Almost all of us who play golf regularly or even occasionally have been in a competitive environment when it comes to the game of golf. Whether it's your Club Championship, Member Guest, corporate outing or even just your regular Sunday Nassau game, nervousness or anxiousness or even self doubt may not be very far behind. For many, these feelings are a major reason people don't continue playing golf. Golf seems to take more time than most sports to get a good grasp of how to hit the ball, or even how to act on a golf course. People are afraid to get in an environment where them and their game are exposed for all to see.
So the question becomes how do I control these emotions so that I can play to the best of my ability? As a former college and mini tour player, I, as much as anybody, know how much being able to play every day with continuous repition can help with your game, and most importantly, your confidence. But most of us are not in a position in our lives where playing every day is a possibility. I am now an assistant golf professional at Western Hills Country Club in Cincinnati, where along with loving my job and the people around me, my main focus on a daily basis is making sure my members are happy and that we as a staff are all ready for the events we will be putting on for them in the near future. But one thing is for sure, I have not lost my love of competitive play and look forward to my own upcoming tournament, whenever that may be. One of my goals each and every day is to make sure I have a club in my hand for at least ten minutes. It doesn't sound like much but even if I can hit balls, putt, or even swinging in a mirror for just a few minutes, mentally I feel that I still have the touch. Now while I realize that most of you aren't going to do this, just grabbing a club and swing it for a few minutes whenever possible, can make a huge difference on the mental side of the game for you. Jack Nicklaus once said, "The difference between being nervous and scared is being prepared." When you do show up for that next important round you will feel like you've done just that little more than the next guy.
As for when you show up on the day of the event, there a few things that you can do to try and squash that self doubt. While nothing is more important than preparing BEFORE you show up that day, getting there early enough to hit a few of the different shots you'll face that day can be very reassuring. My routine warming up for a tournament goes like this: Show up a good hour beforehand. First thing I do is go directly to the putting green and hit a lot of long putts to try and establish a feel of the greens. During this first session, I try not to hit any short putts because I don't want to see anything miss quite yet! After about fifteen minutes, it's on to the driving range where I work through the bag starting with the lob wedge and hitting a few with every other club. What I would highly recommend doing when you're warming up is to try and get yourself nervous. I know this sounds odd, but try and visualize a few shots from the course and think to yourself "this shot counts". This not only will give you a better idea how you're hitting it that day, but when you get to that particular shot on the course, it will feel a little easier since you've already hit it. Almost all golfers, when they get under some pressure, tend to speed up their swing and get too quick, so while you're warming up, really focus on that tempo and balance. When you finally work up to that driver, make sure you hit a few shots envisioning you're on that first tee. It will make a big difference when you finally stand up there. After I'm done, warming up, it's to the chipping area for a few bunker and chip shots, then back to the putting green where I try and see as many 4 footers go in as I can.
Going through a routine like this will only make you feel more prepared when your big round starts but nothing is going to cure you of all your nerves. I try to remember that being nervous is why I play the game. I try to embrace being in a position where my shots mean something, and even though it's easier said than done, this is the kind of attitude you need to find before you step on that first tee. After all, golf is a game, it's meant to be fun, it's not life and death, so don't be afraid of failure and believe in your abilities. And remember, the guy standing next to you is going through the same emotions you are!!