First Tee Jitters? Nervous When Others Are Watching?

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Follow These 11 Tips and Conquer Your Anxiety on the Golf Course

Why is it that golf can make us feel so anxious and nervous? And how can we handle this anxiety on the golf course?

Think about the game of golf. When it is your turn to hit the ball, everyone must be quiet, wait patiently and watch you hit.

Very unnerving!

The feel of someone watching can make us feel very self-conscious. And it is hard to then focus and concentrate on what you are actually doing, let alone hitting a golf ball well.

It sure makes golf interesting! Over the years, I have become a little more accustomed to it especially if I am playing with people I know.

But, if a stranger is watching me on the first tee, or I’m playing in a competition and every shot is on the line, or I am waived on to play through, it can be very nerve wracking.

First Tee Jitters

Anxiety in Golf

What is it that makes hitting off the first tee especially nerve wracking?

There might be a starter, and other groups waiting to tee off so you might have people watching you on the first tee. Since it is also the very first shot of the round, there are usually thoughts about whether this is going to be a good round or a not so good round.

If someone is playing in a match, they might be anxious and have nerves or butterflies because of the competition.

For the tour pros, there is much fanfare on the first tee where their name is officially announced before they tee off. In addition to a large number of spectators watching the first shot off the first tee.

Biggest Fears and Anxiety in Golf

I recently posted a question on social media about fears on the golf course.

Golf Fears

I received a lot of responses to this that included:

  • not wanting to be embarrassed
  • shanking on the first tee
  • playing with people you don’t know
  • having strangers watching
  • losing control of mindset
  • missing or topping the ball
  • first tee jitters
  • pressure from groups behind you
  • playing alone or solo
  • losing consistency
  • hitting a poor shot

Performance Anxiety in Golf – Fight or Flight

This fear is real and it really can put pressure on your performance.

Otherwise known as performance anxiety in golf and other sports as well.

The body responds to this anxiety just like any other stressful situation. With flight or fight mode which can bring on shaking, sweating, and a racing heart, just to name a few.

Then, thoughts like “I hope to don’t top this ball” or “I hope I don’t put this ball in the water” or “please don’t let me make a fool of myself” is very common for a majority of golfers.

While I have gotten used to this feeling, and have learned a few ways to handle it, it is still something that each and every one of us must handle out on the golf course.

I remember the first time I experienced my hands shaking in a competition. I was putting a 4 footer and I really had to keep my hands from shaking. Crazy how the body works like that.

Luckily, there are ways to overcome nerves and anxiety in golf. The more you play, the more you experience these situations, and the more aware of these stress signals, the better you will become at handling and conquering them. Trust me, it has gotten better over the years for me.

Below is a list of my top 11 tips on handling this stress. I hope it will help you feel more confident and comfortable while playing golf.

Top 11 Tips to Handle Fear and Performance Anxiety In Golf

First Tee Jitters in Golf

1. Breathe.

Don’t forget to breathe. Take a nice big breath and breathe it out, then hit. This can do wonders to help you relax.

2. Take Aim.

Find your target. Then concentrate or focus on this instead of the worrying thoughts in your head.

3. Visualize.

This one is big. Our bodies usually will do what we think of. If you worry about a poor shot while addressing the ball, guess what our body is going to do? Yes, produce a poor shot.

To produce a beautiful shot, we must think and visualize that shot so our body has a better chance of performing it.

4. Preshot Routine.

Professional golfers all use a pre-shot routine. If you watch the tour players, they each will do the same pre-shot routine before they hit the ball. Beginners and recreational golfers can and should implement this tactic as well. It is a great way to calm the nerves.

It can help put the mind at ease because you are doing what you always do. The mind and body are used to performing with the same routine and won’t be as nervous.

5. Swing Thoughts.

It’s ok to think about 1 – 2 swing thoughts. If you have more than that, it will make you crazy and your mind won’t know what to focus on. Keep it simple and positive. When I am nervous, I like to think “Keep your head down and swing easy, through the ball”.

