Last weekend, we saw I.K. Kim miss a 1-foot putt that would likely have sealed her victory in the LPGA's first “major” of the season. This week, we're reminded of Rory McIlroy's disastrous drive at the 10th hole at Augusta National when he seemed on his way to an easy victory. Maybe succumbing to nerves when so much is on the line is understandable, but can you conquer your golf nerves when you realize you're having the round of your life or when a $5 Nassau and your pride are on the line?
The truth is that our mind works so quickly that there are very few, if any, players who can overcome nerves 100% of the time. An instantaneous flash of negativity in your mind can create just enough tension in the hands to ruin a good day or a good round. Ignoring that possibility may be what caused I.K. Kim to miss that putt. Whether or not we want to acknowledge the fear we feel, it's still there in those big golf moments. The key is to acknowledge it and deal with it.
Take these steps the next time you feel one of those moments coming…
- Greet the feeling. Maybe you'll silently say, ‘Hello fear' or ‘Hello nerves'. Smile as you greet it.
- Take a slow deep breath and hold it for a few seconds before releasing it fully. At the end of the release, feel like your squeezing it out of your abdomen. You'll naturally take the next deep breath. Do this for several breaths. If I have a couple of minutes before my shot, I like to use the 4-7-8 technique I learned from Dr. Andrew Weil. (Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 7 and exhale for 8). Focusing on breathing takes your mind off that which is making you nervous, but also seems to reduce the anxiety and tension.
- Take 2 seconds and imagine what it will look or feel like when succeed.
- Take your time. There is a natural tendency to try and get out of your nervous state as quickly as possible. This can show up in two places – rushing your routine and rushing your swing or stroke. Having a good pre-shot routine and sticking to it can help with the first. Being mindful of tempo may be all you need for the second. For me, I need to think “slow” and imagine my swing or stroke starting out slow.
Sometimes, we don't feel justified in feeling nerves, since golf is just a game. That's just silly, if you feel a little nervous, acknowledge it and conquer it!