Amazing how the act of hitting a stationary white golf ball can fray the nerves.
Some of the most confident, accomplished people – from business tycoons to professional athletes – turn to jelly when faced with a golf shot over water. For others, there's nothing scarier than teeing off in front of a crowd.
While a few butterflies can be a good thing, rampant jitters can wreck the golf swing or putting stroke. The muscles tighten. The brain forgets to recite basic swing keys, and next thing you know, the ball is dribbling into the drink.
Looking to calm your nerves on the course? Try these tricks:
• When you feel stress coming on, take a series of deep breaths before hitting. This relaxes the mind and muscles.
• Develop a pre-shot routine and stick with it. Following the same steps before every swing assures your fundamentals will be sound (even if your mind isn't).
• Focus on the process, not the result. Assess the golf shot's requirements, pick a club, address the ball and swing. Worrying about what might happen is pointless – and counter-productive.
• Keep things in perspective. After all, the only person who really cares about your next shot is you. And even you will forget the result by tomorrow morning, if not by the 19th hole.Just like anything else in golf, making progress on this front is going to take time and effort. You aren't going to be able to simply decide to be more confident and then move on with your game without another thought about it. You will have to work on finding ways to build confidence, and you will have to also work on ways to overcome your fears on the course. Only when you have put in the time and effort to improve on these fronts should you expect to see your progress reflected on the scorecard.
All of content has been written from the perspective of a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Improve Your Confidence – Control Fear on Course
To a non-golfer, the idea of having fear on the golf course might seem a bit ridiculous. After all, golf is a relatively tame sport compared to most others, and golfers are generally not in physical danger while playing the game. You aren't going to get hit in the head by a fastball while walking the fairways, and you certainly aren't going to be tackled by a linebacker. As a non-contact sport, golf is about as safe as it gets in the athletic world.
With that said, an experienced golfer knows that there is plenty of fear to go around while playing the game. The fear is not physical, of course, but rather mental and emotional, as you feel fear over the shots you have to hit and the mistakes you may make. The average golfer is extremely competitive, and a lost shot or two is usually cause for great frustration. From a total beginner all the way up to the best player in the world, every golfer knows what it is to be afraid on the course.
It should go without saying that the fear golfers experience on the course is not a positive thing for their performance. It is hard to play your best while feeling fear, yet it is also difficult to set that fear aside. This is one of the main reasons why golf is such a difficult game. You need confidence in order to play well, and yet confidence can be hard to come by while you are staring at a green that is guarded by water and deep bunkers. Every golfer has been told to 'be confident' at least once or twice by a well-meaning friend or golf teacher, but that is a task that is easier said than done. You can't fake your confidence in this game – you have to truly believe in yourself and your abilities if you are going to succeed consistently.
In this article, we are going to confront the difficult topics of confidence and fear in the game of golf. While it might not seem like working on this part of your game would be as beneficial as working on your swing technique or your putting stroke, the fact of the matter is that improving your confidence is one of the best things you can do for your performance. Even if you don't make a single improvement with regard to your physical technique, you can start to shoot lower scores simply by adding confidence and taking away fear.
The Causes of Fear
Not all fear on the golf course comes from the same place. In fact, there are a few different things that can cause you to feel fearful as you stand over the ball. The first step you need to take in this process is to understand exactly what it is that is causing you to feel that fear to begin with. Once you know where the fear is coming from, it will be much easier to address it appropriately so that it doesn't get in the way of your performance.
Following is a list of some of the most-common causes of fear in the game of golf.
- Fear of hazards. One of the most-basic causes of fear is the simple presence of the hazards that are located around the course. For example, if you are facing an approach shot to a green that is guarded in the front by a water hazard, you may find yourself feeling fearful of coming up short and hitting the ball in the water. Obviously, you don't want to waste a shot or two by hitting the ball in the hazard, so you may tighten up a bit prior to making your swing. Usually, the amount of fear that you feel will correlate with the kind of hazard that you are facing. Trying to hit a shot when out of bounds markers are lurking close by is often one of the mist difficult situations to handle, as out of bounds comes along with a stroke plus distance penalty.
