Many golfers get to the first tee and no matter how proficient they are experience a nervousness that many times proves to be their downfall. Sometimes they will just hit a bad drive to start their round and recover once they’ve left the tee box. Other times that first missed tee shot ruins their entire round. The problem for any golfer, whether they miss an occasional first tee shot or it becomes a ritual of every round they play is that they are not mentally prepared. They could also be physically unprepared, but if nervousness or jitters accompanies any bad performance, the golfer is not mentally prepared to hit the shot. Correcting this malady is quite easy and takes very little time. In fact, you can use your drive to the course to begin to prepare.
While in your car, start by taking one or two slow, deep breaths, focusing on both the inhale and exhale. As you inhale, feel your abdominal area expand, followed by your chest cavity, and finally up into your throat and upper back. This will take about 4 seconds. Now slowly push all of the air out of your lungs. You will notice your back and chest deflating first. Push as much air out of your system as possible, as if you were trying to deflate a balloon. Focusing on your breath in this manner serves two purposes. It helps relax your body and get your mind off of daily problems and concerns. Any sort of physical tension can ruin the fine-motor control necessary for golfing success. When playing golf there is nothing that you can do about work home, school, or life issues. Thinking about these things while playing only distracts you from your focus on the shot at hand. This results in bad shots and ever-escalating scores. Now that you are fairly relaxed and have left the rest of your life behind begin to focus on mentally preparing for your round that day. Here’s how.
Imagine the first tee of the course you are playing that day. If you are playing a new course imagine playing your favorite or home course. Is it a 3-, 4-, or 5-par? Is the tee elevated? What does the hole look like? Are there any hazards? If so, where? If you hit your average best drive how far will it fly? How far will it roll given the conditions of the day? Will it fly straight or curve to the left or right? Now imagine standing 8 – 10 feet behind the ball looking down the fairway. Imagine a distant target that is on the line you want the ball to fly. It could be a bush, tree, yardage marker, sand bunker, or what ever. Next, see yourself approaching the ball and assume your address position. Once set in this position, imagine looking out to your intended target. Keeping your mind’s eye on your target imagine bringing your eyes back to the ball. When your eyes have settled imagine initiating your swing. Feel a fluid, balanced, and powerful swing. As the club hits the ball imagine it rocketing off the clubface and flying just as you would expect, landing and then coming to rest precisely where you intended. Feel the exhilaration of success. Imagine playing every shot of every hole like this, staring with your pre-shot routine and selecting a distant target to the exhilaration you’d feel if you executed the shot perfectly. With sufficient practice, this routine only takes about fifteen minutes.
When you arrive at the course, loosen up, go through whatever physical practice you normally engage in and then proceed to the first tee. When you get there, take a few minutes to look down the first fairway, locating your intended target. Now imagine yourself completing the mental rehearsal process just as you did in your car for the first tee. You can even combine this with physically making a practice swing, imagining the ball rocketing off the clubface, and coming to rest just as you would predict. Again, feel the exhilaration of success. When it is your turn to tee off you will be mentally prepared for success and thus will have given yourself a much greater chance or experiencing that success. If you feel any nervousness or fear making a bad swing or imagine the consequences of a bad swing, take a few slow deep breaths, focusing only on your breathing. Then visually imagine a successful outcome and go and swing the way you always hoped you would.
To be consistently successful you must mentally rehearse this way over and over, not just on your drive to the course. If you spend 15 – 20 minutes a day mentally rehearsing this way it will be second nature to you in about thirty days. If you then remember to mentally rehearse on your way to the course, your first tee jitters will be a thing of the past and you will no longer have anything to fear when you get to the first tee.
photo credit: danperry.com