It doesn’t matter who you are — if you’ve played golf, you’ve experienced what we all know as the “first-tee jitters.”
The “jitters” is golfing right of passage. Some people experience them once and never again, others get them every time they step onto the golf course.
Whether you’re a pro or a weekend hack, you know the feeling. The sheer terror that comes when you have no idea where your golf ball is going to go, let alone if you’re going to even make solid contact.
The fear of getting off to a bad start, or embarrassing yourself or whatever it is that triggers what amounts to an internal earthquake is terrible — but there are ways around it.
We reached out on Facebook looking for your best tips to battling the jitters — Here are your top-20 tips to help combat the dreaded first-tee jitters:
For some reason, every amateur on the planet has crazy expectations. Whether you lie about your handicap or talk about “last time I played this hole,” then you’re going to be disappointed in your play. If golf were easy, everyone would be on tour. It’s not, and you can’t expect greatness every time you make a swing.
If you walk to the first tee expecting to stripe one, but haven’t played in a month or practiced the shot then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Drop the expectations and you’ll be surprised how well you play, not only on the first tee but also throughout the round.
Ah yes, liquid courage — perhaps the most simple, available and effective tool to cure what ails you. Whether it’s talking to a pretty girl or getting off the first tee, beer is your friend.
Not so surprisingly, this was the No. 1 tip you guys had for your fellow golfers on Facebook. You can’t argue with the numbers there.
Drinking beer works to cure the effects of first tee jitters in multiple ways: it loosens you up and allows you to relax on the tee and it also allows you to not care what happens to your tee shot. It really is a beautiful thing.
It doesn’t matter what swing you’re on — first, last, 17th or 87th — you must commit to every shot. There is no place on the golf course for tentative shot making.
If you stand on the first tee and worry about whether you should be hitting driver or if you should club-down and then say, “meh, I’ll swing an easy driver” — you’re just digging a grave. Commit one hundred percent effort. Anything less isn’t going to work.
See Also: Grip it and Rip it.
Besides tension, the most detrimental thing an amateur golfer can do is having too many swing thoughts. You want to hit the ball well? Clear the clutter.
Playing without distraction is next to impossible for the amateur scatterbrain like you and I, but you can clean up your mind and eliminate waste. The key is to focus on one swing thought — doesn’t matter what it is, as long as there’s just one.
One of the interesting tips on Facebook was to listen to a song to get pumped up. The one listed by David Bell was “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, but whatever works for you is a great idea.
If listening to a specific song puts you in a positive frame of mind, then it’s a great thing for your golf game. There’s a reason baseball teams keep track of what players do when certain songs are used as their intro music — there’s something behind it for sure.
So, whether you need to listen to some Metallica or James Taylor before you play, if it gets you in the right head space — do it.
Amateur golfers have a tendency to pull up off the ball and watch it — something that definitely plays a roll in first tee jitters. If you find yourself topping tee shots or shanking them, then odds are you’re pulling your head off the ball before impact.
We all get it — you want to see your incredible opening salvo to the round, but it’ll never be as good as you’d like it to be if you keep trying to watch it before you hit it. Odds are you’ve got at least one other person in your group — rely on them to watch where it goes.
Focusing on keeping your eyes on the ball — even a specific dimple if you can — will help you to finish your swing, swing in better tempo and make more solid contact — which is the key to getting over first tee jitters.
Being super tense causes the first tee jitters, more than anything. Whether it’s nervous energy that eventually dissipates over the course of the round or an anxiety, nothing good ever comes from tension in the golf swing. To hit the ball solid, you must be loose — and the anxiety that comes with striking a perfect opening shot can be too much for any golfer.
Before you tee off, shake out your arms and legs, do some neck rolls and try not to be too static while you wait for everyone else in your group to hit. It’ll help relieve some of the tension you’ve built up worrying about hitting the middle of the fairway.
You know, just because you’re on the tee doesn’t mean you must use driver. There is no ancient decree handed down by Old Tom Morris or the R&A that demands every pro, amateur and hack must hit the single most difficult club in their bag to open a round of golf — so don’t.
If you hit a 6-iron like a Greek god, then hit your 6-iron — there is ZERO shame in it. Besides, if anyone else in your group has the jitters as well, your mid iron will likely end up going further than their drive and you’ll look like a golfing genius.
Just remember, the most important part of playing good golf is to play your game — not someone else’s.
One of the best tips I’ve ever received actually came from Woody Harrelson’s character in Zombieland. He’s teaching Abigail Breslin’s character how to fire a rifle more accurately and suggests she fully exhale before firing.
It works for her with the gun and it works in golf — if you want to release tension and feel free, exhale before hitting the shot. Not only does this tip help free you up for your opening tee shot, it’s also helpful when putting, too.