- Fear caused by tournament pressure. Another common cause of fear, this one happens when you are playing in a competition. Whether you are playing in a big regional tournament or just a small event at your local club, you are equally likely to feel the fear that comes along with pressure to perform well. Of course, most of this pressure is going to be coming from the inside, as you aren't going to have media or anything like that adding pressure to your game. However, it is the pressure from the inside that is the most intense, so you may find yourself fearing failure as you go around the course during an important round. One bit of good news on this point is the fact that tournament pressure is something that you should get better and better at handling as you gain experience. So, if you make a point to play in plenty of competitions throughout the golf season, you should find that those nerves are easier to overcome moving forward.
- Fear of embarrassment. This is a point that affects many golfers, although most would not admit it when asked. The fear of embarrassment is usually related to having to hit shots in front of other golfers. Basically, players who are afflicted with this issue are concerned with what other players will think of their golf ability. If you frequently play better when golfing alone as opposed to when playing with a group of other golfers, you are probably struggling with this common problem. No one likes to be embarrassed, so any lack of confidence in your golf game is likely to be exposed when you have to play while others are watching.
Do any of the points on the list above look familiar in terms of what it is that causes you to feel fearful on the golf course? Most likely, you can relate to at least one of two of those points – if you are an experienced player, you can probably relate to all three. Of course, that is not meant to be a complete list, as there are certainly more potential causes of fear on the course than just those points. However, most golfers will be familiar with these sources of fear, even if they have never really thought about them in this way before. Now that you have a good idea of why it is that you may feel fearful prior to some of your shots, you can move on to learning how to deal with this fear in a healthy, productive way.
Building a Wall of Confidence
Confidence is the sworn enemy of fear. If you have confidence on your side, fear won't have any chance to break down your game out on the course. Sure, you might still have those fearful thoughts or emotions from time to time, but they won't be able to affect your performance because your confidence will be standing in the way. A player who is full of confidence is a player who no longer has to be concerned with what fear is going to do to his or her game.
Unfortunately, many golfers try to fake their confidence instead of earning it the hard way. Some players will just 'decide' to be confident before heading out onto the course – of course, that isn't going to work out very well in the end. Rather, you need to earn your confidence through a variety of methods. When you are actually confident in your game, you will know it without any doubt. You will feel that confidence from the moment you step on the first tee, and it will carry you through the good times and bad times that you have during any given 18-hole round.
So how can you create this all-important confidence in your own game? The following tips should help set you off in the right direction.
- Plenty of practice time. This is the most important point on the list, and it probably does not come as a surprise to you. If you are going to be confident in your ability to hit good shots, you need to practice – it is just that simple. Seeing positive results during your practice sessions is what is going to give you confidence out on the course. If you are facing a difficult shot of 200 yards on the course, you will be able to feel confident if you hit a few of those shots nicely in your warmup before the round. Never overlook the importance of practice time in terms of building up a base of confidence behind everything you do on the course. Professional golfers spend hours on hours fine tuning their technique specifically to be able to feel confident when they feel pressure during tournament play. Even if you aren't going to be playing on TV for millions of dollars, you still need to use practice to create a level of confidence that can help you perform at your best.
- Finding small victories. One of the tricky things about confidence is that you need to have success in order to feel confident, but how do you have that success without first getting confidence? It is very much a case of the 'chicken and the egg'. To help yourself gradually build up confidence, the one of the best things to do is to put yourself in situations where you can have 'easy success'. For instance, try playing an easy golf course from the forward tees. You are likely to shoot a good score in this scenario because you will not be facing a very challenging layout. However, you will still feel good when you are able add up a good score at the end of the round. Even though it came on an easy course, that low score will still provide you with a bit of confidence. Then, when the time comes to play a tougher course, you will still be able to look back on your good score as a point of pride. In the same way, you can give yourself relatively easy shots during practice in order to have some success. To build up good feelings with regard to your putting, try hitting a bunch of short and straight putts before calling it a day. You will get to see the ball fall in time after time, and you will feel better about your short game as a result.
