To start, I have to thank Mike Johnny, author of 36aday who I had a brief discussion with yesterday, for giving me the inspiration behind this article. While the comment below belongs to discussion about the benefits of a pre-round routine, I understated how important it can be for calming your nerves. That’s something we’re going to elaborate on today.As I go on to talk about below this comment, I had horrible nerves as a young golfer also. For me, my most vivid memories of my time golfing before I played competitively was full of my struggle to control my nervousness. When I was in my first few years of golf I spent most of my time playing golf on a little par 3 course close to home with my dad. I was bad, but then again so was he. Regardless though, we always seemed to be tied coming to the eight or ninth hole. This is where I learned first hand how devastating nerves can be to your game.
He had all sorts of moves that he would pull out to try and get in my head, and unfortunately for my younger self, he was pretty good at it. He would make me wait to tee off on the last hole until he had read off both of our scores and compared them. If it was close, next I would be subjected to some classic trash-talk and some reverse psychology with a “don’t screw up now” or something along those lines (as if I wasn’t nervous already). Of course my nine year old self couldn’t cope with all of this pressure and almost every time, my nerves would get to me. I could never understand why my worst drives would always come out on the last hole but, looking back now, it makes perfect sense.
So that was it… I was doomed to give up a last hole lead to my dad for years. Nerves didn’t stop there though. Through out my teens I don’t think I ever fell comfortable with a putt outside a few feet (obviously I didn’t practice putting enough) and my nerves on these three footers could be to blame for the shameful amount I missed. But it didn’t stop there, it seemed like any critical shot I had to take always left me stressed more than it should have.
Even in high school, teeing off first at a big tournament like regionals would get my heart pumping as I stood over the ball. Everybody has nerves, everyone gets nervous over three footers, or when they get the first tee with a group of strangers. I would even go so far as to say that if you never have nerves you don’t care enough about playing well to improve. So you shouldn’t be trying to eliminate your nerves, you should be focused on preventing them from damaging your round.
So how do you do that? How do you “control” them?
Well… good question… It’s not quite as simple as moving the ball back in your stance or transferring your weight. It’s a dynamic phenomenon but in my experience only practice will make you better.
I think that the more often you’re in a high pressure situation the better you will be at playing through your nerves. Unfortunately for us, it also turns out that these high pressure situations aren’t something that you can practice like you practice a 7 iron shot. In order to improve your play in stressful situations you have to go out on the course and play. You have to play a lot. You have to go put pressure on your scramble partner when he has a 4 footer (not in a competition of course) and trust me, once you give it out, be ready to get your fair share and then some back. Soon all your putts, your flop shots over the sand, and your recovery shots will get cat calls from your buddies (at least that’s how my dad and I play). We don’t do it to harm each others game, but merely to test each other, and to push each other to get better at performing under pressure (whether we intend to put pressure on them or not).
Besides facing your nerves on the course, you can do the exact opposite and still be successful. One main points we talked about in creating a pre-round routine was helping you forget about your nerves before you go out on the course instead of trying to face them. In the same way, going through your normal method of lining up a putt, reading the green, and then stroking it in will help you make more of those close putts. The more you focus on making a good read the less you can think about missing your putt off the bottom lip.
Both of these methods all boil down to one thing though.
It’s the only way to over come your nerves. You can gain confidence by playing in high pressure situations (and doing well), and you can also gain confidence in your mechanics and your routine by repeating them and trusting them for all of your shots. Both of these require conscious thought and commitment to improve and no matter how hard you work, neither will be perfect. But it doesn’t need to be. Nerves and pressure are what make this game great and, as I’ve gotten older, they’re both something I’ve grown to enjoy playing through now that my competitive golf days are winding down. Just like hitting a punch shot out of the woods, or a chip out of the deep rough, there’s a level of satisfaction you get from attempting a tough shot and succeeding that is so rewarding for golfers. So until next time, lay off the coffee and caffeine before your round and start settling those nerves.
(All of this info is somewhere else now)