It's been pointed out that in golf, no opponent is going to tackle you, punch you in the nose or dunk a ball on top of your head. So what's to be intimidated by?
If only the human psyche were so simple.
Anyone who's played competitive golf has probably felt intimidated at one time or another. Usually, it's fear of a competitor – maybe they're ranked very highly, boast a big reputation or hit the ball a country mile. Sometimes, the course itself can scare us into cowering. Inescapable hazards, thick woods and ultra-fast greens are the stuff of nightmares.
But intimidation can creep up even in casual rounds. The root causes are often the same – a low-handicap playing partner and/or a difficult course.
Feeling inferior drains confidence, shifts our focus away from our own game, and makes us play defensively or “tight.” The anxious golfer rarely plays up to his own ability, reinforcing his belief that he's not as good as another player or can't handle a tough course.
How should you deal with these situations? The key is to focus on yourself and your skills – to play your own game, as they say. You can't control what another golfer does or the punishment the course may dish out. So thinking about those things is a pointless exercise.
Let's say you habitually underachieve when paired with golfers you perceive to be better than you. Maybe they are, maybe they're not. But you'll never get an accurate gauge if you're worried about how they're playing, or what they think of your game.
Know what else? They're human, just like you. They put their pants on one leg at a time, and they're just as prone as you are to bad shots, bad holes and bad rounds.
Instead of comparing your swing or scores to theirs, make a mental list of your strengths. Maybe you're an extremely accurate driver or a lights-out putter. Those are enviable skills that give you a fair shot against anyone.
What if it's not a fellow golfer, but the course itself that makes you lily-livered and weak-kneed? Again, the solution is to stay in the moment – don't think about your score or the diabolical par 3 that's coming up in three holes, but about the shot at hand. If it's an especially tough one, focus like a laser on your target, not the trouble lurking off to the side.
The more difficult the course, the more important it is to practice positive visualization. Picture the shot exactly as you want to hit it – a little fade that splits the center of the fairway, or a towering wedge that settles next to the pin – then make it happen.
No matter what scares you on the golf course, there's a way to talk yourself into a more confident mind frame. Develop this ability and you'll be much closer to achieving your goals.
Overcoming Intimidation on the Golf Course
Most people would not think of golf as an intimidating sport. Certainly, it doesn't have the same kind of physical intimidation as a game like football, where you have to worry about being tackled by a large player on the other team. Likewise, in baseball, players have to be concerned with getting hit by a fastball while at the plate. Despite not having those kinds of intimidation factors, golf does have its own stresses and pressures to deal with. If you are experienced on the course, you already know that it is common to feel intimidated from time to time. In this article, we are going to offer advice on how you can overcome that intimidation in order to play your best.
As you know, golf is a game which is played largely between the ears. Yes, you have to have solid physical mechanics to play well, but you also need to be mentally strong in order to handle the challenges which are going to come up along the way. There is a lot of downtime to think in this game, and that can be a bad thing. With so much time in between shots, you will be able to let your mind wander into a variety of negative areas. In addition to being nervous about some of the shots you face, you could also develop feelings of intimidation over the circumstances in general. Once you feel intimidated, it is unlikely that you will be able to play your best.
Unless you are a professional golfer, this game should be all about having fun. Most people use golf as a diversion from their busy day to day lives, a way to get outside and breathe in some fresh air while having fun with friends. Framed in that perspective, it would be a shame if you spent most of your time on the course feeling intimidated. You should be too busy enjoying your time to worry about things like intimidation and nervousness. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have the tools you need to stay away from this negative frame of mind.
It is important to note that any kind of golfer can feel intimidated from time to time, from total beginners on up to accomplished professionals. It has been well documented that many pros are rather intimidated the first time they play with Tiger Woods, as his legendary status in the game has made him a larger-than-life figure. Even if you aren't playing with one of the all-time greats, you still may be overwhelmed on occasion. And that's okay. You don't need to feel ashamed if you are intimidated – you simply need to have a plan for how you can overcome those feelings to play your best and have a great time.
Any golf instruction contained below is 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.
Sources of Intimidation
There are a number of things which can cause you to feel intimidated on the course. You may deal with many of these points all at once, or they could come up one at a time depending on the circumstances of the day. Also, you may find that some of the things listed below do intimidate you, while others have no effect. Read through the following points and consider whether or not these circumstances would affect you and your game.
