Sample Articles for Anxiety | International Golf Psychology Association

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Sample Articles for Anxiety

Sample Articles for Anxiety
December 29, 2015 Golf Psychology Institute
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Please click each of the titles below and review the contents for the upcoming quiz.

1. Focus on yourself

“No man (or woman) can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

The human condition is to be concerned about what others think of us. In fact, the number one fear in our culture is public speaking. Most of us get extremely nervous when we have to speak in front of our peers. Our heart rate goes sky high, our head starts to pound, and at times, some of us will forget everything we had prepared.
All this nervousness stems from our concern about the impression we give to others. Our greatest fear is to stand in front of others and look like a fool.

Unfortunately this concern about how others think carries over into our golf game and can ruin our play. The story of Ian Baker-Finch’s career illustrates this point exceptionally well. Baker-Finch won the British Open in 1991, but within seven years of his victory had retired from professional golf. Many factors contributed to this decision, one being his humiliating open round of 92 at the British Open at Troon and another being his missed 32 straight cuts on the tournament trail. However, Baker-Finch mentioned that the main straw that caused him to leave the tour was the pressure of what everyone was thinking about his poor play. Poignantly, he stated “What I would like to be able to do is to change my name, come back in a different body and go play without the pressure of being Ian Baker-Finch.”

Another similar story involves Hale Irwin playing with a young green horn named Mark O’ Meara, On this day, O’Meara was playing terribly and was ashamed about how bad he was playing in front of his older more seasoned pros. After the round, he went up to Hale Irwin and apologized for his bad play. Irwin flat out stated that he did not give a damn how his playing partners shoot, he was only concerned about his own play.

Next time you step on the golf course, be like Hale. Focus only on yourself. Do not worry about what other people are thinking because I guarantee your friends are not worried about you, your score, or your herky-jerky swing. They are doing what you should do. They are thinking only about themselves and how fantastic they look in their new golf sweater.

2. Go Slow with “The Gary Player Principle”

“You’re only here for a short visit, so don’t hurry, don’t worry and be sure to stop and smell the flowers along the way”. Walter Hagan

Gary Player has developed a unique mental strategy to play his best under pressure.He does everything at a slower pace before a tournament. Gary Player gets his clubs out of his car slower than usual, he meanders to the tee and he even ties his shoes unhurriedly before a tournament round.

This strategy is quite ingenious because it directly combats why most of us play poorly under pressure. We tend to get anxious in competition. When we are anxious, we typically do everything a little faster. We walk faster, talk faster and even think faster. This nervousness also increases the speed of our swing rhythm.

This increased speed in our actions is in response to a release of hormones from our brain. When we are anxious, our mind releases such hormones as epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones act as a stimulant and increase our blood flow, heart rate and countless other changes throughout our body.

One of the major problems most golfers have to deal with is first tee jitters: These opening hole nerves have ruined many rounds of golf. Allow the “Gary Player Principle” to help you combat this common golf difficulty. For starters, when you arrive at the golf course, take your clubs out of your car very slowly, and walk gingerly over to the practice tee. Take some slow practice swings and start warming up at a very deliberate pace. Once you are ready, walk over to the tee, as if your feet were in molasses. When you are ready to hit your first tee-shot, think about doing everything a little slower from your practice swings to the execution of the opening tee-shot.

But, don’t just use the “Gary Player Principle” to combat jitters on the first hole. Apply it to your routine between shots throughout the round. Under pressure you will have a tendency to walk quicker to your ball. Instead, slow down and enjoy the walk. Walking faster may transfer over to a speed increase in your swing rhythm. Take the time to think about the shot that you are about to execute. Under pressure your thinking can get rushed and you may make an inappropriate decision. Once your decision has been made, take your club out of the bag a little slower, take some practice swings at a gentle pace, and then step up and hit your shot in a non-hurried manner.

