Playing in a competition or on the cusp of shooting your best score heightens the stress level of most golfers. We tend to “get in our head” thus causing us to second guess our normally routine shots. It is inevitable that the closer we are to success on the links, the higher the levels of stress we need to manage. Regardless of which shot needs to be perfect, our mental approach to these situations is the key factor to managing that empowers golfers to perform under stressful conditions. I have experienced this situation many times in my career with mixed outcomes. However, as I matured as a golfer, I found that performing under stress has become easier producing brighter outcomes.
Stressful golf shots are a result of our brains engaging on an emotional level. Fear of failure is a driving factor of failure. We let the ‘what ifs’ take over and as a result the stress or anxiety of making any golf shot starts to rise. Over the years, I have learned to improve my mental processes in order to perform under pressure by eliminate three constants that happen during competition or a great scoring round.
First, I forget about the score. I had to stop focusing on the score because I would tie myself in knots not wanting to hit a poor shot. If I happened to shoot a bogey (or worse) I would spiral down into the abyss. I learned a long time ago that if I stayed in the moment mentally, the score would take care of itself. I would mentally think of other things dealing with course and shot management prior to and after each shot. This allowed my to enjoy the round and revel in the fact that it was a great day on the links.
Second, I stopped as many swing thoughts as possible. The last thing I needed to do was mentally analyze my swing processes, grip, stance, body position, etc. The more I thought about all the nuances of my golf swing, the more stress I would build. I stopped having confidence in my shot making ability and that only led to disaster. To counter this, I developed a solid, consistent and repeatable pre-shot routine. My first step of this process was to clear my mind of all thoughts relating to my swing. My pre-shot routine forced me to mentally slow down, focus on my target, and hit the shot I envisioned. My pre-shot routine significantly reduced my stress and anxiety by reminding my mind (and body) that we have a simple process to follow when making any golf shot. Thus, I am able to perform under pressure.
Lastly, I failed to trust my golf game. I spent many hours practicing, honing and perfecting my golf game. I would practice putting, challenging chip shots, approach shots and other golf shots in order to execute them without thinking. I would develop visual cues to use to help set the conditions for a successful golf shot. Unfortunately, when the stress or pressure would build, my trust (confidence) in my game would erode. I worried that I could not sustain the level of performance I was experiencing, hence my trust in my game would falter. It is crazy to think about it when I am removed from the moment, but when the stress rose I would mentally go down the rabbit hole. I fixed this by letting go emotionally to the result of my golf shot. My intent is to hit each shot to best of my ability; sometimes it works and others…..not so much. Thus, I have to trust that I can perform under all conditions. This conscious thought erodes the feeling of stress and renewed my confidence in my game. It is almost like a light switch – one second I am spiraling out of control and the next I am calm and relaxed. It is all mental at that point.
The ability to play great golf under stress is important. The level of stress felt by each golfer is unique to themselves. The plethora of factors that induce stress in a golfer is almost limitless. What bothers one player and zero affect on another. In all cases, stress is generated in the mind and can equally be controlled by the mind. It is up to each player to find the processes that work for their game in order to hit that routine shot to save par and shoot that low score. The right process of stress relief is in all of us; we just have to find work works for our individual game.
I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!