8 Methods for Staying Calm While Golfing

By Bradley Turner Keiser University College of Golf Director of Online Golf Instruction – MBA, PGA

Conrad Rehling was a mentor of mine who was a hall-of-fame college golf coach at the University of Alabama. He used to say, “my players talk 68, shoot 78, and drive home 88.”  At the time, I thought he was talking about me, but he was talking about any competitive golfer who has difficulty staying calm and composed on the golf course. For some golfers, the game’s challenge can bring up the emotions of frustration and anger. Golf is a sport that requires intense focus and concentration and a rise in emotion in a player often leads to poor results. Occasionally, a golfer will play exceptionally well, creating a different type of emotion. This is when they begin to make sure and not mess up the round. Suddenly, they no longer focus on hitting good shots but on avoiding them. Whether a golfer is playing great or poorly, the game can be an emotional rollercoaster which is never good for performing to a golfer’s potential.

In this article, I will highlight eight ideas on controlling your emotions and staying calm on the golf course. I do not advocate for my students to play emotionless golf, but rather enjoy the great shots as they occur but quickly get back to business in performing the next shot.

Remember Your Pre-Shot Routine

High-level athletes in most sports agree that routines are essential in achieving their performance goals. Routines are important in sports where the athlete initiates the ball’s movement versus reacting to the ball. Free-throw shooting in basketball, pitching in baseball, and bowling are a few examples. The purpose of a pre-shot routine is two-fold; establish a commitment to the task and then trust the execution of the task. In golf, with a clear commitment, the player increases the probability of executing a good golf swing. The ability to trust the execution through the impact zone is a barrier all players face at one point or another. Failure to commit to a shot will create mixed brain signals to the golfer, resulting in poor execution. If you want to trust your golf swing, you must commit 100% to the shot you are about to hit. Clear commitment to the shot will bring emotional calm as you are sure of your intentions.

Visualize Success

The ability to visualize is a skill that needs to be practiced and developed over time. Learning to shoot a basketball takes time and effort. Learning to understand and apply math problems takes time and effort. For some reason, many golfers believe that the skill of visualizing should be relatively easy compared to calculus or making a free throw under pressure. The ability to concentrate and imagine a good golf shot is a mental skill that can take many years to hone to the point of competence under pressure.

I suggest you begin developing your visualization skills by first working with the short game. The ability to imagine the ideal short game shot requires you to visualize how the ball will land and come to rest near the flagstick. You must visualize the shot before you try and execute the shot. With a good visual picture, your confidence level will increase, helping you to stay calm in stressful situations.

Remember to Breathe

Watch the world’s best players in a pressure situation, and you will notice that they are taking deliberate breaths before hitting a golf shot. Diaphragmatic breathing has been used for centuries to calm public speakers, singers, actors, and golfers. Focus on taking air into the lower part of your lungs with your stomach expanding outward. Hold your breath briefly before SLOWLY releasing the air through your nose. A handful of deliberate breaths can calm down the emotions you may be experiencing.

Chew Gum

Seriously. This is a good way of releasing the tension, as it is common for individuals to grit their teeth when emotions increase. There is research that has confirmed the benefit of chewing gum as a way to reduce stress and tension effectively. In the 2019 Masters tournament, Tiger Woods was chewing gum throughout the final round. Chewing the gum at a slow pace helped Tiger to calm his nerves and likely helped to keep the rhythm of his golf swing. Give it a try the next time you are nervous on the first tee!  

Encourage Yourself

Are you a good coach to yourself? Most of us would not like a coach who berated us, cussed at us, and complained throughout a round of golf. Yet, that is what some golfers do to themselves. Your self-talk is the conversation you have in your mind regarding your golf performance. Just imagine yourself as the ideal golf coach who encourages you throughout the round and occasionally suggests getting up off the floor and hitting the next shot. You want your self-talk to be that of a world-class coach.

Create Little Wins

Golfers overly concerned with their golf scores will have difficulty staying calm for 18 holes. I have always suggested that my students play three-hole matches at a time. Assuming you are a bogey golfer, you would win any hole with a bogey or better. The goal for each three-hole match is to win two of the three. After the first three holes are complete, start again with the second match. The goal is to win all six matches; if that happens, the score will likely be good.

Celebrate Your Good Shots

I heard the great ball striker Moe Norman once say that he only puts positive shots in his mind. If he hits a bad shot, it is not remembered or talked about, and it is as if the lousy shot never occurred.  “Nothing but a jar full of positive shots and thoughts,” is what Moe espoused. Celebrate your good shots and reflect on them periodically. Remember, all players hit foul shots, but the good players tend to forget about them very quickly.

It’s Just a Game

At the end of the day, we are all playing a game. We play because it is fun and challenging, yet we have all witnessed golfers unable to control their emotions on the links. Thousands of golfers have walked off the golf course, planning never to play the game again until the following day when they show up for their tee time. Such is an addicted golfer.

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