Thoughts On Tournament Golf
Bobby Jones was known to say that there was golf . . . and then there was tournament golf, and the two were pretty far apart. It is common knowledge that, even as great as he was, Jones was known to get physically ill before a tournament, which to me is quite a testament to the pressure of competitive play.

We know these guys and ladies we watch each week are skilled beyond our comprehension. If you spend any time at all on a practice tee at a pro event, it is mind-boggling the repetitive pattern of shots they are capable of hitting. They all look like machines . . . . on the range.

But, just like us, taking it to the course is a different game. You see these pros hit some shots in competition that you just can’t imagine a pro hitting. “How can he/she hit it that bad ?” I know we’ve all asked ourselves during some pro event. Well, it’s because of the difference in golf and tournament golf.

We had a little member-member event at our club this past weekend, and I played with a friend who’s a 17 handicap. We both felt the “pressure” of not only on the tournament, but wanting to play well for each other, and this unfamiliar territory for most of us. You’ve probably experienced this yourself. After a shaky start both days, we settled down and played OK. Not good enough to win, but we had our moments. Since this is fresh on my mind, I thought I’d share my thoughts on some ways to beat tournament pressure and jitters.

1) It’s just golf - You’re not playing for your livelihood or your car/home/first born, so don’t put undue pressure on yourself. Make your first priority to have fun . . . after all, that’s why we all play the game.

2) It’s always “the swing - Every golf shot, no matter where or when, is a single golf swing, just like the ones you make on the range. We hear advice to “stay in the moment” – what that means is that you can only affect your golf score with the next swing, so focus only on that. What happened on the last hole or swing, or where you stand in the field, is not important at that moment in time.

3) Think “happy thoughts - While sizing up a shot, try to engage your mind on good swings you’ve made, how they felt, tempo, rhythm . . . If you find a negative thought slipping in, just back away and start over.

4) The importance of a routine - You see every single pro and good amateur do it. They approach each shot with the same routine; it gets them in the moment. If you don’t have one, you’ll never achieve your potential, and if you slip out of yours, bad shots will happen more often than not. [ I think I’ll write a post about this subject alone – stay tuned. ]

5) Lighten Up - The universal effect some pressure puts on us is that we tense up, and that kills good golf swings. When you get into competition, make it a part of your routine to do a mental “pressure check”. Your tension will manifest in your grip. Just make a point to lighten your grip before you take the club away from the ball.

So, there are five thoughts I have to help you perform better under pressure. I’m sure all of you have more, so leave them in the comments section, so we'll all benefit from them.
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[ comments ]
Artful Golfer says:
I've had quite a bit of success playing competitively at a very local level. The biggest factor for me is to play just like I do when it doesn't matter -- because it doesn't! I'm focused, but not putting pressure on myself. I agree with all your suggestions, but have resisted a pre-shot routine since I began playing 3 years ago. I find a routine reduces my ability to remain creative over every shot. I like to approach each shot as the unique shot it is and "react" to it creatively instead of getting "stuck" in a routine.
Wayde says:
I like all of these except for #5, when I do that I will at times overd0 it, and the grip will slip in my hands which is pretty much golf swing disaster. One thing that I don't hear many people mention is simply to embrace the pressure and all of the nervousness, anxiety, etc. that comes with it. Learn to enjoy those feelings; that can sometimes be easier than trying to ignore them. Growing up as a pitcher, this was my staple. One good analogy I like to use to explain how this works is cold weather. It is awfully hard to convince yourself while you're skiing that you don't feel's cold outside. However you can learn to love the cold weather simply by changing your mind about it. Tell yourself you love the cold fresh air in your lungs etc. Pretty soon, you won't be thinking "brrrr", you'll just be enjoying the great weather.
I think the same thing goes for pressure whether pitching or golfing or whatever, learn to love the nervousness and EXCITEMENT the pressure brings, and pretty soon you'll stop chokin' and start performing. New nickname??? "Clutch".
wedgeguy says:
Wayde, that's very good advice. We typically are nervous about things which make us uncomfortable. Tiger Woods is a perfect example of one who embraces "being in the hunt" and kicks his game up a notch usually, using the pressure to improve his performance.
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