Dealing with pressure
With the Masters over for another year I thought it would be a good time to talk about playing golf under pressure. It doesn’t matter how good a golfer you are, you will experience pressure on certain shots, and if you don’t know how to cope with the pressure and nerves you’ll NEVER be able to play your best golf.
Experience tells me that most golfers play worse under pressure not better. This is unfortunate because if you can get a handle on the butterflies and nerves you should be able to play the best golf of you life. This allows golf to become truly enjoyable and exciting. Something worth striving for…
Strategy #1: Relax your face
I learned this from a scientist during some scientific testing I was involved with. The scientist told me that if your face is relaxed your entire body and mind will be too. If you are relaxed you will maximise the chances of playing good golf. Getting tense and tight is a sure swing and score destroyer.
The best way to relax your face is to first tighten the facial muscles and then let them go. You should feel a rush of blood and then a wave of relaxation enter the facial muscles. It doesn’t have to take much time and you can do this anytime you start to feel a build up of pressure.
Strategy #2: Focus on what you want to do:
It’s very normal to start thinking about what you don’t want under pressure. We can start thinking about water, mis-hits and other potential disasters when we get nervous. You have to force yourself to think about what you actually want – not what you don’t want.
I like to ask myself a simple question to get my mind back on track. “What do I want to do?” or “where do I want to hit the ball?” work well. I then have to think logically without worrying about anything else that won’t help me.
For example, I might want to hit the ball 125 metres or get the ball onto the front right of the green. This is a positive action – much better than thinking “don’t go long” or “keep the ball out of the bunker”.
When you’re under pressure think about what you want to do. Don’t waste time and energy thinking about the negative. The more you do this the better you will become at making the right choice under pressure.
Strategy #3: Stay in the present
When you’re in the present your mind and body will perform at its best. Sports psychologists have identified the importance of staying in the present. Here’s how to do it….
Before an important shot take a moment before walking to the ball to hear/feel/see your environment. You might listen to the birds, look at cloud formations or feel the wind on your back. It doesn’t matter what you choose, any of the three will get your mind where it needs to be.
Strategy #4: Play automatically
The above three strategies will help you deal with playing golf under pressure. Learning to play and swing automatically is the final piece in the puzzle. When you are playing golf automatically you are not concerned with your swing or technique. You are playing golf and allowing your subconscious to do what it does best.
This is golf’s most important skill and is the difference between being a good golfer and becoming remarkable.
If you’d like to learn more about these ideas and playing golf under pressure then check out my book, Play Golf Your Way.