Michael Breed recently did a poll on what shot causes the average golfer more pressure? The result – the opening tee shot. So, what can we do to alleviate those first tee nerves and play better golf from the off? Let’s find out.
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Everyone experiences pressure
One of the first things you have to realize is that you are not alone.
Even the poll suggests that almost half of the golfers out there have the most pressure on the first tee. And I can guarantee you that even more golfers feel the pressure, even if it is not the most pressured situation they find on the course, as the poll measures.
Even the top pros are nervous as hell on the first tee – it’s natural. As cool and calm as Tiger Woods looked on the first tee in his dominant years, Hank Haney described (in his book) how Tiger would get insanely nervous before teeing off.
Pros might look cool and calm on the surface, but you can’t see what is happening underneath
If you believed that other golfers are not nervous on the tee, it makes you think there is something wrong with you when you feel the pressure. This then causes more worry because you put more focus on it – “Why am I always so nervous when my partners aren’t?”
Don’t fight the nerves – accept them for what they are and realize everyone is going through the same stuff. In fact, why not mentally invite the nerves by saying
I know I am going to feel nervous on the first tee, just as everyone is. But I am going to enjoy the challenge of sticking to my process (routine) under that pressure, regardless of the result.
In Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, he explains that, sometimes, by inviting the thing you fear the most, you take away all its power.
Before you play a round of golf, with the last few shots of your warm up, try to visualise the first hole on the course. Go through your entire routine, set up and hit the shot. Keep doing this until you hit a nice flush one – completely ignoring any poor shots you hit.
When you hit that flush one, give the grip a little squeeze.
Now, when you are on the first tee and it is about time to take your turn, give the grip a little squeeze again and recall the feelings of that last flushed shot on the range. Your subconscious mind will recall the feelings linked (just like the smell of a perfume can remind you of an old love), giving you a short term confidence boost.
Most golfers get so wrapped up in the idea of positive psychology that it can actually become debilitating.
If you are standing over a tee shot and in your mind you absolutely must hit a good one, you may put so much pressure on yourself that you actually cause a poor shot to occur.
One of the biggest lessons I learned as a player is to accept any outcome that should happen – be it good or bad. Ultimately, we are not in control of the outcome (as much as we believe we are), so why worry so much about it that we reduce our chances of a good shot?
This is much easier to do if you have realistic expectations.
While most golfers believe wrongly that pros hit almost every fairway, the reality is that they only hit 60% of fairways.
Pros are failing almost half of the time
With this in mind, why the hell should you be putting so much pressure on yourself to hit the fairway when the top guys in the world practicing 10 hours a day still can’t do it? Here is a much better mindset
That point on the fairway is my target, but Im just going to hit it and not give a hoot as to what the actual result is – after all, even the top guys blast it sideways.
This is not negative psychology – and I am not suggesting standing up without any care and attention. You are still going through your routine, still picking a realistic and sensible target and making a positive visualization. But you are also extinguishing any debilitating fear by complete and utter acceptance of the outcome.
The paradox is, by accepting failure as a possible outcome, you are less likely to fail.
By accepting failure as a possible outcome, you are less likely to fail
Our mind sees mental pressure as a survival threat.
As a result, our bodies often tense up, producing a loss of flow and rhythm to our swing, and even affecting the mechanics subtly, but enough to make a difference to the result. On a personal level, when I am under pressure I am more likely to hit the ball left.
A good thought process might be to simply commit to being relaxed over the ball. Again, this is much easier said than done, but by doing the last part (accepting any outcome) it can be easier to do. If you’re getting too tense and start steering the ball, it is a good sign that you are trying too hard to hit a good shot, and not simply letting it happen.
For the next few rounds of golf, simply commit to being relaxed over the ball. Invite the fear – then kill it with relaxation.
Have a process
The top pros have a routine, and they stick to it regardless of the pressure of the situation.
Amateurs, on the other hand, vary their routine so much that they are almost destined for inconsistent play. An amateur will often change
- The time they spend over a ball
- Their swing thoughts
- The amount of practice swings
- the amount of thought
and much much more. Professionals, on the other hand, will tend to stay much more process oriented and be consistent with the above.
I believe (because I used to be that player) that many amateurs change things so much because they are searching for a secret mid-round. They hit one bad shot and so decide to abandon that line of thinking in hopes that they will find one infallible thought process.
My advice is to pick one thought process (with perhaps one back-up one) for the day and stick to it doggedly. Having a consistent mindset will lead to more consistent results in the long term. Jumping around from one thought to the next will almost guarantee you have inconsistent play – which might create a lightbulb moment for you right now!
In my book “The Practice Manual – The Ultimate Guide for Golfers”, I explain a way to figure out which thought/routine processes will give you optimal performance more consistently. Armed with this knowledge, you can confidently maintain a consistent process which you can trust 100%, and which will yield consistently better results.
To find out more about the book, click the link at the bottom of the page.
When I was a junior, I remember playing a county tournament, which was really nerve-wracking for me at the time.
I stood on the first tee, hoping for dear life that it was going to be a good shot. So tense and nervous, trying so hard to hit it down the middle, I yanked it left into the trees out of bounds.
Disappointed and determined to not make a mess of the hole, I stood up with another ball.
With one last shot at salvaging pride and the round, I stood up with my 3rd ball to hit my 5th off the tee.
Left – out of bounds.
I ended up taking an 11 up that first hole, and my mindset completely shifted.
Well, the tournament is over and done with. I might as well just relax, have some fun and play golf
I ended up shooting 4 under par for the next 17 holes and finished second in the competition. This taught me a lot of valuable lessons, mainly that.
- The success or non success of the first tee shot does not determine the rest of your round
- Trying so hard to hit a good shot can actually cause the opposite to happen
As a result of that experience, I am much more able to relax over the first tee shot in the knowledge that even if I take 7 off the tee, it is still possible to recover.
- Everyone feels pressure, even the top pros – so don’t make things worse by thinking you are alone in that fact
- Flush and tag a good drive in your warm up – recall it when you are on the first tee pre-shot
- Accept any outcome – the realities of golf are that even pros fail almost half of the time, so why put so much pressure on yourself to succeed?
- Relax – your body will want to tense up. Relaxation may be a big part of your process
- Have a process – use my performance training methods to figure out what you perform consistently better with. Use this to give yourself confidence and trust
- Understand that the first tee shot does not determine the rest of your round – unless you let it.
To find out more about performance training and creating a better on-course process, click below