How To Overcome Feelings of Intimidation on the Golf Course

By: Marcela Smith - Apr 20, 2023

Regardless of how long you’ve been playing or what your average scores are, most players have felt stress, performance anxiety and even feelings of intimidation while playing golf. Sports psychologist Dr. Shannon Reece says we can all learn how to play each shot more purposefully.

“There are certain moments and circumstances that can trigger that fear response inside of you, where you feel like you’re losing control of your game,” said Dr. Reece.

Dr. Reece studied under renowned sports psychologist, Dr. Bob Rotella, and has been teaching golfers how to use the power of their minds to play better for over two decades.

She says there are three main types of intimidation in golf: the intimidation we create for ourselves, intimidation from other players and intimidation from the actual golf course. Her tips for each of them will help you take back control of your thoughts, whether you’re playing a casual round with friends or grinding over shots in a competition.

Intimidation We Create for Ourselves

We often are thinking about too many things at once, which Dr. Reece says can really backfire. “If your mind is cluttered, your swing is going to be cluttered with unnecessary elements. Having all those thoughts wakes up our conscious mind too much.”

Dr. Reece suggests the moment you begin to feel that you’re struggling, take a deep breath, step back, and ask yourself, “‘What can I do in this moment to simplify my focus?’ See the shot, feel the shot, lock on to the target and go.”

Intimidation From Other Players

Avoid the temptation of comparison thinking, Dr. Reece says. “Recognize that everyone starts at the same place. We aren’t looking to get to a point where we are ‘done’ - golf is a journey."

She says to think about how far you yourself have come, and get excited about your own progress. Don’t fall into the trap of worrying about how someone else is playing, which should have no bearing on your own game.

When talking about a member/guest or member/member tournament, Dr. Reece shared, “You’re getting invited to play because of who you are, not how you’re playing. Your friend invited you to enjoy the experience together, and they believe you have a good game, so you should be believe it, too.”

There can be a certain amount of gamesmanship during a tournament that can be heard, seen or just felt from the other players in the field. Rather than allow yourself to be intimidated by how well others are playing, or how excited they are about their own good shots, try to create your own zone. Focus on communicating with your partner, remark or high five for good shots, and support when a shot is missed by saying “good try” or “oh, so close.” These principles can apply to all rounds of golf, competitive or not.

Intimidation From the Golf Course

What is course intimidation? Dr. Reece says a good example is that hole you call your “blow-up hole.” It’s the hole with water, bunkers, narrow fairways or low hanging trees. You walk up to the tee and all you can think about are the architectural features that your ball has landed in so many times before.

Rather than thinking of where you’ve been before, Dr. Reece says you can train your mind to focus on where you actually want to go. Focus on a smart, makable target that you know you can hit, rather than let those thoughts about the water or bunkers sink in. Remember that you shouldn’t necessarily be going for the flag every time - laying up is a strategic decision which should be a part of your toolkit on the course.

Learning From Your Mistakes

There isn’t a golfer alive who hasn’t made mistakes they knew they could have avoided. Mistakes are a part of the game, and they can be a valuable learning tool if you use them as such.

When you make a mistake, step back, make an objective observation about what you can learn from that mistake to make you better, stronger and smarter going forward. You shouldn’t dwell on it in that moment, but you can make a mental note to revisit the situation after the round. Think about what you did and why you chose that club or target and evaluate if you might make another choice in a future round.

Dr. Reece firmly believes that mistakes are some of the best avenues for you to become a better player, and she shared her favorite Nelson Mandel quote, “I never lose, I either win or learn.”

“It’s a joy to enhance the experience of the amateur golfer, and make the game that much easier and more fun to play by teaching them simple shifts in how they think and approach the game, which can have a dramatic impact on their scores.”

I'm hosting an Advanced Rules Clinic on May 15 at Arrowhead GC. Join me on the course for an interactive and fun way to learn the Rules of Golf you’ve ever experienced.

Learn more about Dr. Shannon Reece here.

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