3. Let go of the perfection syndrome

“Perfection belongs to the gods; the most that we can hope for is excellence”
Carl Jung

When Bobby Clampett joined the tour, he was touted as the next great player. Mike Holder, the longtime coach at Oklahoma State University, stated that Clampett was phenomenal as a college player. Holder added “Bobby was a shotmaker who had a great short game. He had everything.” His own golf coach at BYU, Karl Tucker, described Bobby as one of the best players he had ever coached. Tucker mentioned that when Bobby needed a 65, he would shoot a 65.
Bobby Clampett acquired some of his swing knowledge from The Golfing Machine by Homer Kelly. This book is based on high-order physics and geometry and breaks down the golfswing into 24 main components. The book’s subtitle is “The computer age approach to golfing perfection”. And that is what Bobby Clampett wanted to achieve with his swing: perfection in all moves. His college coach remembers Bobby’s practice routine involved hitting 25 balls in two hours and during that time he would painstakingly check and recheck every position to make sure all his moves were perfect.

Unfortunately, Bobby Clampett appeared never to be happy with his game unless he felt that he swung mechanically perfect. In one famous instance, Bobby shot opening rounds of 66 and 67 at the 1982 British Open. He had a seven-stroke lead with 31 holes to play. Then his game began to unravel. He stumbled to a 78 and 77 on the weekend, finishing 10th. When asked to explain his collapse, he mentioned he was not fearful nor that a mental weakness had crept into his mind. But rather, the reason for his demise at Troon was that he believed his swing was not mechanically sound.

While it is appropriate to continually try to improve, when you take it to the extreme, there are serious problems. When you become too much of a perfectionist, you begin to convince yourself that you will not hit the ball well or play well unless your swing is perfect. Jack Nicklaus, a winner of 18 major championships, has commented that he has never played perfect golf in a major. He believes it is unrealistic to think that you need to play perfect golf to win. The key to winning, according to Jack, is getting the ball into the hole and it really does not matter how.

Unfortunately, most golfers do not think like Jack and they get caught up in what is called “playing golf swing instead of golf course”. They focus on making a perfect swing, or near perfect swing, instead of focusing on getting the ball into the hole. They are searching in the wrong direction to play their best.

Champions play golf course. Their focus is on getting the ball into the cup: Developing a perfect swing takes a back seat. Lee Trevino is the prototypical example. Comparing his swing on video to what is now considered the “ideal modern” swing, you might think he would have a tough time breaking par. He has a huge loop in his swing. He takes the club outside the correct path on the backswing and then reroutes it back to the inside on the downswing. However, his record of countless victories on both the P.G.A tour and Senior P.G. A. tour indicate that there is much more to winning than focusing on having a perfect swing.

Ed Furgol is another champion golfer whose swing was far from perfect. Due to a childhood accident in which he broke his left arm, he was incapable of straightening it while playing. Based on his limited flexibility, Furgol created a dipping swing that was self-described as a “whip-like stroke”. He was determined to be a golf champion and through countless hours of practice, his far from the “perfect model” swing won the 1954 U.S. Open.

Most golfers should follow the lead of Lee Trevino and Ed Furgol: Let go of the quest for the perfect swing and find one that works for you.

4. Leak out praise

“Sport does not build character: Sport reveals character”
John Wooden

“Why do I hit the ball so well on the range, but play so poorly on the golf course? This question has haunted thousands of golfers throughout the ages.

The best way to explain this enigma is based upon the psychological principle of Drive Theory. This theory states that our tendencies will be exposed when we are under pressure. Unfortunately, the swing tendencies for most beginning golfers are incorrect. As most golf instruction books will state, the correct golf swing starts from the ground up, with the lower body initiating the sequence of the downswing. Beginning golfers, instead, have a tendency to start the downswing with their shoulders or hands. This can lead to a wide variety of problems such as a loss of power and the dreaded slice.

When beginning golfers are hitting balls on the range, they are not under pressure and they can execute their swings more correctly. Their lower body starts to work more effectively and they swing with much more fluidity and grace. But, when they put pressure on the their swing by going to the golf course, their tendencies get exposed and they do not see the same results as they did on the range.

