By: Andy Fish, PGA Professional
Our brains react to things that are frightening. It’s a valuable trait for avoiding danger and staying alive. Unfortunately, our brains don’t have much nuance in this area and we react similarly to situations that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable.
As a freshmen in high school, I had a fear of teeing off over water. I was playing in a sectional golf tournament at an unfamiliar course and one of the holes by the clubhouse was a par three with an island tee box and a green on a small peninsula. My anxiety elevated through the round until I got to that hole. So, of course, I hit three shots into the water before I got a ball on dry ground.
First tee jitters, the final holes of your best round and 2 foot putts can all constitute a stimulus for anxiety. They’re not dangerous, but your brain knows it doesn’t like the situation. Your palms sweat, breathing shallows and you might get quick with your actions and decisions. It’s very difficult to play in this state, so let’s fix it and look at some ways to overcome fear and anxiety on the links.
Get familiar with the situation
It’s simple, practice in the situation that brings you fear. A few years ago a student of mine had trouble with one hole on the course she played. It was a par 3 over water (sound familiar?). We walked out to the demonic par 3 with a bag of golf balls. One mission, slay the beast. Kristi hit many of the balls into the water at first, but by the end, she was smiling and swinging the club with confidence. Most of the time, facing your fear will make it familiar and mundane.
Find your inner super hero
Most of my golf is played as Andy. He’s an even keel and thoughtful golfer. Sometimes, when anxiety is high, Andrew shows up. Andrew is a volatile Metallica fan who doesn’t fear much. He has no problem hitting over water. While his shots may not be any better, they are hit without fear. Andrew can’t stay though, he’s got a temper, so back to the bat cave with him.
You have an inner super hero too. It’s the part of you that dances when you’re alone or has the courage to tell the guy that cut in line to shove off. Only bring your super hero out to get you through your predicament, nobody needs to see the dancing.
Chin up, shoulders back and breathe
Yeah, your mom was right. Good posture shows confidence. It also tricks your brain. When you feel nervous, you have a tendency to breathe shallow and quickly. Breathe in through your nose counting 1..2..3 and exhale slowly through your mouth 1..2..3. Pull your shoulders back and chin up. You’ll feel great in no time.
Accept that anxiety is natural
Things scare you and thats ok. It’s how we’re wired. Next time you find yourself feeling anxious, watch it like a movie. Mentally pull yourself away from the situation and analyze what your actions are and should be. This will help you make better decisions. I’ve seen people on the course making the worst choices and from my point of view it’s obvious. From theirs, however it doesn’t seem that way. When you go over the round in the bar afterwords, they’re surprised they acted like that. Be the star in your movie, sit back and watch your cool actions under stress.
Review your round
Look back at your round and see what strategies worked best for you. Write down the ones that worked best and keep them in your bag. Better yet, make a card and hang it on your bag so you can see it. Practice these strategies on the course and say goodbye to stress.
Did I overcome my fear of hitting over water? Well, mostly. When I’m faced with a tee shot over water, I keep my chin up, take a few deep breaths and let Andrew hit the shot. Rock on man!