Fear makes golf performance almost impossible.
The dictionary defines fear as:
1. (noun) an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
2. (verb) be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.
In golf, typically we fear bad outcomes or misses, the something dangerous, and we may fear what others think about our misses causing us pain, from embarrassment or criticism.
Our ancestor's development of fear triggered emotions had survival benefits. Fear is not comfortable. We want to escape those feelings and what triggered the fear. Fight or flight physiological responses are triggered by Fear.
Our ancestors that survived were the ones that fought the best or ran the fastest. Those Fear triggered emotions and physiological responses are all bad for golf performance and they are automatic. They are built into all of us.
The Fear emotions release chemicals in our bodies that cause our big muscles to tighten. We get stronger and faster but this is not good for our golf swings or short game.
They cause our focus to widen. We become more aware of those around us and noises or distractions. We sometimes go the other way and get tunnel vision. Neither helps us achieve optimum focus for our golf shots.
Our fine muscle control declines. We lose feel and sensitivity. This will reduce our feel for the speed of putts. It will reduce our feel for chips and sand shots, pitches.
They cause our brains to get busier. Good decision making becomes a problem.
When extreme fear is happening, we may lose touch with ourselves, our bodies. It may feel like we are out of body or our bodies are doing whatever they want. We have no direct control.
Fear leads to the classic “Choke”. Choking is the failure to perform when performing is most important. You can see how the Fear triggered responses cause choking or failure to perform normally.
Choke and then reacting emotionally to the Choking will train you to Choke in important situations, on shots that you have Choked on before. The Choking feeds on itself, increasing the Fear each time you do it. If this goes on too long the result will be a conditioned response to similar situations or shots, also known as the Yipps. It is very hard to break this conditioning.
If you are naturally a more Apprehensive personality type, your above average Fear of bad outcomes makes you more susceptible to developing this conditioning.
Golf is hard. Nobody hits the golf shot perfectly every time. Your mental and emotional response to your misses plus your level of Self-Assurance or Apprehensiveness determines how quickly your fears grow and whether you develop this conditioning.
Self-Assurance is key to standing up to misses and to un-conditioning the Yipps. The personality assessment we use compares your level of Self-Assurance to the Champion Tour Players in our studies. We have helped many players increase their Self-Assurance which helps reduce the fears and break any conditioning.
Handling the Fear and Resisting Conditioning
Fear does not happen all by itself. You do not inhale it or absorb it at the tournament. You may be able to sense it in others at qualifying school or the US Open or your Club Championship. It may feel like it just comes but it does not.
Your thoughts create the fear!
Control Your Thoughts and you can stop the fear and resulting reactions and poor performance.
Controlling your thoughts starts with your thoughts about your golf and your attitude towards competing. You must identify whether your thoughts about your golf are helpful or hurtful? Is your ego tied up in your results? Will poor results be embarrassing? Will failure to perform be unacceptable to you?
Please don’t misunderstand. We all want to perform at our best when we play. We will not be satisfied with sloppy play or play below our abilities. But nobody hits it perfect or makes the putt every time. We practice and take lessons and buy equipment and workout because we are motivated to compete well.
Over time we want and expect to get better at golf because of all the effort we are making to improve. When we fail to improve it is frustrating. When we miss a shot it can lead to a big reaction. Fearing missing or performing poorly leads to more fearing and more missing.
So what are your thoughts that are creating Fear and anxiety? Before and during the competitive round? Make a list and then consider whether those thoughts are valid or exaggerated. Are you creating Fears that do not need to be? We are playing a game. Nobody dies if we miss or make a high number. Yes, the outcomes can have impacts on our lives and future. But Fearing failure or bad outcomes and a bad, unhappy future will not help you play. Fearing what others think or how they will react to you is an Apprehensive mind set. You cannot control what they think. You must let it go.
Focus on Your Process, Not The Outcome
Start with the idea that you will do everything you can think of to play your best golf in this competition, the professional attitude. "I will control all that I can and let go of the rest, including my score and the outcome of any shot."
"I will manage my thoughts to enable my best performance. Then we will see what happens. If I get the breaks, if I manage myself in an optimum way, then I give myself the best chance of playing well and winning."
You must approach the game on a best efforts basis. As long as you do all you can to play well, you have to be satisfied with the result.
Nobody hits it perfectly every time. Beating yourself up mentally and reacting emotionally to a miss will anchor that memory and lead to lowered confidence and fear in the future.
If your mental game is good, then you should be playing a high percentage of shots with this level of commitment and trust and no fear.
If you try to perform by controlling your pre-shot routine and your swing perfectly then you will be inconsistent and set yourself up for Fear and conditioning from lots of poor results.
Catch those Fear creating thoughts early. You need good self-awareness of your thoughts. As you approach your shot, where is your mind? What are your thoughts between shots? What are your thoughts about the round the night before the round? Controlling Fear starts with awareness.
Do you have doubts about your ability to play this shot? What are you doubting? What is creating anxiety about this shot? Is it Fear of missing? Is it Fear of the hazard or the OB? Is it a previous missed shot? Is it lack of trust in your swing or alignment or ability?
Catch Those Fear Creating Thoughts and Change Them
When you recognize Fear creating thoughts, you must take steps to change them.
Saying to yourself, “stop thinking about that”, does not work very well. Don’t think about OB. Don’t think about the water. Don’t think about missing. Telling yourself to stop thinking about something brings that something more clearly to your attention. It leads to guiding and steering, or holding on through your shots. It makes for tentative putting.
So you must recognize you are thinking that Fear creating thought and then take steps to get rid of that thought and replace it with a thought that will help you perform. Helpful thoughts will have to do with a good mental routine and breathing to calm.
These could include: Focus on visualizing this shot really well; Get super committed; Imagine feeling the shot or putt as well as I can; Target, Target, Target; etc.
Be focused on the next shot. Nothing else. Visualize exactly how you want the ball to fly and where you want the ball to land. When putting visualize on your target. Specifically on how you want the ball to enter the hole. Oneputts.com Especially from 15 feet and in.
Learning to overcome your Fears and increase your Self-Assurance is the path to your champion game. Uncontrolled Fears and an Apprehensive personality are the path to failure and more Fear.
You must practice on the golf course as well. If your not use to going low or making birdies in a relaxed environment you will be apprehensive when playing tournments. Thus the reason for my students to play golf and not just beat balls on the practice range.