Regardless of what sport you play, there is always a time when you are expected to perform under pressure. Golf seems to have more of these exciting moments the most sports. At anytime during a competition, one shot could make or break your event. Just one shot can change to standings by several positions. And the closer we are to the finish line, the more the pressure on each shot mounts. It is exciting and scary at the same time.
To be clear, a pressure shot is a relative thing. It varies from golfer to golfer and cannot be specifically nailed down. It has more to do with chaos theory, string theory, and the randomness of rolling dice all combined. What is a pressure situation for one player is routine for another. Regardless of which situation you feel the most pressure, it is expected that you perform to the best of your abilities. And this is where the train comes off the tracks for most amateur golfers.
When they ‘try to perform to the best of their abilities’ is powerful statement. This does not mean that they will hit the perfect shot (although that is what most people equate to performing under pressure) every time. Oh no, it means that at that moment, they will produce a shot that meets or exceeds their expectations. The higher the expectations the more the pressure.
As the anchor for almost every golf team I participate on, I seem to have more situations where there is an expectation that I will make a good shot. This expectation is from my team mates and of course myself. I believe that at any given moment when I play, I can make a great shot to propel our team to lower scores. However, most of the time ‘the best of my ability’ at that moment is to make an average shot (commensurate to my game) that keeps the team out of trouble. I do not feel any extra pressure to make a fantastic shot, but I always think I will!
As you read, I hope you are getting the sense that I am guiding you to a conclusion that allows you play well under pressure. Well, the big reveal is that pressure is all mental. This is not an earth shattering epiphany, but more a reality. Being confident that you can perform under any situation is all mental. Thinking you can make a pressure shot is as critical as making the shot. Mental focus on the performing well in the moment is critical to successful golf.
On a side note, I found this article from 1974 published in the New York Times titled: How to Keep Cool Under Pressure on the Golf Course. It is a great read and I recommend it. Not much, it seems, has changed over the years.
The pressure shot in golf resides more in the six inches of real estate between your ears, than anywhere else. Before conquering a pressure shot, we need to vanquish and banish negative thoughts. There is no short cut to achieving mental strength. However, to be successful one should practice their mental toughness by focusing on every shot. If we do this, we will find that pressure shots are not as daunting as we think!
I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!
4 thoughts on “The Pressure Shot In Golf”
Jim, great post and thanks for the NY Times article. I can relate to the Sam Snead observation about leaving putts short under pressure. Definitely my bugaboo. What’s helped is to practice putting and totally focus on my rhythm to the point where I can hit the ball hard enough so it pops the back of the cup. I rehearse a mantra in my head while making the stroke. On the course, when faced with a short pressure putt, I rely on the mantra. Bob Rotella’s Putting Out of Your Mind is another great reference on handling pressure.
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I am glad you found the article useful. There are so many things to think about when playing. Hitting a putt short is not really a challenge for me, it is leaving my chips short. For some reason I think that I need to just cozy the ball up to the pin and that rarely works when I try. I guess we all have things to work on.
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Enjoyed the article and love the advice. When I remember to do it, I like to shut my eyes and take a couple of deep slow breaths. I do the same at night when I lay down to prepare myself for sleep. That works pretty well for me on both counts.
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Thanks for the kind words. I agree, it does work and I need to ensure I do not get caught up in the moment and rush my process.