A good analogy of this phenomenon would be that of a leaky pipe. If a pipe has small cracks in its fundamentals, water should flow freely without any pressure. Once pressure is put on the pipe with a large amount of water flow, the pipe will start to leak everywhere. That is why beginning golfers see their swing leaking all over the place when they go to the golf course. Their cracks in their swing mechanics will show themselves under pressure.

The principle of Drive Theory also applies to the mental side of golf. Mental flaws will be exposed under pressure. These mental flaws can come in any shape, from losing confidence to letting the mind wander to becoming severely nervous. For instance, if a golfer has a tendency to become negative, this habit may not be exposed when everything is going great and the breaks are going in the right direction. However, at the first sign of adverse conditions, this golfer will begin to lose that positive feeling and start to think how unfair the world is and how breaks never go the correct way. This golfer may also begin to throw disparaging remarks at everything imaginable, from how bad the course conditions are to the slowness of play. In essence, this golfer has sprouted a serious mental leak.

The secret to fixing those leaks that erupt on the golf course is to have physical and mental habits that are fundamentally sound. To acquire appropriate physical mechanics, you can read instructional books, rent instructional tapes, pound range balls, and see your local golf professional for lessons. To possess solid mental mechanics, you have taken the first step: you are reading this book. But also, you need to develop mental habits that will expose themselves under pressure and promote your best golf. One such example is making positive self-statements routinely throughout your round. To make this your mental tendency, practice this positive approach in all situations, from when you are just playing with your friends on a Saturday afternoon to when you are playing in the club championship. Applying this approach, you will only leak out praise for yourself when you are in pressure-packed situations.

5. Harness the energy of anxiety

“Having nerves and feeling the pressure just gets you focused and gets your concentration level where it needs to be. I harness that nervous energy into a positive way”
Tom Lehman.

There is an old adage in sport psychology: “It’s okay to have butterflies. Just make sure you get them to fly in formation”. Being anxious is not necessarily bad. Actually, anxiety has the potential of increasing our capability to accomplish extraordinary feats. When we are anxious, our body surges with hormones that promote the accuracy of our eyesight, increase the acuteness of our hearing, and can even enhance the precision of our touch and feel.

All these changes in our body are a result of our ancestry. Forty thousand years ago, we were not the masters of our domain. At times, we were hunted by great animals such as Masterdons and Sabertooth tigers. We needed these hormones in order to run for our lives or fight stronger when a predator attacked us. These hormones, in a way, made us more super human.

Anxiety can work to your benefit and make you play super golf, if you interpret this emotion as a positive force. Most successful golf professionals know that anxiety is an important part of competitive golf and it can motivate a golfer to demonstrate excellence on the course. For instance, Tom Kite has stated “anxiety is a very positive event, it allows you to do great things” Tom Kite believes that this energy source can help you sharpen your senses and make you play at a much greater level than when the event was unimportant and the nerves were non-existent. Tom harnesses the powers of anxiety, allowing it to enhance his performance.

Unfortunately, most amateur golfers view anxiety as a negative emotion. They interpret the butterflies and heart palpitations as analogous to the iceberg that destroyed the Titanic. They know these nervous feelings are leading to an impending disaster. They let their nerves get the best of them and their game sinks under the pressure.

H.A. Dorfman, a sport psychologist for many professional baseball players, ingeniously illustrates how anxiety can be used as a benefit or as a deficit to performance. Dorfman describes anxiety like a fire in your house. If anxiety is controlled and seen as a positive, it can heat your house. However, when anxiety is uncontrolled and seen as a negative, it can burn your house down. Use anxiety to your advantage. Let it spark you to do great things under pressure.

6. Risk the pain of losing

“It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all”
William James

Most athletes will tell you that the most dangerous opponent is one who is sick or injured. They are in a no-lose situation. If they lose, they have an excuse. If they win, it shows how talented they are despite their illness. The injury or sickness is actually a handicap that protects their ego. There is no detriment to their self-esteem if they lose. When there is no cost to your ego, there is no holding back and you are a danger to everyone.

