How can I handle my nerves on the golf course?

The Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea will be coming to a close on Sunday. We watched as the athletes pushed themselves to their physical limits to see if they could perform at their highest level of excellence and win an Olympic medal. American snowboarder Jamie Anderson, winner of two medals, expressed her Olympic experience as, “Do your best and bless the rest.” However, the enormity of the self-imposed pressure of the games caused some athletes to falter from nervousness.

There will be many opportunities to feel nervous on the golf course. Each golf shot and round of golf is a new experience. It is normal to feel anxious in a situation you haven’t encountered before. Playing golf with a low handicap golfer, playing in a tournament, hitting over water, playing with your boss for the first time, playing in front of a gallery, or trying to break 80, 90, 100 can cause nervousness and miss-management of your emotions.

Everyone playing golf has anxiety at some time. Golfers feel nervous because they worry about the situation they are in. If golfers lack confidence due to lack of practice or experience, they become nervous about what they can do. On the other hand, a little bit of nervousness can be helpful in playing to your potential. It can move you to a higher level of arousal that will motivate you to be focused and more aware than when you are just hitting balls on the range.

“It’s not bad to have butterflies in your stomach, but they should be flying in formation.” –Tommy Bolt, PGA Tour

Fight or Flight Syndrome

The “fight” or “flight” response is the body’s physiological reaction to stress created by thinking fearful thoughts. The body pumps extra adrenalin into the blood stream as its response to the anxiety-provoking situation. This surge of adrenalin energy results in a tightening of muscles, loss of rhythm, loss of balance, and a hurried and jerky golf swing. As everything speeds up, there is not enough time to prepare for the shot.

Ways to manage nervousness

Here are six ways to calm your nerves so they won’t distress your stroke/swing:

1. You are the only one who feels your nervousness. Golfers need to learn that others are much more concerned with their own games than with yours. Focus on your shot and not on what others might think of you.
2. Be aware of the physical sensations. Nervousness is the opposite of being loose and relaxed. Know what upsets you. Know what makes you feel fear, worry, anger, frustration, embarrassment.
3. Be aware of the thought causing the nervousness. If the thought is a fear of embarrassment, know that this is a normal reaction to a missed shot. Instead, smile to change your body chemistry, and learn from your mistake.
4. Relieve the physical tension. Take a couple of practice swings as hard and fast as you can to relieve the physical tension. Follow that with a couple of swings to access and feel your tempo and timing.
5. Take several deep breaths to slow down your mind. The way to relax your body in sports is by controlled breathing. Paying attention to your breath is a vehicle for releasing stress and allowing the body to find its own balance. Proper breathing can relieve stress-related symptoms such as performance anxiety. It is important to keep your breathing even for consistent golf.
6. Change your “what if” thinking to a “so what” thought. The most important thing you can do to relieve nervousness and anxiety is to stay in the moment with your pre-shot routine. Let go thinking of anything you cannot control. Let go of thoughts about the outcome. Trust your process of creating your next shot.

Play “in the zone” with Joan
Entrain Your Heart & Mind for Peak Performances

To train your brain to play your best golf, listen to Positive Mental Imagery self-hypnosis guided imagery CDs in the privacy of your own home, available at

If you aren’t able to maintain trust and belief in yourself on the golf course, email Joan at or call 828.696.2547 for a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation about developing a new strategy. Learn what is missing in your golf game so you can achieve the success you desire.

“THE HEART OF GOLF, Access Your Supreme Intelligence for Peak Performances” explores and explains negative emotions such as fear and performance anxiety, the four Cs of mind blockage, the four progressive stages of learning the supreme intelligence of the heart, and the way to access the zone in competition. It is a player’s guide for developing your true inner self by returning to the joy and love of self instead of seeking praise and rewards from the outside world.

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