Dealing with nerves is something all golfers deal with at some level. Even if you are a beginner and you play with a more experienced player, it makes you nervous. The question is what is the best way to deal with nerves?
Unfortunately there is no one size fits all solution since each person is different with a different mental makeup, but there are certain things that tour pros do that may be of some help to you.
Let’s start by asking the question; what causes those butterflies in your stomach before you ever tee off? The answer is stress. When you are in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation it causes stress.
Sport psychologists generally define it as “an athlete’s perception of the imbalance between the demands placed on him or her and their response capacity and resources for meeting those demands.” In other words, lack of confidence. As Dr. Bob Rotella says, “Golf is a game of confidence and competence.” You need confidence in your level of competence.
Here are some things that tour players do or think that helps them in dealing with it:
Confidence and Avoiding Self Criticizing
They don’t beat themselves up over their mistakes. They realize that they are not perfect and are going to make mistakes occasionally.
They don’t give themselves technical feedback on the golf course. Jack Nicklaus was famous for this. If he struggled with his driver on the first couple of tee shots, he simply left it in his bag and used his three wood the rest of the round. He did not try to fix the drive. That’s what the practice tee is far.
“If you are trying to tell your body how to swing, you are telling yourself you don’t know how to swing.” Dr. Bob Rotella
They make a decision on how a shot should be played or what club should be used and commit to it. They realize that a properly executed bad decision is generally better than indecision.
Pre-Shot Routine and Comfort
They develop their own unique routine and don’t vary from it. Larry Nelson, who won three majors, once told me that once he set his feet he never looked back at the target. He said he didn’t want to second guess his alignment and he wanted to hit before he had a chance to choke.
As my favorite sports psychologist, Dr. Bob Rotella said:
“I believe it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of the mind in golf. There is no such thing as ‘muscle memory.’ Your muscles have no capacity to remember anything. Memory resides in your head. Therefore, no matter how long you practice a golf swing; no matter how skilled you become, your muscles alone can’t remember it and execute it when the need arises on the golf course. Your muscles and the rest of your body are controlled by your mind. Unless your mind is functioning well when you play golf, your muscles are going to flounder. If your head is filled with bad thoughts, your scorecard is going to be full of bad strokes.
The player’s mind is in the past, focused on a shot that’s already been played.
Visualize and Feel
They visualize the shot they want to hit very vividly and then they use the practice swing to feel it. They focus on what that felt like, because everyone makes great practice swings.
Goal Setting: Quality Shots
Their soul objective is to hit quality golf shots because they know that will result in a low score. Setting out to shoot a low score is counter-productive. If you solely focus on score, you will be negative with yourself when you make a bad score on a hole.
All of these habits of tour players can be used by average golfers with a little bit of work on how you think and feel. It is important to remember that you cannot change the way you swing or play unless you change the way you think.