This is how to execute shots when the pressure is on
By T.J. Auclair
There are few pressure-cooker shots that players on the PGA Tour face quite like the tee shot on the par-3 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
It's not the hole, necessarily -- it's a straight forward 163 yards. But it's the atmosphere around the hole. All the spectators and hecklers. The rowdiness. It's like nothing else in golf.
The heat is on.
While the average golfer can't relate to that atmosphere and the -- the completely enclosed hole filled with thousands of fans -- he or she can relate to that feeling of pressure that comes with winning a club tournament, or even shooting a milestone score, like breaking 100, 90, 80 or even 70 for the first time.
It's all uncomfortable, because you're out of your element.
We caught up with 2013 PGA National Teacher of the Year Lou Guzzi to find out what you can do to make those uncomfortable situations easier to deal with and, furthermore, be in a position to thrive.
1. Be prepared.
"The more prepared you are to hit golf shots, the better you'll be able to handle your emotions," Guzzi said. "If somebody is trying to play a really good round, but they're not prepared, emotionally they're going to know it. They'll be positive when they tee off, but they'll break down if they haven't put the time in as the round progresses.
"One of the things to think about is that the Tour players have conditioned themselves to be in the moment and be in contention to win," Guzzi added. "The average golfer has a chance to break 80, 90, win a club championship. Emotionally, they're not prepared for that. Our amateur player is under more pressure than the Tour player. It means everything to them.
"There's actually a fantastic story about the late great Seve Ballesteros," Guzzi said. "Long before he won a major, he had an announcer from the Open Championship make him a tape. On the tape, the announcer talked about Seve walking down the 18th hole at the Open on his way to victory. When Seve listened to the tape, his mind was processing the feeling of winning long before it happened. That's thinking outside the box and prepares you to achieve your goal."
2. Learn how to breath.
"Everyone knows how to breath, but I'm talking about actually focusing in on that breathing, slowing things down, taking in oxygen and releasing it properly to relax and hit the golf shot," Guzzi said. "Humans have an ability to sabotage success as we get better. In golf, we practice and become better through preparation. You have to learn to be that different player. Walking slower, breathing. If you do it better, it will seem like everything slows down. Instead of having that mindset of 'wow, I can't finish this round fast enough,' you want to be thinking, 'I'm playing so well I'm running out of holes; I wish there were more,' because you're there -- you're in that zone. For the average person, if they think about and prepare to play with that pressure, they'll be in good shape."
3. Put yourself some place else -- a place you're most comfortable.
"When the heat is on, I want to get to my happy place, a place where there's no pressure," Guzzi said. "For me, it's my teaching building. I get the image of being in that building in my head on the course and emotionally. When I've filmed on TV and all the things I've done where I hit golf shots, I put myself back at my center when swinging. Find your happy place, wherever you hit your best shots. When you're about to execute the shot, you're in that bubble and the entire world doesn't exist -- there's nobody around."
4. It's OK to fail... it will only help in the long run.
"As you try to apply all the things you learn, be in a position to be there and feel the pressure, maybe you fail," Guzzi said. "Maybe you get there and fail again. And again. And again. You get to the point where you've done it enough that you feel comfortable when you're there. Look at Nick Foles in the Super Bowl. He looked like Tom Brady playing. He looked so calm -- the calmest he ever looked. Maybe he thought, 'I have nothing to lose and Brady has nothing to win.' Brady was expected to win. There's a big difference."