6. Be Committed.

Once you make a decision on what club to use, and where your ball needs to go, you must commit to that shot or your swing might be uneasy and lack confidence.

7. Favorite Club.

If you are nervous, it doesn’t make sense to use a club that you are unsure you will hit well. Use a favorite or go-to club in this case. It’ll make you more confident.

8. Be Ready.

If you are fumbling around your bag or still trying to decide what club to hit when it is your turn, you may feel rushed or nervous as others are waiting and watching you. Be ready and prepared when it is your turn.

9. Prepare and Practice.

If you know you are golfing later in the week, it is worth it to head out to practice beforehand. If you know you may get nervous on the tee, practice your drives. If your putts are your weak points right now, practice those. Practice will help increase your confidence out on the course.

10. Have Fun.

Remember that golf is a game. Try your best to not worry too much about your performance. Everyone who golfs has good and poor shots – it’s part of the what makes the game challenging and unique. Most of the time, other golfers are thinking about their own golf game.

11. Smile.

This is a very effective little tip I personally do when addressing the ball and I am really nervous.

I’ll smile and say to myself, “I LOVE this game!” and then I hit the ball. It works really well for some reason – maybe because a smile seems to relax me and shoots positive vibes through my body, loosening up any tension.

Mindfulness in Golf

I hope these tips have provided a way to conquer nerves on the golf course. Though golf is physical and is an activity, it is very much a mental game as well.

I reached out to my friend, Pamela Ressler, an expert on mindset and meditation and Owner of Stress Resources. She offers a great method for handling anxiety and nervousness not only on the golf course but in life.

What mindset tips can you provide to help golfers with handling anxiety and nervousness on the golf course?

“I love this question — because it doesn’t just apply to golf but to life!

Golf is as much a mental game as a physical game — but do we ever consider that our ability to work with our nervousness or anxiety on the course is as important as our technique with a putter or 9-iron?

Using mindfulness tools on and off the course help to keep excess nervousness at bay — try my easy to remember mindfulness mnemonic before every shot: G.O.L.F. and see the difference in how you feel on the course:

G: Glove — notice the ritual of putting the glove on your hand. Can you feel each of your fingers? Notice the sensation of stretching and closing your hand by focusing on the movement. How does this hand feel different from the ungloved hand?

O: Observe your breath— by releasing the abdominal muscles and allowing your breath to drop into the belly you will roadblock your “fight or flight” reaction, which we notice as stress. Try to expand the belly on the inhale and deflate it on the exhale.

L: Listen — notice sounds and sensations around you. This helps you focus but step away from rumination, expectation, judgement 

F: Focus — what do you notice about the ball in front of you, the grass, the tee? Allow yourself to drop into this moment — not the past or the future. Meet the hole with a sense of curiosity not judgement or dread.”

–Pamela Ressler, Owner of Stress Resources

Letting Go of the Fear and Focus on Why You Golf

With golf being such a mental game as well as performance based, golf can cause stress and fear.

Just remember that golf is a game and you are out there to have fun. For most of us, golf is a pastime, a hobby, and a way to stay active and mentally engaged.

And it is meant to be challenging at times. Many people expect to have perfect shots every time, but that is not the game of golf. Try to let the fear and stress of being perfect go, and remember why you are out there golfing.

Enjoy the time you get to spend outside with friends or new acquaintances. Enjoy the fact that you are learning a great sport, and also learning about yourself as well.

And don’t worry, everyone feels anxious at times on the golf course. I find as I get better at golf, I have gained more confidence on hitting a good shot when needed. So, that too will come in time as you play more.

Do you have anxiety or stress while playing golf? Have you learned how to handle it? I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions in the comments below.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you such wonderful tips for managing stress. I am a 68 yr. young beginner and needed these stress managers. Keep them coming!