How to Combat Your Fear of Failure on The Golf Course
Article by Golfshake Ambassador Richard Moore, based on more essential holiday reading.
In Sam Snead’s immortal words ‘’of all the hazards - ‘fear’ is the worst!’’
Golfers who have a most feared shot (e.g. a short pitch over water; drive with OOB on the right-hand side for right-handed slicers, water down the left for the hookers, chipping off a tight lie over a bunker, etc) frequently mess up as they most fear!
The fear of failure on a difficult shot or one you’ve failed to execute before is more often than not another disaster waiting to happen! Sometimes you pull it off one in ten times but mostly, unsurprisingly, we continue to fail!
Just watching the BMW PGA Championship when writing this article, how many top golfers missed the fairway and hit that fairway bunker on the intimidating opening hole at Wentworth? So it happens to the best players too.
Why Does It Keep Happening?
Quite simply ‘fear’ destroys your focus and your ability to think clearly and play confidently.
Fear is incredibly destructive to good golf!
Then you just hear the excuses raining down, “I lost my nerve, I bottled it, I had a mental lapse.”
The research is interesting too. When carefully tracked, performing the shot on the range with no distractions compared to the exact shot on the course shows alarming differences, not only in the results but also in a golfer’s swing when there is a consequence to a poor shot! Particularly a golfer who is working on a new swing will often resort to old swings (which you are comfortable executing in these moments of crisis on the course!).
Beware Of The Practice Range
The practice driving range has its place but is a false measure of your on course mental ability. “The course is the true testing ground for the moves you train on the range.” You must use the course to truly test what you are working on - even with those favoured new sleeve of balls in your bag. Then you know you can manage the pressure!
On the practice range we are free to focus on technique with no distractions - which is not the case on the course where you have a card in hand and hazards abound! Your attention shifts to the hazard not the execution of a good swing or the perfect outcome.
The range provides only one part of the bigger picture! Fear, pressure and consequences on the course adversely affect your swing, which you never see on the range.
Do you have playing partners who play a bad shot on the first hole and immediately say “what is happening? I never hit shots this bad on the range!?’ Now we can see why. It’s like rearing a wild animal in captivity and expecting them to survive in the wild! You must commit to testing yourself on the course with full consequences.
Pressure can affect the swing speed as much as the swing path affecting distance and direction!
Pressure means we try harder to over control the swing to hit a good shot! This inhibits a smooth coordinated swing.
Pressure leads to tension and tightening up robbing you of yardage with poor timing. Aim to swing with freedom and rhythm!
Beware the subtleties with tension too - we shuffle into different alignments; we increase effort and energy, all instinctive unconscious responses that rarely bring a positive result
(Right-handed slicers under pressure fearing a slice tend to push the ball further forward under pressure which can make things worse!)
But What Can You Do? Here’s Some Tips From The Top
Quite simply we need to switch on our concentration, reduce tension and commit with no fear of failure!
Accept a bad shot. Give yourself permission to miss-hit and have a bad shot. But accept the outcome without stress! Concentrate on a smooth, committed rhythmic swing.
A top tip from Ernie Els is when you feel the pressure loosen your grip on the club. A tight grip makes it impossible to swing smoothly with a natural release!
Did you still fail? Remember it’s the environment and probably not your overall golfing technique (i.e. you don’t need to leave the course and spend an age at the range to work it out!).
You must take on your demon on the course. Don’t avoid it. Take it head on! Then you can learn how to overcome it!
Having watched a fair bit of golf on TV and listening to the caddies talking to their player you can see the value of a caddie giving great encouragement and few wise words. So, facing your next nemesis shot try this in your head ‘just put your best swing on it!’ Then swing freely with confidence!
Fred Couples used the differences between range and course to play well. His advice was if you are feeling the nerves - especially on the first tee - to imagine you are just on the range with no hazards to distract you to calm any nerves.
Nick Price insists it’s vital to get in the zone and give your shot 110% of your attention and focus.
Bernhard Langer says you must be decisive. A wrong decision is generally less disastrous than indecision!
So, To Summarise Here Are Some Useful Tips:
1. Ask yourself positive questions in your pre-shot routine. ‘What would a good shot look like here?’ Or ‘what would a good ball flight look like?'
2. Then, commit fully to the shot. No thoughts on what a failure might look like. Execute with freedom and confidence. Take some practice swings picturing a good shot in your mind’s eye.
3. Trust yourself and your swing. After all you’ve swung the club thousands of times! We do things best when we think less about them. Have a clear image of the outcome not the process!
4. Accept the outcome whatever it may be. Don’t analyse the swing - leave that for the range afterwards.
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