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By Jon Levy — Founder
Since this is the first blog for the inspire Golf website, it’s only appropriate to talk about the first tee of any given round of golf.
Ah, yes, the ‘ole first tee. A place where you hang out with your group, patiently waiting for the players ahead of you to clear – your whole round in the balance – with a starter, players already behind you, and a crowded putting green, golf shop and grill room all within eye-shot of your first drive of the day.
Sweating just thinking about it?
You’re not alone. The first tee shot is commonly the most nerve-wracking shot of the round for golfers, anywhere from the 20-handicap to the 20-time Tour winner. There’s just something about that daunting first swipe of the round that sends our minds into a what’s-going-to-go-wrong-tailspin.
I can personally attest that, having played hundreds of tournaments in my life and experiencing this self-promoted angst myself, it’s something that’s just part of the game.
So, here’s a crazy thought: accept it.
It’s no secret that in coaching college golf a big portion of how we work with student-athletes is by leading them to learn about themselves – i.e. what pressure does to their bodies and swings, and how to keep calm and comfortable, and focused on enjoying the moment as much as possible.
How does that help you? By understanding you can learn the same things.
Step 1: Next time you feel pressure on the first tee or with any shot, identify what it does to your body and swing. Did you feel the butterflies then proceed to tense up at impact and hit it right? Left? Did you start moving quicker and just try to get through the moment as quickly as possible and forgo your normal pre-shot routine? Could you actually feel any difference in your swing when with the nervousness and notice that specific shot coming out, or the anticipation of that shot coming?
Step 2: Find a way – any way – to get comfortable. No, not talking about having a quick three drinks before you hit the first tee (but, hey, if it helps) – talking about finding any way possible to calm your body and mind to swing freely.
Does it help when you talk to your friends about last night’s game? Or about the kids? Or work, school, or significant others? Does it help if you expend some of that nervous energy by walking around and taking a couple, deep diaphragm breaths and practice swings while waiting?
Everybody is different. Some may notice focusing on something else by conversing with your group may help, while others may notice staying introverted and physically releasing the tension by continuing to move and be excited about the upcoming shot is the ticket.
Step 3: Step 2 just hinted at it with that last line but, yes, get EXCITED about the nerves you’re feeling and the moment you’re in! Even if you’re a professional golfer and your living is hinged on how well you play, IT’S ONLY ONE SHOT and one shot does not a round make.
Instead of dreading the first tee experience, own it. Accept that you’re going to feel those butterflies and feel excited that you get to experience those exact same nerves Tiger and Phil feel on the first tee of any given tournament.
A quick anecdote:
Four years ago I was several years removed from teeing it up in a tournament. But I’ve always loved giving U.S. Open Qualifying a shot, so I decided to hone the game and get ready for the Open Local.
Fast forward to a month after sending my entry in and there I was on the first tee, my dad on the bag and a hell of a lot of nerves pouring out of me.
Call it a moment of clarity, or a time of taking-my-own-coaching-medicine, or whatever, but instead of letting the nerves overcome me, I consciously decided to accept the situation and face it.
“I’m nervous as hell right now. Isn’t this great?” I said to my dad.
An odd look back from him immediately preceded my name being called to the tee – it was go time.
Still nervous, I made it a point in my head to say, over and over again, how cool that moment was and how I wanted to enjoy the experience, no matter the outcome.
So I swung, the ball went flying (the outcome doesn’t really matter, but it was a solid fairway hit) and off we went. I enjoyed the day, enjoyed my nerves likewise in the five-hole playoff for the last spot, and won the playoff to make it into the Sectional.
Again, the point is not the outcome but rather the idea of enjoying the situation and nerves to boot.
First tee jitters? Own the moment and you’ve got a lot better chance of knocking that drive right down the middle.