A Lesson Learned: Preparing for Pressure

Kevin Stadler performs under pressure
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Trying to get his first PGA Tour win, in a close match, in front of a huge crowd. Kevin Stadler knew how to handle the pressure.

Published: Monday, February 03, 2014 | 12:28 a.m.

The Waste Management Phoenix Open set attendance records this past week with over 580,000 people attending - they had over 180,000 people there on Saturday alone. (According to the 2010 census, the entire population of Scottsdale is just over 217,000!) Can you imagine playing golf in front of a crowd that size? Not to mention that insane 16th hole with 20,000 screaming, crazy, rowdy fans ready to let you have it if you happen to miss the green!

So as I watched the players finishing the tournament on Sunday, getting ready to go watch the Super Bowl (where players will be performing in front of nearly a billion people watching worldwide), I thought about the pressure these players must be feeling. Congratulations to Kevin Stadler for his first win on the PGA Tour (and a one-shot victory no less, talk about pressure!)

** Stadler gets first win, will join father at Masters **

The truth is, these players - whether the best golfers or football players in the world - still feel pressure. And when they know that more people are watching - they're going to feel it a little more.

Sound familiar? I know that golfers of all levels feel pressure. The pressure you feel when playing through a group, or when there is a crowd of onlookers at the first tee, or at the club championship, or even putting with a $5 nassau on the line - that pressure is part of what makes golf enjoyable. To perform when it means the most is one of the most rewarding aspects of golf.

Pressure is a funny thing. It's actually non-existent until we put it on ourselves. It always fascinates me when I think about it in that manner. A six foot putt is a six-foot putt...right? Maybe to a robot - but as humans we can't help but be influenced by the environment and situation that surrounds us. But can you learn from watching the best players in the world deal with their own pressure? Of course.

** Keep pressure in perspective **

Here a some important things to remember...

1. Pressure is not a bad thing unless you let it control you! It's a natural reaction of the human body to feel a sense of anxiousness when something important is on the line. It means you care. That's a good thing! You have to ACCEPT that it will appear!
2. You must PREPARE yourself for this feeling. I find that the reason golfers don't succeed in tense situations is because they don't know what to do once they feel it coming on. Most people just try to avoid it and when it happens - they are lost and inevitably it overtakes them. Just as emergency responders continuously practice their calculated response for a crisis - golfers need to practice their response when that anxiousness starts to rise in their body. Here are some ideas on how to become better prepared for pressure...

- Practice under pressure. Most amateur golfers I see go out to the range with a bucket of hundreds of balls in front of them and they just hit, shovel another ball, hit, shovel, repeat.. - the outcome of the shot being meaningless. This is clearly not like anything we encounter on the golf course. We have one ball. One shot. Set aside a portion of your practice time where you set goals for yourself that you have to achieve before you leave. Grab a buddy and have a contest with them. Anything to make your practice more competitive and like an on-course situation.

- Understand YOU. Pressure shows itself in many different ways depending on the individual. Some players speed up while others slow way down. Heart rates rise and hands shake. What was an offensive mindset all day suddenly turns into defensive mode. So many things can happen - but its crucial that you have an awareness of how YOU react under pressure so you know how to defend them when they show up.

- Stick to your routine - You hear it all the time - yet it is absolutely one of the best ways to manage pressure situations. As humans - we are creatures of habit and tend to feel "comfortable" when we have a routine. When all of a sudden we have a crucial shot on the last hole - we can rely on our routine that we've rehearsed thousands of times to bring us "comfort" and keep our mind from getting distracted.

The more experiences you have under pressure - the easier it is. So embrace it! And no matter the outcome - learn from it so you can prepare even better for the next time!

Maggie Simons is a Teaching Professional and Junior Golf Leader at Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, NC. Simons was the 2005 & 2007 North Carolina Women's Amateur Champion, qualified for the 2006 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, and was semi-finalist in the North & South Women's Amateur Championship in Pinehurst. Simons is a proud Wake Forest alum and played professionally on the LPGA Futures (Symetra) Tour before pursuing her passion of teaching and growing golf. She was recently awarded 2013 U.S. Kids Top 50 Teachers Honorable Mention. You can follow Maggie on Twitter at @maggiesimons.