Whether it’s Dustin Johnson at the US Open or Joe 20-handicap playing a $5 Nassau, the pressure of golf gets to everyone. Pressure can make a 4-foot putt look like an impossibility and a 50-yard fairway look as wide as a seat in coach. Without that pressure, though, success in golf wouldn’t be nearly as sweet. In this lesson, I’m going to teach you to treat pressure situations like a walk in the park.
This Lesson Is For You If:
You’re great on the range but not on the course
You hit the same shot over and over in practice
You “choke” on the course
Consequences = Pressure
Consequences are what make playing golf hard. Even if you’re playing by yourself, the consequence of writing down a big number creates pressure.
In practice, there are no consequences. Even if you shank a shot, all you have to do is grab another ball and try again. This is why the guys who pure it on the range aren’t necessarily the guys who post the lowest scores.
To make your practice more meaningful, you need to add pressure which means adding consequences (and sticking to them). One of the best examples of this is a putting drill that I’ve been doing for years. The drill starts with 3-foot putts. When you make three in a row, you move to 5-foot putts. If you make three in a row, you move to 7 feet and make three more in a row. If you miss a putt at any distance, you start over at 3 feet. Completing the drill means making nine putts in a row, so your collar gets a little tight after making five or six. This principle can be applied to practicing any aspect of your game.
Compete in Practice
The best way to add pressure to your practice is to practice with other people. Whether you go to the range with your kids, your spouse, your buddies, or your teammates, playing games and setting up challenges turns routine practice into a pressure-packed performance test.
Golfers are known to enjoy a wager, and that’s one of the best ways to raise the stakes in practice. The bet doesn’t need to be large to create pressure, and it doesn’t even need to be monetary. The loser can do 10 push ups on the spot or run around the parking lot. You might create a traveling trophy that the winner gets to keep, or a token of shame that the loser has to display until they win. No matter what you bet, your focus will improve dramatically.
When it comes to what you bet on, you’re only limited by your imagination. You can play H-O-R-S-E with shots on the range or practice green. There are endless variations on putting contests. Another benefit of playing games is that it gets you out of the routine of hitting stock shots and forces you to explore your creativity.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
When you’re consistently putting pressure on yourself, two important things happen: you become more aware of what happens to you under pressure and you get better at dealing with those symptoms.
Pressure affects everyone differently – some people speed up, others slow down, some think too much, others shut off their brains. If you’re not sure what it feels like for you, try this simple test that I learned from one of the excellent Vision 54 books. Stand next to a trash can and toss a piece of paper into it. Now take a step back and do it again. At some point, you’ll reach a distance where you’re not sure you can make it, and you’ll feel a bit of pressure. Perhaps you’ll squeeze the paper a bit tighter. You might feel your legs clench up. Whatever you feel, that’s your “pressure symptom.” Become aware of it and better at dealing with it, and you’re on your way to being clutch.
Whether you do it on your own, with a friend, or with a team, make sure that you’re adding elements of pressure to your practice routines. This will not only help you bring your range game to the course, it will also help you to handle the big moments when they come your way.