Psychologists have labeled this handicapping phenomenon the Deschappelles Coup. It relates to the nineteenth-century French chess champion Alexandre Deschapelles. He was a world class player, but had great insecurities about his abilities. As a result, he decided that he would only play an opponent if that person would remove one of Deschapelles pawns and then make the first move. Thus, he would not look like a fool if he lost. He would state he had a disadvantage from the start. And if Deschappelles won, this handicap would show how superior he was. His coup supported his fragile ego.

Self-handicapping is all about protecting your self-esteem. You have probably met golfers who use the Deschappeles Coup. When a big tournament is approaching, they have a tendency to practice very little or none at all. Then, if they play poorly, they can blame it on their limited practice time and hectic schedule. But if they play well, then they look that much better given their limited playing time.

Another type of self-handicapping is to quit or give up during a competition. John Daly has mentally quit a number of times in competition. Many have wondered why such a great talent could give up so easily. Giving up protects the ego because the person does not risk all they have in order to win or play well. Mentally quitting during a contest allows the golfer to say “I just did not feel like trying today, but if I had tried, I would have done much better”. Athletes from all sports have stated that the pain of losing is much greater than the thrill of victory. The pain to the ego is great when we try and we do not succeed. To John Daly, quitting helped to buffer that pain.

Hale Irwin described playing golf in competition akin to standing naked in front of a big crowd where everyone can see all your faults. Some golfers will try to cover up, by self-handicapping. However, golfers who are not ashamed of posting poor scores, and are willing to lay all their golf nakedness on the line, are the ones who are more likely to achieve their potential.

7. Serenity Now

Give me the strength to accept the things I cannot control
The courage to change the things I can control
and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.
-The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

In his autobiography Golf My Way, Jack Nicklaus urges top professionals and amateurs alike to focus only on factors within their control. Jack states that the only thing a player can control is his own game and further adds that being concerned about factors outside his control is not only a distraction, but a waste of energy. Another all-time great, Annika Sorenstam, has also realized the comfort of letting go of factors outside her control.. She states that once the ball leaves her clubface, she ceases to worry about it. This philosophy has allowed her to accept any outcome that occurs on the course.

Here is a mental exercise based on the Serenity prayer that is used by many sport psychologists to help golfers let go of factors outside their control. First, you must gain the wisdom to recognize the difference between those factors in your golf game over which you have control and those you do not. To accomplish this, list all the worries you have on the golf course. Next, place the worries in two categorical boxes; factors I can control and factors I cannot control. With the worries you placed into the “cannot control” box, be like Annika and find the mental strength to accept those factors over which you have no control. Let them go. When those worries creep into your mind, a helpful mental exercise is to visualize placing the worries into a balloon and let them float away.

Now here comes the courage part. With the worries you placed into your “control box”, devise one strategy for each of those worries. Having a strategy for each worry helps to reduce the anxiety associated with each distracting thought. For example, if you worry about the wind, you should have a strategy in which you practice low trajectory shots for windy conditions. After you have developed strategies to eliminate those worries, you will then need to find the courage to practice those strategies.

When you learn to let go of the things you cannot control and focus only on factors within your control, you will discover your serenity on the golf course.

8. Let go of results

“I think golfers get overconcerned with results. Enjoy the process: enjoy the opportunity to play”
Wendy Ward

Jimmy Johnson, the famous football coach for the Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys, once told his players about the downfalls of focusing on the outcome of the event. Jimmy gave the example of a construction worker and how he must focus on one step at a time when they are crossing a plank that is positioned 1000 feet in the air. If the construction worker looked down and focused upon how high he was, then he would get extremely nervous. As a result of focusing on the outcome, falling a thousand feet, he would be much more inclined to get nervous and fall. However, if the construction worker focused only upon placing one foot in front of the other, then he would not be as nervous, and would easily cross the plank.

The same principle goes for the golf course. Looking down at your scorecard can contribute to higher levels of anxiety, leading to a fall into a poorly played round.To play your best, golfers must disregard outcome thinking. Brad Faxon, one of the tours best putters, has stated that when he is putting his best, he does not care if he makes the putt. Faxon has mentioned that he views making and missing the putt as equals.

