Managing Anxiety for Winning Golf

Managing Anxiety for Winning Golf

What Happens To You When You Become Anxious?

Anxiety affects golfers on three levels: physiologically, mentally, and emotionally.

If left unchecked, the cumulative impact of these three elements can cause your performance to fall off the cliff.

Anxious golfers report several symptoms, such as pounding heart, tight muscles, inability to concentrate, racing thoughts, and intense emotions.

Overall, anxious golfers have difficulty slowing down their physiological and mental responses to stress.

Maybe you can relate to the experience of a golfer who responded to our Golf Mental Game Survey:

“How can I effectively control my emotions while playing golf (especially feeling annoyed by playing partners or slow groups ahead)? I can seem to ‘block it out’ for a few holes, but at a certain point, I falter, and then the game becomes very erratic. Trying to block it out seems to drain my mental energy, get me more anxious, and make it hard to focus on playing golf.”

One way of managing anxiety is to take a preventative approach. Knowing what triggers your anxiety creates an awareness of potential problematic situations.

Many circumstances trigger anxiety for golfers:

  • Playing with slow or noisy partners
  • Returning to competition after a layoff
  • Feeling trapped in a performance slump
  • Starting a round poorly
  • Missing close putts or bogeying an unusual amount of holes

When you gain awareness of your triggers, you can identify problematic circumstances and implement preventative strategies to avoid the build-up of anxiety.

Another approach to dealing with anxiety is to slow down your physiological and mental response to stress.

When you slow down your heart rate, your body begins to relax. When you calm your mind, racing thoughts slow down. 

By slowing down your stress reaction, you can reset and refocus on the task at hand. 

When your emotions flare up while competing, you can regain your composure by taking several deep breaths, using your self-talk to clear your mind, or taking advantage of the break between shots to slow down and reset for the next shot.

PGA golfer Gary Woodland returned to competition at the 2024 Sony Open, his first PGA Tour event since having surgery in September to remove a brain lesion.

Woodland, a four-time PGA Tour winner, commented on how he focused on breathing to regulate his emotions and deal with the stress he experienced during the round.

WOODLAND: “It was pretty tough out there. [I’ve] been here nine times. This was one of the hardest rounds I’ve ever had here, and I got off to a rough start. I was excited and was doing a lot of breathing, trying to slow everything down because I was moving fast. I settled in, especially the last nine holes, and played really, really well.”

Anxiety is a disruptive force in golf. The ability to manage anxiety and stress using mental skills are the first steps toward unlocking your full potential.

Know your triggers. Review past rounds when your anxiety was high. What were the circumstances that contributed to your anxiety level?

Next, identify ways you can slow down your mind and body. Think about the pace of your preshot routine.

Knowing you can control your stress responses is empowering and can improve your consistency. 

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Golfer’s Mental Edge 2.0

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Do you suffer from fragile self-confidence after missed hitting shots or making mistakes, playing with strict or high expectations that undermine confidence, or the inability to play freely and relaxed on the course?

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