In many walks of life, the ability to thrive under pressure can separate the good from the great, and the same goes for golf.
Golfing anxiety can strike at any time, and it will mean different things to different people: your first tee shot with a dozen people hanging around, your drive on 18 as you hunt down a career-low score, a putt to win a weekly medal, or maybe an approach to the final green with you sitting all square with your buddy (perhaps with a little wager on the line).
We're often told that a golfer's mind can be their 15th club, but left unchecked, our mental game can just as easily be the most significant barrier on a journey to better golf.
Faltering under pressure isn't a misfortune exclusive to the amateur hacker; it's also evident in the pro game. We've seen many of the world's best fold like a cheap suit in the heat of battle, so it's to be expected that you may occasionally succumb to on-course stress and anxiety too.
If you've struggled in the face of golfing pressure before, it's time to take charge. Below you'll find a few top tips to help you thrive next time out.
Stop thinking of pressure in negative terms
Try not to view pressure as a potentially destructive force. It can become a motivating factor that allows you to focus on the present and help you get the most from your game.
You are the one in control of how it will impact your round. Outcomes will be more positive if you're more likely to view a pressure shot as a challenge rather than a card-wrecker waiting to happen. Relaxation techniques can help with this.
Master your breathing
One of the best relaxation techniques to regain control of your emotions, and perform under pressure, is working on your breathing.
'Box Breathing' is a technique used by special forces in the height of combat and can be used by golfers as a mid-round reset switch. It's a powerful but simple relaxation technique that aims to return breathing to its normal rhythm after (and during) a stressful episode.
To do it, you breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and then start again. You'll be amazed at how beneficial a straightforward breathing exercise can be.
When the pressures of the round weigh heavy, there are a few mental tricks you can employ to take your mind away from your emotional state. One of them is practising visualisation.
Creating a mental image of what you want to achieve before you address the ball retrains your brain to see the desired outcome. It's a perfect nerve-calming technique used by almost every professional golfer on the planet.
Tapping into your subconscious mind like this can be a powerful distraction from building tension. Your subconscious cannot recognise the difference between real and imagined actions, so visualisation helps stimulate the same muscles required to perform that action in reality.
Get in behind your ball and focus only on a specific target in the distance. Now imagine yourself pulling off the perfect shot in your mind. It may sound simple, but sometimes the best solutions are the easiest.
Get a pre-shot routine
A pre-shot routine is a vital tool in your fight against on-course pressure. Not only is it almost impossible to find consistency in your game without an ingrained routine, but you'll also struggle to cope with pressure moments.
A repeatable routine is a great way to feel more comfortable over your next shot. It takes your focus away from external factors and prepares you to play the shot you visualised before addressing the golf ball.
Get off your back
There's a strong correlation between self-talk (positive and negative) and golfing performance. Generally, more negative self-talk will equate to higher scores over an 18-hole round. Giving yourself a verbal lashing might be your way of dealing with bad shots, but it's a surefire way to crank up your anxiety levels.
Try to neutralise your post-shot emotions as much as possible. Stay calm when you stiff your approach to 3 feet, and go a little easier on yourself when you hit a stinker. Bad shots are part of the game, after all.
Rather than cursing yourself for a horrible three-putt, try to draw on something positive to turn it around. A bit of internal dialogue might be helpful: "Let's go and birdie the next", for example.
Add pressure to your practice
It's almost impossible to replicate that feeling of actual golfing pressure in practice. Every shot counts on the course, and each presents a unique challenge. If you practice as you play, it will help you in a pressure situation. Don't be that guy who hammers balls skyward at the range without any concern for consequence.
Take a minute or two between shots at the range to help better simulate the pace of play, and don't fall into the habit of machine-gunning a bucket of balls in half an hour.
Think about the shots and scenarios that give you the most trouble during a round. It may be the first tee of a tournament, needing an up and down for the win, or a five-foot putt to win in match play. Create vivid representations of these situations in your mind.
Give each of these shots due consideration. Visualise the desired shot shape and employ your pre-shot routine before pulling the trigger. By taking control of your internal thought process and correctly preparing for your shots, you will better replicate the conditions of a pressure-filled round.
We hope you found some of these tips useful and that they help you shoot lower scores. Do you use any other techniques to help manage pressure on the course? If so, let us know in the comments. In the meantime, happy golfing!