When elite golfers recall a zone experience, they also mention that they are not aware of outcomes or scores. Al Gieberger mentioned that he had this type of mental approach when he gave his virtuoso performance at the Memphis Open . On this magical day, Al Gieberger was the first person to shoot 59 in a PGA sanctioned event. When recalling this event, Al Geiberger stated that he was not aware of his score or whether he was about to break 60 for the first time until the very end of his round. Billy Mayfair had the same feeling about his career low round of 61 in the GTE Byron Nelson Classic in 1993. He made the comment to the press “To be honest with you, I really lost track of how many under I was, and I didn’t know it was a course record, either, until after I was done”.

The opposite of the zone is a slump and letting go of results may also help to reduce a slumping pattern. Corey Pavin mentioned that he entered a severe slump at the end of the 1980’s when he started focusing on shooting low scores instead of playing the needed shot. When he got back to just playing golf, and creating shots, his slumping pattern began to recede.

A great sport psychology strategy that can help you let go of results-oriented thinking is to play a round of golf without keeping score. Your task is to think only about the shot at hand, not to be concerned with how many over or under par you are at any time during the round. At the completion of the round, you would then recall each hole and add up your score. Or, you could play with a friend who keeps your score.

Once you learn to let go of results-oriented thinking, you begin to hold on to your best golf.

9. Inoculate yourself against choking

“I try to simulate the most difficult conditions the players will encounter during competition”
Mike Holder, Oklahoma State golf coach and winner of 8 national championships

Everyone chokes at some time when they are under pressure. Even the pros are not immune to choking. One of the biggest chokes in recent memory was Jean Van de Velde at the 1999 British Open. He was leading by three strokes coming into the 72nd hole. He proceeded to hit his driver into the rough on the right. Then he knocked his next shot into the grandstand and it bounced out into thick rough. Following this, he dumped his ball into the water. He took a drop and then hit his next shot into a green side bunker. From there, he got up and down for a seven. That allowed him to get into a playoff which he proceeded to lose to Paul Lawrie.

Fortunately, sport psychologists are discovering methods to help prevent athletes from choking under competitive pressure.. One strategy is based on the motor learning principle of situational similarity. In essence, when the practice situations are similar to pressure conditions, there will be a greater transfer of skills. Sport scientists at Michigan State University have recently validated this point. In this experiment, there were three groups of golfers who learned the task of golf-putting. The first group learned golf-putting under normal conditions. A second group had to repeat the word “cognition” as they putted. Saying a word while putting may promote the ability to distract the mind from the pressure of making the putt. The third group learned putting while being videotaped. Videotaping was used because it simulates the self-awareness that is provoked when a golfer plays in competition. Individuals who play golf in competition are more aware of their scores and the fact that others will also learn of their scores.

Interestingly, there were no differences between the groups when they were reassessed under a low stress condition. However, when the golfers were placed in a competitive-type situation in which they would earn money based upon their performance, the third group performed the best. Learning golf-putting using the videotape simulated the intense pressure of competition and this helped these individuals transfer their skills most effectively to pressure-packed situations.

These findings suggest that one of the best ways to inoculate yourself against choking is by placing pressure on yourself during practice. Ken Green, an excellent PGA tour player from the 1980’s and 1990’s, stated that he would taunt himself during practice by saying that if he missed a certain putt, he had to place a five dollar bill in the hole. When he missed, the group behind him was that much richer. Phil Michelson follows a similar practice philosophy. His goal is to make 100 three footers in a row. If he misses one, he has to start all over. He has stated that he is willing to stay out on the green all night until he makes them all.

You may not want to give up your hard-earned cash or stay on the putting green all night, but you can apply the same logic to all aspects of your practice time. For instance, when hitting your driver on the range, just do not pound balls anywhere and everywhere. That is not real life on the golf course. You should practice hitting your balls to an imaginary fairway and see how many you can hit out of ten. Then make the fairway tighter and then tighter again. Better yet, get a friend and place a meager wager on who hits the most fairways out of ten. Using this type of practice mentality will help to transfer your good swings to the golf course and, more importantly, transfer your best swings to competition.