- Playing with better golfers. This is the most common source of intimidation experienced by the average player. If you show up at the course as a single to play a quick round, you may happen to get paired up with some accomplished, experienced golfers. While it can be fun to play with golfers who perform at a high level, many less-accomplished players find it intimidating. You might feel like you have to 'keep up' with your playing partners, rather than just sticking to your own game. Of course, most golfers are happy to play with new people, regardless of skill level. As long as you are friendly, have fun, and keep up the pace, it is unlikely you will find many golfers who won't welcome you into their group. Although it can be intimidating at first to play with high-level golfers, this is something that will not bother you once you have a bit of experience. As you get used to playing with golfers who shoot scores in the 70s – or even lower – you won't think anything of it.
- Playing in a competition. One of the great things about golf is you can almost always find a competition to enter – even if you aren't a great player. This is one of the big selling points for golf as compared to other sports, as it can be tough to compete in other sports once you are an adult. While golf tournaments are meant to be a lot of fun, they can also be intimidating for those who lack experience. If you decide to enter a local tournament sometime soon, you might find that you feel more nervous than expected when standing on the first tee. Rather than seeing this as a bad thing, accept it as part of the fun of the competition. After all, if you weren't nervous, this would just be another round. Accept your nerves, deal with them, and have fun while trying your best to shoot a good score.
- Facing a scary shot. There are certain shots on certain golf courses which are likely to elicit feelings of anxiety and intimidation as you stand over the ball. Of course, the most common example of this kind of shot is the forced carry over water. If you arrive on the tee of a par three to find that you are going to have to carry the ball at least 150 yards to reach dry land, you may get a little sweaty in the palms. These kinds of shots are a fun challenge, but they are intimidating as well. Most courses only have a few of these kinds of shots – at the most – included within the 18-hole layout. However, if you are aware of a shot like this lurking later in the round, you might find it hard to focus early on. Don't let the course designer beat you in this way. Instead, take each shot as it comes to do your best to conquer the challenge when it arrives.
Any experienced golfer will know that there are plenty of opportunities to feel intimidated on the course. Golf doesn't seem like an intimidating sport at first blush, but those who have spent time on the fairways and greens know better. If you are going to be able to reach your potential on the course – whatever that potential may be – you need to embrace the challenge that this game presents. Instead of running away when you feel intimidated, you are going to have to stand up to the nerves and play your best anyway. Throughout the rest of this article we will provide you with some strategies for dealing with intimidation in golf.
A Focus on Yourself
Let's get right to the point – no one else cares about your golf game. You might think that others on the course are spending a lot of mental energy analyzing your ability, but that just isn't the case. Those other players are too busy thinking about their own games, and you should be doing the same. If you spend time on the course worried about what others are thinking, you can stop right now – because they aren't thinking about you.
That might sound harsh, but it's the truth. When most people head to the golf course, they don't do so with the goal of breaking down the games of other players. In fact, this is usually the furthest thing from their mind. Instead, they are trying to find a way to keep their own golf ball in play for all 18 holes. Golf is a hard game, and few people are good enough to play well while also letting their mind wander onto the topic of being critical of other people.
When you head to the course, you should be thinking only about what you can do to have fun, enjoy the day, and play your best. Other golfers aren't going to be concerned with your performance, and even if they are, so what? There is no need to be intimidated by other players who will certainly have their own struggles. If they want to be critical of you in their own mind, that is up to them. You are going to have a far more enjoyable experience if you forget about all this while just sticking to your own game all day long.
Does this mean you need to ignore all of the other golfers in your group while playing? Of course not. Golf is a social game, and part of the fun of playing recreational golf is being able to chat with your playing partners during the day. Whether you are playing with friends or just people you happened to be paired with at the course, make sure to engage in conversation and have as much fun as possible – just don't let that chatter spill over into intimidation. Even if someone in your group has birdied every single hole while you make bogeys and doubles, it should make no difference to your attitude.
One of the best ways to ensure that you focus on yourself throughout a round of golf is to set goals for the day. You might decide to set scoring-based goals, or you could set marks based on things like fairways hit, greens hit, etc. Either way, these goals will give you a reason to focus on your own game rather than letting your mind wander to a point where you feel intimidated. As you warm up for your round, think about your goals and determine what you need to do along the way to hit on your goals successfully. You may not always hit them, but simply striving for performance goals will be good for you in the long run.
Simply put, there is no reason to be intimidated by others on the golf course, because those other golfers aren't thinking about your game in the first place. Whether you are a total beginner or an experienced player trying to break into the single digit handicap range, your only concern should be with your own game. Once you start to think this way, you may see that it was silly to ever be intimidated by other, more accomplished players. The freedom you feel when you set intimidation aside is liberating – and your best golf may be just around the corner as a result.
