Monday, July 5, 2010

Playing under Pressure

Golf event season is in full swing. Member Guest Invitationals, Company Outings, Charity Events, Club Championships are all examples of golf events that create more than an average level of pressure. As many of you already know, weird things happen to your golf swing when you are anxious or nervous. It happens at every playing level and it is something we deal with at the United States Golf Academy regularly this time of the year. The following are some of the ways we help our player’s deal with event pressure.

Avoid the Jump Starts. When we are nervous, we often start the club back by straightening our legs and literally lifting the club in the backswing as if it weighed 12 pounds instead of 12 ounces. I have called it the jumpstart for many years because that is exactly what it looks like. The player looks as if they are jumping up in the air. A typical suggestion from well meaning advice givers is to slow down, but the player still lifts the club and tries to jump slower, creating an even more awkward looking take away. The solution is not to change speed, but to change which body part moves first. My advice is to make a forced effort to lead the back swing with your arms and shoulders swinging the club away from the ball, keeping your feet in touch with the ground. This gets your swing started in the proper sequence, so even if it is faster than normal you still have a good chance of solid golf shot.

Don’t Over Analyze. Most of you have played all year with approximate yardages on the full shots and estimated the breaks on the putting greens, so just because the event has some importance is no reason to change the way you play. For example, playing a casual round of golf if I asked how far to the pin you would probably say, “around 150 yards.” But you get in a tournament situation and the answer becomes 142 to the front, 153 to the flag, and 162 to the back of the green. This information is useless unless you have dealt with similar yardages in the past. All the new information does is increase tension levels in your effort to be better than usual. The same thing happens on the putting green. What used to be a casual read of the green is now a heavily scrutinized effort from both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, in either situation, your brain has no idea what to do with the information.

The key to playing your best is to play within your comfort level. Don’t try to become a tour pro, just be you. The winners of most events are not those who produce the most spectacular shots, but the players who make the fewest mistakes. You might find that your normal is good enough to beat the others who are struggling under the pressure of the event.

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