Golfers Who Feel Pressure to Win

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Dealing with Pressure on the Golf Course

Have you ever played in a do-or-die round of golf? For example, you had to shoot a low score in a round to stay in contention or hold off the competition to win a tournament.

For whatever reason, you felt this one round was so vital that you had to be careful not to screw up.

How did you play in that round? Did the pressure get to you? Did you meet your expectations, or did you fall apart?

Under these circumstances, most golfers choke. Recently, a high school golfer sent us a question in our Mental Game of Golf Survey:

“Why is it that I always choke under pressure? In the most important tournaments of the season, I play my worst golf.”

The most important words you stated are “choke under pressure.” Golfers choke when they assign a higher level of importance to win. When you make the round bigger than it is, pressure increases.

When you tell yourself, “I have to win,” you are sending a negative message to yourself, “It’s win or else…”

  • “I have to win, or I won’t get a scholarship.”
  • “I have to win, or my parents will stop paying for private lessons.”
  • “I have to win, or it means I’m not good enough.”

That high degree of pressure hurts golfers from junior to Tour professionals. Excessive pressure causes you to tighten up, guide shots, miss putts, lose focus, and falter throughout the round.

You are probably thinking, “Winning is important.” Of course, you want to win. That is the reason golfers practice and prepare. When you want to win, there is still pressure but in manageable amounts.

Alleviating pressure starts with changing the messages you send yourself:

  • “I am going to focus on playing aggressively each point.”
  • “I will play tough throughout the entire match.”
  • “My opinion of my ability matters most.”

Take, for instance, golfer Patty Tavatanakit, the 2021 LPGA Rookie of the Year. At the 2021 Pelican Women’s Championship, Tavatanakit was in contention to win the tournament. Tavatanakit wanted to win but didn’t put undue pressure on herself.

TAVATANAKIT: “I just want to keep it light. I don’t want to think about winning tomorrow, just because if it were to be mine, it will be mine tomorrow if I can hold putts, hit good shots, execute.”

“Keeping it light” helps you to disregard negative messages and reframe the situation.

When your mind is not cluttered with intrusive thoughts, you free yourself mentally and physically to focus on your game.

A clear mind helps you swing the club freely and leads to better results during a round.

Change Your Objective on the Course

Call into question the reasons why you think you MUST win. “Is it true that losing a tournament means I can’t win in the future?”

Is it helpful to think you must win? Only if it helps you work harder or smarter in practice.

Try not to attach consequences to the round and instead focus on small objectives that will lead to consistency, such as sticking to your preshot routine.

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