Practice Under "Pressure"
As you all know, I’m a big believer in practicing the short game, and hit lots of little half chips and pitches on the range and around the practice green. That’s where you practice technique until it becomes ingrained. But I recently had a reader ask about how to practice actually pulling off those shots under playing or competitive pressure. As Bobby Jones said, there’s “golf” and then there’s “competitive golf”, and they really don’t have that much in common.

We see it every week on the PGA Tour. As the ads say, “these guys are good”, but how in the world do golfers of this skill level hit some of the ugly shots we see in tournaments each week? It’s really simple, and Mr. Jones sums it up nicely. Hitting shot after shot on the range is quite the different prospect than pulling of “that” shot just when you have to do so, coming down the stretch of a major, or needing to get it close to beat your buddies.

The only real way to practice under pressure is to put yourself in situations where you have that real pressure on you. Playing for more money than you might find comfortable. Tournaments. In front of people who you’d like to impress. All those situations will cause you to tense up, maybe forget your fundamentals, get a little quick . . . things that make bad golf shots happen. The more you are there, the more you get accustomed to performing in those situations.

But you can practice performing under pressure. You just have to determine what things will make you grind. I worked with a young player some time back who I was trying to get to slow down his swing and focus on solid contact and hitting fairways. So our deal was that if he missed a fairway, he had to run after the cart to his ball. And after a while, he got tired enough to slow his swing down and make solid contact.

You can do the same in your practice drills. Make yourself “pay” for bad shots – pushups, sprints, etc. all might work. Or get a buddy and chip for dollars, pitch for dollars . . . those kinds of things. Anything you can put on the shot that will make you pay for a miss will improve your ability to perform when the pressure is on.

Find your own “punishment” and build it into your practice routine. It will pay off for you on the course.
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[ comments ]
dartboss04 says:
I think I already pay enough through shame, embarrassment, and regret.

We all have little mini pressurized events in every round. The first tee shot on a busy weekend is always a good one.

My favorite is the playing through tee ball. There's nothing like that shot you need to hit after a group waives you through. 4 pairs of judgmental eyes burning a hole right through you, just waiting for you to slip up and grumble to each other that they made the wrong decision. It's also one of the best feelings to hit a great shot in that situation, reassuring them they did the right thing.
Banker85 says:
+3 dartboss LOL.
bkuehn1952 says:
dartboss04's comments are on the money. Practicing with some artificial pressure is fine but one really needs to be on the course to replicate the self-induced mental pressure most of us feel. The only answer is to play more often. When you play frequently, all those failures start to mean less because there is always another opportunity tomorrow.
dottomm says:
I'll 3rd that. The pressure I used to feel on the first tee was the scariest part of golf to me. Put a few waiting foursomes standing around and I would be paralyzed, my blood pressure would rise and I would be left shaken for the first 4 holes. Playing more frequently has made me completely forget about those feelings. Sure I can still get a little nervous, but I've since learned that I probably WILL shank one - either on this tee or another and so what? One bad tee shot isn't enough to ruin my game anymore.
Banker85 says:
I can relate cause it is like sales. The more attempts, regardless of outcome, you make the better you get and the less your nerves get in the way.
cscovil says:
bkuehn..I agree. Play more and the nerves begin to dissipate. The tension is still there, but it becomes much lighter the more you play. on! The play-through tee shot is so mental. I find that a pre-shot routine helps calm my nerves...and I just hit it. Thank the group that let you play through...and then shank the second shot. : )

I like the article. Often on the range, after practicing some different shots or getting warmed up, I'll play a round in my head...on the range. Driver, 8-iron, Wedge. And then, Driver, 3-wood, iron, wedge. Pre-shot routine for each, trying to make each shot count towards a specific target. Putting some money on the line while practicing creates competitive pressure too.
legitimatebeef says:
Usually on the practice green I play a little game that I have to "win" before I'm allowed to leave. I have chip five balls across the green to the farthest hole, and get at least three of them up and down, then do the same thing going back the other way. If I fail on either end I have to start all over. It's not really pressure I guess but its some kind of onus.

+1 to the dartboss, the play-through shot is a challenge. I'm learning to relish those kind of opportunity. Like on the first tee I do get a little anxious although a part of me feels that the more people gathered around, the better.
dooboo says:
Was out at the range today, so many folks hitting golf ball after golf ball...I couldn't find a spot and there was a line waiting for a spot.
So, I took my range session to the short game area, which is on the opposite side of the "everyone" range.
Well, there were 1 person practicing.

Anyhow, I didn't really put the "self pressure" to myself, however, I think I am going to try "pressure" practice session next time I head out.

And be sure to skip the "everyone's range" and go to the "Real" range from the start.
DougE says:
Hey Beef, I do the same thing around the practice green, but I require that I make 4 of 5 up and downs or I can't proceed to the next challenge. I also start my chipping challenge with a PW. Once I accomplish it, I then move on to a 52*, then 56* and finally 60* to gain more proficiency with each. I chip from the fringe to longer holes with the PW, progressing to short sided holes for the 60*. I move out to rough length grass and do the same drill over. This can turn into an hour long practice session, so usually do this in a dedicated practice session rather than before a round.

Agree with the PLAY THRU tension. It tops my list, other than tournament play.
SteveMM says:
I learned a great little game during a round of lessons last spring. The instructor called it "one ball". Basically you go to the putting green and find three targets (pins, holes, whatever). They should be at different distances ... short, medium, and long. Start in the thicker grass off the fringe of the green, and chip it. The goal is to get up and down. If you do, you've made par. Play nine holes like this, going short, medium, long ... repeat. If you're competitive like me, you'll find that you'll get a little bit of that pressure as you go through, trying to beat your previous best score.
mlf16507 says:
I always like to play "horse" around a green. As in basketball, a shot not equaled will get you a "H" until "horse" is spelled out. First player selects the shot to be hit. If the second player doesn't get it closer,they get the "H". If the second player gets closer, then the first player gets the"H". You can choose any shot you want to hit-A 30 ft chip from fringe or a backwards LW ala Phil Mickelson. You can play for money or pride, but you will become a better short game player.
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