10. “54 vision”: Why Annika Sorenstam can go low

“It is a funny thing about life: if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it”.
W. Somerset Maugham.

Expectations are paradoxical. They can motivate an individual to create wondrous achievements, but expectations can also be a ceiling of limitation. People seem to always rise to the level of their expectations.

An interesting study conducted with golf professionals and their putting illustrates this paradoxical effect of expectations. This study investigated the percentages of putts made by professional golfers from varying locations. However, an additional factor was examined, whether the putt was for birdie or par. Amazingly, regardless of distance, the pros made more putts for par than they did for birdies. More specifically, a ten foot-putt was more likely to be made if it was for par than for birdie.

Of course, we can only speculate what could be causing such a difference. One plausible explanation is that professionals expect that they should be making at least pars on every hole, and birdies are a bonus. Most professionals are probably not expecting to make birdies on every hole, therefore, when the putt is for birdie, they may feel more pressure. They may also not grind as much because it is for birdie. However, they know they must make pars and they grind more for those putts than for the birdie-putts. Having this type of belief will definitely limit their scoring potential.

Not all pros believe pars are the standard by which to be judged. Annika Sorrenstan is one such pro. She learned an important mind-set from her training in Sweden under the tutelage of the National golf coach,Pia Nilsson. Coach Nilson promoted a “54 vision”. She instilled in her players that every hole was a birdie hole and the score of 54 for a round of golf is possible. Perhaps this philosophy helped Annika be the first and only woman to shoot 59 on the LPGA tour. She is comfortable going extremely low because her expectations are that every hole is a possible birdie.

Of course, amateurs need to have realistic expectations. They should not follow Annika’s lead and believe they can birdie every hole. But they should have expectations that will help promote their scoring potential. For instance, a golfer who shoots consistently in the 90’s should expect to make at least a bogey on each hole. More experienced amateurs who can shoot in the 80’s should begin to believe that par is possible on every hole. In that way, they will grind more when the putt is for par. Professionals and expert golfers, on the other hand, should follow Annikas “54 vision” and believe that every hole is birdieable. With this scoring philosophy, they will feel much more at ease when they are going low and having the round of their life. It still might not get them to shoot 59 in competition, but it should produce more wondrous scoring achievements.

11. Break the anxiety habit

“One cannot remove anxiety only by arguing it away”
Paul Tillich

Bill Russell is known as the best team basketball player of all time. He won more championships than any other player . In one of his autobiographies, Russell Rules, he mentioned how he always believed in his abilities and loved to play the game. Yet, interestingly, he was so nervous before every game that he would get very sick and throw up. This act became a habit. It was not due to his thinking inappropriately. He had conditioned his body over time to be extremely nervous before every game he played.

The understanding of classical conditioning began almost a hundred years ago under the experiments of the Russian Scientist, Pavlov. In his famous experiment with dogs, he paired the ringing of a bell with the presentation of food. He found that he could remove the food and the ringing of a bell alone would produce saliva in the dog’s mouth.
Like the dogs in Pavlov’s experiment, we tend to condition our bodies to react to certain stimuli. Seeing a favorable food ad on television may make our mouth water. Hearing a siren triggers us to pull over to the curb. Thinking about a serene place like a meadow in the mountains can bring feelings of relaxation.

Unfortunately, we can also condition ourselves to have excessive anxiety before every tournament or a pressure-packed round. A few bad tournaments in a row may condition our bodies to react negatively to competition. Even if you are well prepared, confident in your ability, looking forward to the tournament or pressure round of golf, you still may have an overwhelming sense of dread and nervousness before play. Your thoughts can be appropriate, but your body responds in an inappropriate way.

To change this cycle of negative physiology, the body must be re-conditioned. One of the best methods for reconditioning your body is systematic desensitization. This technique has two main parts. The first part has the golfer devise an anxiety hierarchy. This is a listing of scenes within one situation, starting from least anxiety provoking and ending with most anxiety provoking. For instance, let’s say a golfer is overcome with first tee jitters and as a result plays terribly for the first couple of holes. The list for this problem would include all scenes leading up to and including hitting the opening tee shot. More specifically, the list would start with the golfer driving into the course’s parking lot, the next scene is getting the clubs out of the trunk, followed by putting on golf shoes, then the golfer walks over to the range, hits balls on the range, then walks over to the first tee, and the list ends with hitting the tee shot on the opening hole.

