Stress is a performance killer in many walks of life, and that's absolutely the case in golf. If you're wound up during your round, it will lead to poor decisions, horrible shots, and higher scores.
Don't be fooled into thinking that a quest for stress-free golf is somehow a defeatist attitude that limits your rate of golf improvement, though.
There isn't much to be learned from slicing ANOTHER tee shot off the planet or chasing 'one-in-100' type golf shots before carding a triple bogey. Instead, this approach ruins your scorecard and, arguably, your health.
We all aim to reach previously unscaled heights in our golf game but don't forget that, after another busy week, you owe it to yourself to try and enjoy those three or four hours on the golf course.
Which sounds more enjoyable to you: playing each round on the very limits of your ability while riddled with tension, or playing enjoyable, conservative (not boring, conservative) golf and signing for a respectable score each week?
Follow the five tips to stress-free golf below, and your scorecard will undoubtedly thank you (possibly your doctor too).
Don't chase a number; chase a satisfying shot each time
It's human nature to play golf with a number in mind. We all know what's next on our golfing milestone list, and it's always going to be at the back of your mind that you'd love to break 100, break 90, and so on.
When it comes to chasing a particular number, we have a straightforward message... DON'T. Teeing off with a magic number in mind and then counting all the way around is a surefire way to add unnecessary pressure to your game.
If you can focus on each shot as an individual challenge, where you forget all that's gone before and seek a satisfying result, you may be surprised when you look at your scorecard walking off the 18th green.
To de-stress, smile at address
Did you know that when you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides to help fight off stress?
A smile will keep your body tension-free and keep you in a positive state of mind, so if you can smile before each shot, you'll be looser and more likely to put a good swing on the ball. Even fake smiles work as they cause our bodies to relax.
When referring to dealing with tough times in sport, legendary sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella in his book How Champions Think, said:
A simple trick in those situations is to smile because it signals to your brain that you're happy and relaxed—ready to give your all - Dr. Bob Rotella
Two-time LPGA major winner Ariya Jutanugarn is a notable proponent of this same idea. During her quirky pre-shot routine, the Thai superstar smiles before addressing the ball by saying something to herself which makes her happy.
Let the bad shots go, regardless of when they come
In our recent piece on bad breaks and the role of luck in golf, we touched upon the need to develop a form of short term memory loss - much like the pros - to stand on the next tee free from thoughts of previous poor shots.
Whether it's your first tee shot or your final putt, let it go. Try to remember... 'the most important shot in golf is the next one.' Yes, we know it's a boring old golfing cliché, but it's also one of the most accurate statements when it comes to ridding yourself of destructive negative emotions.
Try to relax your body over the ball
An increased rate of nervousness can lead to your body tensing up, a tighter grip and generally trying to hit the golf ball far too hard. Tight arms/hands and hips do not produce anything approaching a beautiful golf swing.
Of course, golfers of all abilities can get tense at times; it's not a trait confined to higher handicap golfers alone. With that said, better golfers tend to have a better coping mechanism when they start to tighten up.
As Chubbs Peterson might advise, easing that tension is the key to hitting better golf shots, and it all starts in the hands. If you can release some of that grip pressure, it will have the knock-on effect of relaxing the rest of your body, and you'll be better placed to swing your best.
View your round as an experience, not a score
When you measure your golfing journey through the prism of scores alone, you fail to factor in the unforgettable memories you have created through the years. And we believe that golf, in its simplest form, is all about experiences.
Real happiness in golf comes from memories of incredible shots you've made, milestones you've hit, and the many friendships you've forged.
When you can arrive at the golf course primarily looking forward to spending four hours with your buddies and later dissecting your round in the clubhouse bar over a well-earned pint, then you, our golfing friend, will be on your way to true stress-free golf.