- Surround yourself with the right people. Sometimes, all it takes to build up your confidence is a little bit of positive reinforcement from those around you. If you tend to play with people who are always negative on the course – even if they are only negative about their own games – that negativity will naturally rub off on you. So, do your best to find people who think and talk positively about the game. When you hear nothing but positive comments through the course of a round, you will be more inclined to have an optimistic feeling about your game.
There are plenty of ways to build confidence in your golf game, including the three points listed above. In the end, you should do whatever it is that will leave you feeling optimistic about your chances to hit good shots and post good scores. Those confidence building actions will vary somewhat from player to player, so experiment with different options and stick with the ones that seem to work the best.
On-Course Game Plan
It is one thing to have confidence, but it is another thing to make your way through a round of golf with that confidence intact. There are plenty of negative things that can happen during the course of a round that will chip away at your confidence – and you may find that you don't feel as good about yourself by the end as you did at the beginning. To make sure your confidence doesn't go up into thin air somewhere between the first tee and the last green, you will want to have a game plan for how you are going to approach the round.
The first thing you should do to help your confidence on the course is to work on a quality pre-shot routine. A good routine will help you to feel comfortable, and it will get your mind into a good 'place' prior to making a swing. If you can use the same pre-shot routine on the range that you use on the course, you will have better success when trying to replicate your driving range swings during actual rounds of golf. Most golfers wander out to the first tee without any kind of plan in place, and their results show that lack of preparation. Golf is not an easy game, and you have to be prepared if you are going to play well.
Another point you need to keep in mind is how you are going to deal with hazards when you face them. It is inevitable that you are going to have to hit some shots alongside or across a few hazards as you make your way around the course, so having a plan for how you will deal with these shots mentally is a key to your success. The best thing to do when facing hazards is to commit yourself to making aggressive swings at conservative targets. What does that mean? Basically, you are going to pick a target that is safely away from the hazard, but you are then going to make an aggressive swing toward that target.
Unfortunately, most golfers do just the opposite. The average player will aim too close to the hazard, and they will then make a cautious (scared) swing because they are worried about hitting the ball in the water. Don't put yourself in this category. Take the time before your shot to pick out a smart target which will afford you some space to make a slight mistake and still have your ball wind up on dry land. Then, once you have selected your club and your conservative target, put the hazard out of your mind and make a great swing. With practice, you should get better and better at taking this approach.
One other mental trick you can use to improve your confidence on the course is to separate each hole from the rest in your mind. Rather than looking at it as a round of golf, try to think about it as 18 separate challenges that you need to conquer. Playing poorly on one hole should not influence your approach to subsequent holes. Most golfers do a terrible job on this point, as they allow their anger or frustration from previous holes to carry on for the rest of the round. Use your first steps onto each tee box as a chance to move on from whatever just happened. The act of putting your tee in the ground should be a signal that you need to forget about previous mistakes and simply focus on the hole in front of you.
The Fear of the Short Putt
No article on fear in the game of golf would be complete without a discussion of short putts. Despite their innocent looks, there are perhaps no scarier shots on the golf course than short putts, simply because of the way they can get into your head. You know that it should be pretty easy to knock the ball into the cup from just a couple of feet away, so you expect perfection. You expect to make each and every one of your short putts, because they look so simple. However, no one makes them all, and the fact that you just might miss has a way of getting into the back of your head while you stand over the ball.
In the worst cases, a fear of short putts will turn into the yips, where even the easiest putt starts to become a tremendous challenge. To keep yourself far away from that outcome, you probably already know what you need to do – practice. Most golfers never bother to practice their short putts, and they don't have any confidence on the course as a result. As a habit, try to start and finish each and every one of your practice sessions with a series of short putts. By making a bunch of putts to open and close your practice time, you will be able to gradually build confidence in your ability to roll the ball from short range. Nothing pumps up your confidence quite like hearing the ball rattle around in the bottom of the hole, so give yourself the chance to hear that positive feedback as often as possible.
There is nothing quite like confidence on the golf course. Even with a swing that is less-than-perfect from a technical standpoint, you can still play great golf if you are feeling confident about your game. Don't give in to fear on the course when you can overcome it by working on building up your confidence one day, and one shot, at a time. With confidence in place, you just might be surprised to find what kind of golf you are truly capable of playing.