Three Keys To Handling Pressure
Whether you play competitively or not, “pressure” is a big part of this game. Even if we are out for an evening practice nine, when we get over any shot, from drive to putt, we are putting “pressure” on ourselves to perform to our best capability.

So just what is pressure? My Dad used to tell us the story about a guy who wanted to learn how to walk the tightrope. He strung a rope across his yard about a foot off the ground and started practicing – first just balancing, then walking, skipping . . . he got where he “owned” that tightrope. So he decided he was ready for the big top, and joined the circus. The circus manager says, “Well, climb up there and show me what you’ve got.” When he got to the top and looked down about thirty feet, he couldn’t even get off the platform.

Pressure affects all of differently, but it affects all of us. How can we totally jack a two foot putt sometimes? Or chunk a chip shot? We don’t do that on the practice tee! But then, how can tour pros hit some of the gosh-awful shots we see them hit coming down the stretch? No one is immune.

Thank you to Clinton F., from Quantico, VA for asking about pressure. His email said:

“How do you handle pressure putting and hitting
shots around the green when you are amped up and can't feel your hands?”

Well, Clinton, that does happen to all of us, and I’m going to share my Three Keys To Handling Pressure. I’d like for all of you to chime in with your own personal keys that you use with success. But here are mine:
1. Recall success! The first thing that happens in pressure situations is that fear sets in. You may find yourself thinking of that last short putt you missed, or that chip you chunked, or bunker shot you skulled. There’s a wonderful new golf book called “Seven Days of Golf in Utopia” that I highly recommend. In it the mentor tells his student, “See it. Feel it. Trust it.” And that’s great advice. See the shot you have, in the dozens or hundreds of ways you’ve successfully executed it before. Take a few practice swings and feel the swing that will produce that vision. Then trust your skill that you KNOW you have and just execute.

2. Get S-L-O-W . We have a tendency to get quick when we are under pressure. As you begin to approach the shot, slow down a bit. If you are riding in a cart and approaching the green, pause for a count before you jump out of the cart. Take a breath before you pull the clubs from the bag. Walk a little more slowly over to your ball, which gives you time to think those successful thoughts we just talked about. Make your practice swings or strokes a little slower, more deliberately. And feel the end of your backswing. The quickness killer is not finishing the swing, whether it’s a full iron shot, a short chip or pitch, or even a putt. FEEL the end of the backswing to neutralize quickness.

3. Lighten Up! As Clinton said, he “can’t feel his hands”. That’s probably because he’s gripping the club too tightly. A nice relaxed grip is essential to a good golf shot of any kind, but pressure affects that first, most of the time. When you are feeling a little “amped up”, as Clinton put it, focus on your grip pressure and R-E-L-A-X. Your body will not let you hold a club too softly, but pressure sure can make you put the death grip on the club. And it’s hard to swing too quickly when you have a nice soft grip on the club.
So, those are my “Three Keys” to handling pressure. Try them the next time you find yourself a little nervous, whether it’s for the club championship, or just beating your buddies out of a few bucks.

And let us know your keys to handling pressure, too.
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[ comments ]
ToddRobb says:
My number one key to handling pressure is relying on my pre-shot routine. My conscious thought is " focus on the process". If I am thinking about my routine, there is no time to think about the consequences of the outcome.
TWUES17 says:
Clear the mechanism.
theghost25 says:
Great book to read if for no other reason they to say you read it.
Its called Golf's Sacred Journey with the above mentioned after title. Its by Dr David Cook and may make you think a little bit differently about how you aproach the game of golf.
drew1473 says:
@TWUES17... exactly! Billy Chapel said it the best. Clear the Mechanism.
onedollarwed says:
Pressure is something which kills your golf game - unlike almost any other sport. Bearing down hurts your shot making leading to gripping too tight, losing balance, stubbing a putter, and forgetting obvious things things.

It seems when it built I would forget how I gripped the club or start wodering about the point of my toe or something. Pressure usually makes you overly self concious.
My best tip is to know the details of your grip, stance, ball position, etc., so you can't get lost in it. This way you can settle the paranoia. And like Robb says: get into your routine, or checklist for adjustments.
When in doubt, PLAY STUPID!!!... like... Hit it straight! Play to the middle! Hit it at the hole!
southping says:
What is the worst that can happen ? You lose a golf ball ? Or miss a three footer ? It is much better to concentrate on the process , than the potential outcome . And if you "must" concentrate on an outcome,then concentrate on a good outcome . And something that nobody has mentioned is practice . If you work hard enough at the game , you will feel that you "should" or "deserve" to make the three footer . Or hit it over the water . Confidence is your number one friend on a golf course . That said , not all of us can work at the game as much as we want . But any practice is good practice . Just my two cents .
ToddRobb says:
southping, I agree that practice is essential to playing good golf, but when it comes to pressure, you can't practice "real" pressure situations. The guys on tour practice for hours everyday, and we see them choke all the time when the pressure heats up. One of the best ways to handle pressure is to get used to it by playing for something whenever you play. One of the reasons Tiger is so successful is because he is very comfortable in pressure situations because he's been there so many times. We've heard to try to make a certain amount of putts in a row etc,etc,, Nothing takes the place of real round experience. We watched Kenny Perry skull a ball across the green at The Masters on Sunday, on any other day he makes that shot 10 out of 10 times. I bet if he's the hunt in a major again, he will perform much better down the stretch.
bducharm says:
You have to put yourself in pressure situations to get your body used to those situations. Play in as many competitions as possible and get that muscle memory. It is like putting yourself on auto-pilot - LETTING it happen versus MAKING it happen!!!
TWUES17 says: helps not to chop your hand off with a table saw too. In golf and in baseball.
Lerxst says:
Always remember to:

Harness in the good energy, block out the bad. Harness. Energy. Block. Bad. It's like a carousel. You put the quarter in, you get on the horse, it goes up and down, and around. Circular, circle. Feel it. Go with the flowGǪ


Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball. A flute with no holes, is not a flute. A donut with no hole, is a Danish.

I find that I am not good enough yet to put myself into the pressure of competition with others. I still feel pressure GÇô even on practice rounds. The times I feel it most is when Im playing my best. Im lined up for a birdie or par putt, or for that matter after a great drive the creep of doubt comes in before my second shot. I find that if I am able to laugh a little I relax some and most always hit a decent shot or better putt GÇô Hence the movie quotes above. Think of something funny to take the pressure off a little. It seems to help me
southping says:
I agree with the fact that the more you are in a pressure situation, you will perform better. All my young life I was a semi-pro bowler. I have 20 perfect games and many tournament checks. The first for each was certainly pressure packed in their own way. But that fact that I worked my butt off away from the competition, gave me something to fall back on. Or rely on, so to speak. And every time got easier to succeed. And Tiger is soooo far and above anyone when it comes to mental strength, patience, concentration and confidence that it is crazy. But, how did Tiger do it the "first" time he was in these situations? Most of us will never know. But he is the prime example. Maybe my past experience in other sports helps me handle pressure. But all I think about when the cooker is on, is executing. Not collecting the check. For most of us the "cooker" is on over a 3 footer to win $5.00. It is all part of the progression. If we are playing for more, we probably have already made that 3 footer.
southping says:
And I just want to make clear that I have no idea the pressure these guys are under . I am just trying to relate to "pressure" from my own experience . Pressure which we all feel in our own games on the weekends , or on league night . Or the pressure of hitting last in your scramble foursome when 3 other people are relying on you . Simple stuff . But it all tightens the muscles a bit .
t_woolbright94 says:
@Lerxst.... happy gilmore is a hilarious movie lol. thats what got me into golf in the first place
onedollarwed says:
There are plenty of things to do to experience pressure - try stand-up sometime, or an aria for a packed house. I can perform really well with large crowds in most things. But with a few holes left and at even par, or trying to get your drive down that narrow tree-lined fairway when the other three of your scramble have duffed it, or that last breaking 3-footer for a beer... these can get to me. I think putting has got to be the worst - something about how missing something easy would be awfully embarassing.
I smoetimes work with kids with severe anxiety, and in the textbook sense, the #1 fear of kids is being laughed at by peers - like in front of the class for not getting something easy (very common with struggling readers reading aloud). In the severe cases the severity is abnormal, but the anxiety is normal. Growing up means overcoming/ mastering your emotions around such issues.
onedollarwed says:
Yet there is something childlike about golf (it's playing really), and something awful about a grown man, an athlete, shanking some easy approach. We have to manage it because simply overcoming the anxiety doesn't make us a great golfer - it's still a hard game, and easy to make mistakes. In abnormal type cases (Chuck Knoblach) anxiety builds to the point of becoming debilitating, and counseling is a good way to go.
Anxiety follows a fairly predictable pattern - it's worsens as the moment approaches. Usually the mind and body find a way out - misbehavior, outbursts, rationalizations, excuses, rushing, and I think performing a bad shot quickly is a way to lessen anxiety - ( at least it's over!!!)
Depending how bad it gets, you may not want to stall. However, if the builing tension feels good, you may want to capture, or savor it.
onedollarwed says:
The basic way to deal with anxiety is to recognize what exactly is causing it, and then use what you have at hand to cope. Quitting and giving up are definitely solutions - the trouble is over. This is really good when confronted by the law, a grizzly bear, or a giant wave. But in golf, there is really nothing to fear, no bodily harm. Shame is way worse for humans though, who are primarily social creatures (see taking out a wooly mammoth (teamwork, planning, traps, not braun). Are you trying to impress someone? are you afraid to be mean?
I think we can find plenty of enjoyment (and be set free) by playing well without having to win, or beat somebody. The toolbox for fighting anxiety wihtout giving in to quick fixes, or giving up then has to be doing the things that entail playing well - your good solid fundamentals.
Joness says:
I read a great quote from Geoff Ogilvy who talked about thinking in front of the ball rather than behind it. It is important to focus clearly on what you want the ball to do and trust your swing, rather than focusing too much on the mechanics of our swing - which seems to be where we get hung up.

The power of positive thinking. 2 golfers on the tee with a water carry in front of them. One gets out a new ball and says I love this hole. The fairway suits my fade and I always seem to get a good drive away here. The other one takes out an old ball and says I hate this hole, I always seem to put my first drive into the water. No prize for guessing what is likely to happen next.
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