It's Just Another Shot
As mentioned earlier in the article, you might find yourself feeling intimidated when you come up to a shot with a significant forced carry of some kind. While there is nothing wrong with being a little nervous over this kind of shot, you can't let your mind get carried away putting too much emphasis on a single swing. All of your swings are worth just one on the scorecard, no matter how important or insignificant they may seem at the time.
To put yourself in the right frame of mind for a particularly challenging shot, consider using the tips listed below.
- Pick a smart, specific target. It is not a good idea to focus your attention on the hazard that is lurking between your ball and the hole. Instead, you should be focused on the target that you have selected for the shot. This target should be very specific, and it should give you some margin for error in case you don't strike the shot perfectly. So, for example, if you are hitting over a water hazard, you should pick a target which is comfortably beyond the edge of the water. That way, even if you miss-hit the shot slightly, you will still have a chance to find dry land. If you were to pick a target barely onto the green, any kind of mistake would doom your ball to a watery destination. You may find that you naturally feel a little bit more comfortable over the ball simply as a result of focusing your mind in on a great target.
- Take enough club. One of the leading sources of stress over a forced carry type of shot is concern about having enough club in your hands. Most amateur golfers consistently use too little club for their approach shots, and they swing too hard as a result in an effort to compensate. Don't make this common but damaging mistake. Instead, select a club that you know will provide you with plenty of distance to carry the hazard in question. Even if you hit the ball a bit long, going long is almost always better than finding the hazard. This is another point which will go a long way toward fighting off your feelings of intimidation. Knowing the club you are holding will easily clear the hazard, you can make a relaxed swing before watching the ball sail to the target.
- Stick with your pre-shot routine. Think of your pre-shot routine like a security blanket. It is supposed to help you feel better about your situation even when you are nervous or intimidated on a particular shot. By going through your routine, you should be able to convince your mind that this is just another golf shot. Don't rush through your routine, either – take the time you need to prepare properly, and only start the swing when you are ready. It is common for golfers to speed up when they are feeling pressure, and you need to fight back against that urge if you are going to play at a high level.
- Picture the worst-case scenario. This is unconventional advice, but it just may be what you need to get in the right frame of mind. Rather than trying to block out the possibility of hitting the ball into the hazard, go ahead and think about it for a moment. What would happen? Most likely, you would simply have to go to the drop zone, put a new ball in play, and move on with your round. With a good shot from the drop area, you could even save a bogey – meaning your poor swing wouldn't end up being a very big deal. Thinking about failure for a moment can help to put you in a relaxed frame of mind. Knowing the consequences of a mistake really aren't that serious, you may feel relaxed and less intimidated than you were moments ago.
It is never a good idea to attach extra importance to any one shot during the course of a round. If you think of some shots as being more important than others, you are bound to feel intimidated while playing those strokes. Instead, do your best to keep an even keel throughout the day, and stick to the cliché of taking your round 'one shot at a time'.
Make It Fun
Unless you are a professional golfer, this game should be all about fun. In fact, even if you are a professional golfer, you will probably play at a higher level if you focus on the fun side of the game. Too many people take golf too seriously, and the fun of the game itself is stripped away as a result. If you find yourself regularly feeling intimidated and overwhelmed at the course, there is a good chance that you are taking the whole thing far too seriously for your own good.
It is important to highlight the fact that you can have fun playing golf while still trying to do your best. Saying that you should focus on having fun doesn't mean that you can't be competitive at the same time. There is nothing at all wrong with trying to improve your game, and all golfers love to beat their buddies from time to time. With that said, you don't want to get so carried away in those pursuits that you lose track of why you started to play golf in the first place. Whether it was the fresh air, the friendship, the exercise, the challenge, or anything else, keep your motivations for playing this game in mind at all times.
When you step back and see the game for what it is, you will be far more likely to enjoy yourself each time you visit the course. There is nothing to be intimidated about in the end, because this game is not a matter of life and death. It is, after all, just a game. Feel free to be as competitive as you would like on the links, but you can do yourself a huge favor both in terms of performance and enjoyment by simply taking the game less seriously.
To promote fun on the course over other interests, try to surround yourself with people who see the game in this way as well. If your playing partners are too serious about their games, you will usually fall into that trap along with them. Make a point of setting up tee times with other golfers who like to have fun, and your group is likely to be one which lasts for many years to come.
When you think about it objectively, it is rather silly to be intimidated on the golf course. You aren't going to be tackled by a linebacker, and you aren't going to be hit by a 95-MPH fastball. It's just golf, and while it is great fun and tremendously challenging, it should not be intimidating. Use the advice in this article to put yourself in the right frame of mind before your next visit to the course. With those feelings of intimidation a thing of the past, you will be free to have a great time from the first tee to the final green. Have fun out there!