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.
The dreaded first tee.
A place where, generally, you hang out with your group, patiently anticipating the players ahead of you to clear, with a starter, a group or two already sitting behind you, and perhaps even a crowded putting green, golf shop or grill room all within eye-shot of your first drive of the day.
Got the sweats 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 — with hopes of the best round we’ve ever played circling around our heads to the fear of embarrassment if we hook one dead left O.B. or slice it into the lake on the right, all in front of our buddies and anyone else looking on who we feel has those peering, judging, going-to-size-you-up-by-your-tee-shot eyes.
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 thought: accept it.
It’s no secret in coaching that a big portion of how we work with our student-athletes is by leading them to learn about themselves — what pressure does to their bodies and in turn their swings, how to keep themselves as calm and as comfortable as possible, how to keep them focused on enjoying the moment as much as possible, and so on and so on.
So 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 whatever way you can calm your body and mind to swing freely, do it. Does it help talking to your friends about last night’s game, or about the kids, work or significant others? Does it help if you expend some of that nervous energy by walking around a bit 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 (at least a tiny bit) introverted and physically releasing the tension by continuing to move and be excited about the upcoming shot is the ticket.
Step 3: I just hinted at it with that last line but, yes, be 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.
One quick anecdote:
Four years ago I was a few years removed from having teed it up in a tournament. But I’ve always loved giving U.S. Open Qualifying a shot, so I decided to hone the ‘ol 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 helluva 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 remember telling my dad.
Of course he looked at me oddly but, too late, my name was called and it was go time.
Still nervous, I made it a point to say in my head, 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 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 ‘process’ (a trendy term of the last few years in pro golf — listen to most interviews and you’ll hear it) of enjoying the moment and how great it was that I was so nervous I could barely swallow.
First tee jitters? Own the moment and you’ve got a lot better chance of knocking that drive right down the middle.