The second part of this procedure is to imagine this anxiety hierarchy while in a relaxed state. The key to this procedure is that the golfer is pairing relaxation with anxiety provoking images. More importantly, the relaxation response is stronger than the anxiety response. Therefore, this pairing of the two will quiet the anxiety. Using this procedure for a few weeks prior to a tournament will recondition the golfer’s body to feel less nervous at the opening hole.
We go to the range and hit ball after ball in hopes that our body will be conditioned to make a correct swing. Should we not also condition our body to respond to pressure golf in the most appropriate way?

12. Bill Horschel Tour Championship

Billy Horschel put on a virtuoso performance during the final round at the Tour Championship by Coca Cola. He hit laser-like irons at the pins and made putting those difficult greens–look easy. You would think someone who displayed such excellence would be free of anxiety.

But that is not the case. In fact, Billy says that he thrives on anxiety. He loves that feeling of nervousness and how it makes him feel.

Billy Horschel turns pressure into pleasure. Anxiety is simply an energy source. It can heat up your house or burn it down—it all depends on how you label it. How you label your emotions will greatly affect whether anxiety will be destructive to your game or can be used as an advantage.

Next time you feel the nerves running through your veins, and the heart beating fast– be like Billy. Don’t tell yourself you are going to miss this shot or choke. Rather, tell yourself how much you enjoy anxiety and how it can help you focus better.

An old adage in sports psychology says,” It’s okay to have butterflies. Just make sure they fly in the right formation”. When you label anxiety as a positive experience, like Billy Horschel, you will soar to excellence on the course!

13. Jimmy Walker

Jimmy Walker is an amazing golfer with laser like irons and immense power.  But one of his secret weapons is that he has amazing balance in life. Besides being a great golfer, he also is a great photographer and he takes pictures of the solar system. This helps him immensely because now he can feel good about himself in other ways besides the golf. So that when he steps on the course, he feels less pressure. Because he feels less pressure, he now will play his best in competition.

Have balance in your life. Have multiple ways to feel good about yourself and you will play better golf!


14. Patrick Reed

Is it hard for you to keep a good score going?

Do you blow up on the last few holes when you had that great round going?

If you answered yes to those two questions, you are just like millions of golfers—You are playing not to lose. When you play not lose, you are in a conservative mode. You are protecting a score as well as your ego. When you play not to lose, you are typically playing scared in that you are afraid of making a mistake. Ironically, when you play not to lose, you will make more mistakes, and more likely, ruin your round.

Patrick Reed does the opposite-He plays to win. Prior to gaining full playing privileges on the PGATOUR, he survived 6 Monday qualifiers. To gain a spot at a qualifier, you must play super aggressively in order to beat the other players vying for those few coveted spots. You cannot play conservatively.

Today, Reed’s mentality is the same: He treats every round like a like a pressure packed Monday qualifier. He has learned that he plays his best golf when he goes all out and plays to beat the field. This mental game strategy worked brilliantly as Reed broke the 54 hole scoring record and then proceeded to win the Humana Challenge sponsored by the Clinton Foundation.

Patrick Reed’s mentality of “Monday Qualifier” will help your golf game under pressure. Here are a few mental game recommendations to help you to play to win:

1) Stop worrying about your score. Once you focus on your score, you will begin to protect a good one. Instead, focus on hitting great golf shots and let the score happen.

2) Take your ego out of the equation. You are not defined by your score and what you shoot, so stop protecting your ego on the course and you will begin to play to win.

3) Play with nothing to lose. This is similar to the range mentality of thinking. On the range, you have nothing to lose, so you swing freely.. Learn to take th ismentality and your “freedom” swings to the golf course.

Playing to win has brought Patrick Reed to the top of the golfing world. I know it can help your game as well.

