Pay Attention to Your Nerves
We all have certain “tells” in our golf game when things get more stressful and the pressure increases, no different than poker players. It is critical to start finding out what these are in your game. Your goal is to mitigate them as best as possible as you gain experience. But don’t ever assume you can cure yourself of some of these tendencies. We learn to play through some of them.
Here are a few that I have discovered in my game over the years:
- I tend to pull putts
- Everything speeds up - my walking, breathing, routines, etc.
- I begin to worry about outcomes too much
- My contact with irons and wedges can become a little thin
You might have the complete opposite of all of those issues. Either way, you won’t know unless you take time during your rounds and, more importantly, do some mental review afterward. Typically, you will see patterns start to emerge.
For example, with my putting, I found that the tension I was experiencing in my body would overpower my right hand and close the clubface. So now, when I feel it, I need to consciously relax my grip when I feel more stressed. I don’t make every putt and still pull some, but I do it way less often than I used to. That’s a big win!
When I come down the stretch in a critical moment, I will slow everything down on purpose. For the past few seasons, I have been using an electric caddie, which has set walking speeds. It was interesting that in tournaments I was allowed to use it, I started to notice that I would begin to outpace the rate of the cart even though it was on the same setting. This is an important reminder that our perception changes as pressure mounts.
Or I need to keep reminding myself that however the last 5-6 holes play out, I will be fine no matter what. That line of thinking resonates with me the most.
This process is how golfers build their own customized mental game under pressure. I can give you some tried and accurate methods that work for many other golfers and me, but you must also discover things that will calm you down.
I like humming songs to myself or thinking of my children. You might find something entirely different that calms you down. Essentially, I am asking you the same thing that Chubbs asked of Happy Gilmore - you must find your Happy Place. And that takes some work and introspection.
Journaling is a powerful method that many top competitors maintain as a habit after every round. That might be a bit much depending on what level you compete at, but I find a quick 5-10 minute “mental journaling” session is appropriate for all levels of golfers, and what I try and do when I’m done with my rounds and the information is fresh.
Either way, you must find your tells to become a more seasoned competitor. If they are physical, they can be addressed in your practice sessions. If they are mental, you need to consciously work on them through reflection off the course and doing your best to pay close attention and do your best to adjust when you are in the heat of the moment.