Jack Nicklaus used to visualize every shot he hit before he hit it, picturing the ball doing exactly what he wanted it to do, landing it where he wanted to and finishing where he wanted to. Nicklaus called this, “going to the movies.” Good enough for the greatest of all time, good enough you, right? Right.
The thought here is that be thinking of what you want to happen, you’ll be able to do it. In the words of the great Walter Sobchak, “if you will it, Dude, it is no dream.”
If you watch golf on TV, you probably notice that no matter how big or small, important or important a shot may be, a professional golfer always goes through his complete routine — and that’s a great habit for any amateur to get into.
Whether it’s concerns over pace of play or laziness, many amateurs either don’t stick to their routine or have one at all. Having one is important to keeping you connected to the task at hand and remaining focused. Without it, it’s easy to get distracted and let fear and anxiety take over and cripple your game.
Not all nervous energy is bad energy, and that can certainly be the case for the first tee jitters. Not every one is equipped to do this, but by changing your breathing and controlling you body, thoughts and emotions, you can turn those butterflies into some positive energy.
Once you’ve controlled your breathing and your body, you may still be a little nervous — but physically your body will be better capable of handling the situation and, more than likely, you’ll relax a bit mentally, too.
Unless you’re playing on Tour, no one out there gives one iota what your golf swing looks like or how you strike the ball. Sure, you’re buddies may give you a rash of trash talk if you hit it like crap, but NO ONE is judging you.
No stranger is walking around their local municipal course trying to spot the next Tiger Woods or recruiting for their amateur golf team. If you can just accept that (as harsh as it may sound) that no one is that interested in your game, you’ll be a better player for it. Just relax, see it and hit it.
If you know you struggle with first tee jitters, than it’d be wise to head to the practice range before your round, even if it’s just to hit a couple drives.
Going through your routine on the range, practicing visualizing your tee shot, picking a target and hitting a good drive will help you bring it to the first tee. It doesn’t take long, and is a great way to exercise some of those anxious demons that plague so many of us on the first tee.
One of the big problems with the first tee jitters is that, a lot of times, the player who hits a bad shot carries it with them for the rest of the round. If you do hit a bad shot due to the jitters, keep some perspective — after all, it’s just one shot.
Your poor drive counts just the same as a tap-in birdie or a penalty stroke. Over the course of the round, the flubbed tee shot won’t amount to much especially if you can settle down and find some fairways and greens along the way.
Remember: the first tee shot only sets the tone if you let it or want it to.
If you’ve played golf for more than a week, you’ve heard dozens and dozens of terms and sayings to help you with your game — one of my favorites is, “aim small, miss small.”
If you stand on the tee and think about a million things or worry about the shot and what will happen if you hit a bad shot, then you’re going to hit a bad shot. But if you stand up and focus on one spot — a tree, a yardage marker, a rock, anything — then you’re miss is going to be much smaller than if, say, you’re aimpoint is something as generalized as “the fairway.”
As I’ve said before, tension is the No. 1 killer of good golf swings everywhere. One way to eliminate it? Develop a waggle.
It’s a funny sounding word and sometimes you can look funny doing it, but the waggle is one of the best ways to do it. Think about some of the most famous wagglers on tour and how loose they are? Do you think Jason Dufner gets jitters on the first tee? I don’t think so.
Odds are, if you’re suffering from the first tee jitters, you’re not alone. If this is the case, why not agree on a “breakfast ball?”
A “breakfast ball” is great for a group of golfers who struggle on the first tee, allowing them to hit a second drive free of penalty should they succumb to the jitters on their first one. I’m not generally a fan of mulligans, but if the jitters are something you struggle with then it’s perfectly acceptable if everyone in the group agrees.
You know the old saying, “like pulling off a band-aid?” Well, that’s really some of the best advice for getting over first tee jitters — just do it, get it over with and move on. This is especially important for those out there who dwell on things. Going last will only make things harder for you, especially if everyone in your group hits a solid tee ball.
Most people don’t want to go first, so if you offer to it’ll likely be approved by everyone else in the group. It might still be nerve wracking, but not nearly as tough a shot as following three great drives.
It’s long been said that the best exercise for golfers is to play more golf. The same is true for the mental side of the game as for the physical. If you don’t play enough, you’ll never develop the confidence needed to play the game at the level you expect yourself to.
For the most part, first-tee jitters (as I mentioned) come from a combination of expectations and tension. If you haven’t played golf in three weeks and find yourself on the first tee with three buddies — or three strangers — you can’t be expecting to bust a Bubba Watson-esque drive when you’ve played less often lately than Anthony Kim. It just doesn’t work that way.
The more you play, the more confidence you’ll gain and the more comfortable you’ll be with the driver in hand on the first tee.