How do you handle your emotions on the first tee? Are you a bag of nerves? Do you see your opening shot as your time to shine? Are you somewhere in between?
The reality is that most amateur golfers (and quite a few professionals) will freely admit to experiencing first-tee nerves, with some experiencing some serious anxiety as they prepare to make their first swing of the day.
Breakfast balls in social rounds can be a great way to remove consequence, but during a competitive round, how many times have you overthought your first tee shot and ended up butchering it beyond belief?
And while we're on the subject, why is it that after spending 20-30 minutes on the range, hitting driver after driver straight down the pipe, tension takes over and it's a lottery whether you slice one off the planet, pull it straight left, or fail to clear the forward tees.
While there may be no obvious answer to the questions above, we have listed a few ideas for handling first tee jitters to help set you on your way to lower golf scores. Check them out!
Recognise nerves as a good thing
All golfers experience nerves, even the best in the world. If you ever stepped up to hit your first tee shot of the day and felt no level of emotion whatsoever, that would be pretty worrying.
In fact, nerves can keep you more alert and maintain intensity levels throughout your round. Still, clarity of thought and decision-making will be negatively affected if this morphs into growing anxiety. Try to embrace your first tee jitters and recognise them as your enthusiasm for the round ahead. You may be surprised by the immediate results.
Take things slowly
When we get anxious, we tend to speed things up and get flustered. The best way to combat nerves is to actively slow things down as you make your way towards the tee box. It's an excellent way to counter our natural 'fight or flight' reactions in stressful situations.
Be prepared with your club selected and your ball and tee in hand. Take slow, deep breaths and approach the tee calmly in a controlled manner.
From here, you should feel more confident and have the time to employ your all-important pre-shot routine. The chances of making a fluid golf swing will now be much higher than if you had stepped up and nervously thrashed at the ball.
Remember, it's just one shot
The first tee shot counts the same as any other stroke on the golf course, yet we all build it up into this massive deal. If you can see your opening drive as having no real bearing on the success of your day, you will start to find the fairway on the first hole more regularly.
Even if you hit a stinker, try to see that first shot shape as an indication of your likely miss that day - even if it's a snap hook or a nasty slice. It can help you make the adjustments needed to straighten up your ball flight for the rest of your round.
Focus on your routine
When you're feeling a little anxious on the tee, it might be tempting to forego your pre-shot routine and get your opening swing out of the way. We would advise against it. Not only are you accepting that you are not in control of your emotions, but this lack of discipline could seep into the rest of your round.
Try to deliberately stick to your usual routine and avoid making any changes. It should give you something else to think about rather than your nerves and can help you regroup if you feel yourself starting to panic.
Banish those swing thoughts
One of the best ways to settle your nerves over your first tee shot is to simplify your golf swing, so get rid of unnecessary swing thoughts. Ideally, you want at most one or two - perhaps one for the backswing and one for the downswing.
It would also help if you avoided technical thoughts which require you to be mentally involved as you progress through the different stages of your swing. Instead, focus your thoughts on your tempo, rhythm, posture etc.
You're at the golf course to play with the golf swing you have on that day. Leave any technical thoughts and those YouTube golf tips you found last night for the driving range.
Stop worrying that others are watching
One common reason for first tee nerves is that you may feel like you're being actively watched. If a few groups have backed up around the first tee and putting green, it might feel like all eyes are upon you - in reality, that's rarely the case.
A handful of people may be watching, but they're thinking more about their own first tee shot and their plan for the round ahead. And any terrible golf shot you may hit, you can be sure that they have hit just as many over the years.
A little bit of perspective can go a long way towards helping you develop the confidence to step up and put a good swing on the ball.
Talk yourself into a good shot
How often have you been driving to the golf course and found yourself thinking about trouble on the first tee? Amateur golfers have a nasty habit of saying where they don't want the golf ball to go. Instead, give yourself a pep talk (inwardly to avoid strange looks), and clearly state the shot you're trying to hit. If you focus on the rough, the hazards, or the OB line, you'll increase your chances of hitting the golf shot you are trying to avoid.
Visualisation can be a powerful tool, too. Imagine yourself hitting a good shot when you're on the tee getting ready to hit. Visualise the shot shape you're aiming for and get a clear picture of the ball arrowing towards your target.
Because the subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between real and imagined actions, visualisation can have the dual effect of helping to release tension and stimulating the same muscles required to perform that action in reality.