if they have never hit a solid golf shot. Or, they start to take unnecessary chances and over-swing in the process.
Before the round, make up your mind that you will not beat yourself. Let the other players beat you. Hit shots that you know you can hit. One top amateur player used this strategy in the Minnesota State Amateur qualifying round at the Lake City Golf Club. He wasn’t playing very well on the front nine and was tempted several times to ‘go for broke’. On the eighth hole, a par five, his second shot left him about 110 yards out in some gnarly rough. He had a good angle at the pin, but if the shot went long, it was obviously going down an embankment leading to a difficult chip with little green to work with. However, he felt like he needed a ‘make something happen’. So, he debated whether to try to finesse a full wedge, or to take a full swing with his gap wedge. He had more confidence in the gap wedge because he knew this club would never put him in the big trouble which was over the green. He selected the gap wedge (conservative strategy) and made a confident swing which left the ball 30 feet below the hole. He two-putted and took his par.
This strategy paid off as he made birdie on the next hole. All of a sudden, his marginal round was heading in the right direction! This may not have been possible if he had taken the aggressive route on the previous hole and gone over the green.
3. LET GO OF THE HANDLE BARS!
A player recently quipped, “You’ve got to let go of the handle bars!” How descriptive of the golfer who, when under pressure, holds onto the club as if it had “handle bars”. Unlike riding a bicycle, holding onto the handle bars is a bad thing in golf!
In other words, you’ve got to let the club swing to be effective. Holding on and trying to steer the ball down the fairway will produce less distance and less accuracy. A golfer has to feel like they are ‘giving up control’ of the swing. In other words, the golfer must trust that what he has trained will work when the pressure is on. This is called ‘muscle memory’.
Giving up control gets progressively harder as the round progresses. The tendency is to start counting your score as you try to figure out how you’re faring compared to everyone else. You must counteract that tendency by consciously trying to swing looser and freer as the round goes on. Stay focused on what you’re trying to do – forget about everyone else. You can’t control them anyway.
Keep the game simple. Pick your target, go through your pre-shot routine and let your swing go! Stay within yourself and you won’t be a victim of that TBP!