15. Dustin Johnson

In seasons past, when things got hot in the final round, Dustin Johnson may have forced the issue when he lost the lead to Ian Poulter, the old DJ may have got too aggressive and had a blow up hole. Not this time because Johnson had learned from his past mistakes. Dustin Johnson said he learned he must be patient and stick with his game plan and let the scores happen. It worked and he found the winner’s circle to what he has called “the biggest win so far in his career.”

We all make mistakes. We all fail at times in our golf and in our lives. We have all seen the greatest golfers in the world fail. However, the most successful ones use failure as a springboard to greater days.

Dustin Johnson fails forward. He has used his mistakes in the past as lesson well learned. Here are a few suggestions to fail forward in your golfing career:

1) Be real about your mistakes. Realize that failing in golf and performing poorly at times is part of golf.

2) Fail forward with a failing forward journal. After each round write down five mistakes you made. Then writed sonw what you learned from those mistakes and move on. The importance of this mental exercise is that you no longer dwell on the mistakes. Focus only on what is gained inknowledge from each experience.

But don’t just think about what you should have done, go out and practice the skills you need t improve, both mental ones and physical ones. As legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Failure is not failure uness it is failure to change”

16. Let go of results.

Mental Game: Discover Your Peace Like Streelman

Kevin Streelman stated that his mental strategy for this past week was to not think about winning and let go of results. This ironic approach worked as Streelman won the 2013 Tampa Bay Classic by not worrying about winning.

Thinking about outcome, like your score or winning a tournament, creates higher levels of anxiety in our games. Take the analogy of a construction worker who works 1000 feet in the air and must walk across a plank to get from one site to the next. If the construction worker looked down and thought about how high he was (the outcome), he would get extremely nervous and be more inclined to fall. However by focusing on placing one foot in front of the other (the process), the worker wouldn’t get nervous and could easily transverse the beam.

Kevin Streelman stated that his focus on the process and not the outcome gave him a sense of peace on the course. His mental approach allowed him to transverse the Copperhead course and the “Snake Pit” with a calm state of mind. A sense of peace and a calm demeanor are essential ingredients to performing your best under pressure.

While you may never be in the hunt in a PGA TOUR event, this “letting go of results” strategy readily applies to your golf game—How many times has your score affected your emotions on the course? When your score was terrible did you get upset or frustrated? Or, on the contrary, when you were playing amazingly, did you begin to get nervous because you were thinking about your best round ever?

Like Kevin, you will find peace on the course and gain greater control over your emotions when you let go of results. Here is my mental game recommendation in this regard:

Play a round of golf without keeping your score. Your task is to think only about the shot at hand, not to be concerned with how many over or under par you are at the time during the round. At the completion of the round, you would then recall your score on each hole. Or better yet, play with a friend who keeps your score.

You will find that this approach helped you to keep your emotions and your game under better control. Once you have tried it once, begin to incorporate this approach as a regular strategy.

Yes, it is very difficult to not think about your score. Yes, it is fun to play for a score. But if results oriented thinking is giving you too much anxiety and frustration, then this is the approach to implement into your game. When this happens, you will begin to find your peace on the course as well as your best game.

17. Visualize like Jason Day

Jason Day broke through to be one of the best players in the world by using visualization. If you watch him play, before every shot, he closes his eyes and visualizes his shot.

Besides giving him confidence this visualization process calms him. Jason Day mentioned that his visualization places him into a zen-like state.

Try visualizing at the start of your shot. Close your eyes and see the shot you want to hit. Visualization will give you confidence but it will also relax you so that you can hit your best shot under pressure.



  1. Outstanding!

    • Gregg Steinberg 3 years ago

      thanks and I hope this helps your mental game

  2. Very informative, good job.

    • Gregg Steinberg 3 years ago

      thanks and I hope this helps your mental game

  3. Tim Hofstetter 3 years ago

    Just completed the first two moduals, very well done, easy to understand, great examples, and most educational. Looking forward to the completion. Thanks for your development of this certification program. Hopefully a majority on Association members will complete.

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