How To Play Golf Under Pressure – So You Can Finish Off That Hot Round

I have been playing very consistently lately, averaging one over par over the last seven rounds. Good ball-striking, solid chipping and pitching and a streaky putter. A very low round is just around the corner!

Playing really well for 16 or 17 holes and blowing it on the last hole or two is a very common scene played out on golf courses in “members competitions” all around the World on a daily basis (and in some pro tournaments).

Now you have two options as a response to blowing a round:

  1. Blame this or that, or just forget about it and say ho hum…  “I blew that one” (and you will just repeat the outcome again) or
  2. Analyze what went wrong and DIG DEEPER into why you cracked; go read a book on golf psychology, talk to better golfers on how they cope with pressure and or – read the rest of this blog post!

Last weekend down at the club, as I was recording a solid 73 (1 over), a playing partner (off 8) was blowing his second round in a row where he was 39 points after 17 holes (he finished on 39). Plus, up in the car park I spoke with another guy (off 6 ) who did exactly the same… 39 stableford points after 17 holes; 39 points after 18 holes. Such a waste.

Here is what not to do and what TO DO – to finish off a hot round

Pre-shot routine

You should have an idea, even when you are off the course, about what you do before each shot.

Why is a pre-shot routine important? Without one, the pressure will tighten you up. (We all feel pressure; when you know what to focus on you can use this pressure and energy to play great shots). You may have bad thoughts; you may have vague thoughts like: “Don’t hit it there” or “Hit it anywhere down the right”. These typical internal commands are no good.

Firstly, the brain does not understand “don’t” very well, it evolved to REACT and DO. When I’m playing my best golf, I’m not positive and I’m not negative, I’m just wrapped up in the act or DOING… Where do I have to hit the shot? What shot-shape will hit? What swing and feeling will I use.

Secondly, “just hit-it-to-the right” to avoid going left…vague, not specific. As a result, the player will quite often still hit it left.

There is an old story about Ben Hogan and a caddy who had knowledge of a course Hogan was playing for the first time.

"Ben Hogan firing one in there"

Photo: “Ben Hogan firing one in there”

The caddy said something like: Hit the ball at the pine trees down there. Hogan replied: “Which one”.

This, ladies and gentleman, is FOCUS. It has a twofold effect:

  1. There is no “don’t” involved, there is “do”. And it should be like this for EVERY shot you play, and even more so when you are feeling tension towards the end of a good round
  2. It takes your mind off bunkers, water, OB, score and past poor shots.

“Pick out your target, work out what type of shot you want to hit (fade, draw, straight, high, low, punch), feel the type of swing you are going to use, then EXECUTE.”

This type of focus and adherence to a plan should be applied to every shot you play.

Often we swing too fast or take too long or not enough time when under pressure. This is the beauty of focusing on a specific target and “knowing the swing you are going to use, before you use it.” Once again, your mind is now focused on the target and the swing you want to use. It is being “busied” with the things you need to DO.

When you are “aroused”, playing well but feeling the pressure, you have a lot of energy running through your veins. You can do great things with this energy if you stay focused on specific targets – whilst creating great swings and shots with your arms, hands and body. But, if you are too loose and vague and don’t PROGRAM YOUR BRAIN with something specific as discussed, you will crack.

Specific targets. Specific swing.  Specific shot to be played. Stay focused.

Always use this process – especially when the heat is on! (I go into this mental skill in: Golf Mental Mastery and The Truth About Putting and The Automatic Golf System (Think, See, Feel, Swing).

If you like this post or you have a question on golf and or playing under pressure, leave  a comment in the comments section. You can also alert this post to friends if you think it will help them.











4 Responses to How To Play Golf Under Pressure – So You Can Finish Off That Hot Round

  1. Dave August 18, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    Hi Anthony
    What I don’t understand is with all these things we are learning about like focus’ balance’ swing’ pre-shot routine etc. surely the pro golfers already know all this stuff so why is it that we see the likes of “Rory’ Tiger & Phil hit a tee shot say” well to the left or right and even OB. if they can’t keep the ball on the fairway then what chance have we got :-))

    I think it doesn’t matter how good you are or how much practice and prep you do sometimes you will still hit bad shots weather you’re under pressure or not.
    and I think that’s what you have to put it down too it’s just a bad shot try and not do it again.

    • Anthony August 18, 2013 at 8:43 am #

      Hi Dave,

      Good to hear from you.
      Yes indeed mate, we all hit poor shots and we all sometimes don’t “close the deal” when the pressure is on but, if this happens repeatably, one should take action (dig deeper) to get better under pressure, it is an opportunity to improve and develop.

      Golf-Kaizen…constant improvement!

      So for someone playing off 18 – for example, finishing off a hot round would be simply having a bogie 5 on the last or 4 bogies on the last four. For me, it might be a par, for someone off 12 it might be a 4 or 5 (par 4 hole).

      On driving accuracy for the big boys you cited: do remember, these guys hit enormous distances and the further one hits hit, the further one can hit in to the trees!
      A 2 degree open club-face for someone that hits it 220 yards might be a miss of 10m. For Tiger or Rory, that same 2 degree open club-face might be 15-20m offline.

      Look at our Greg Norman versus your Nick Faldo when it came to playing under the most extreme pressure – The major championships…
      Greg Norman: 89 Pro wins, 34 victories on E.U. and US P.G.A Tours 2 Major wins and 7 Second places. . Norman: 2 from 9 conversion.

      Nick Faldo: 40 Pro wins, 39 victories on E.U. and US P.G.A Tours for 6 Major wins and 2 seconds. Faldo: 6 from 8 conversion.

      Faldo was excellent under pressure in the Majors, Norman was good sometimes but faulted many times. And to make it worse he stubbornly did not seek help.
      After Faldo beat him by 12 shots in the final round of the US Masters (yes that’s 12) he said “my swing broke down”. Now that comment is nothing short of delusional.
      Golf psychologists measured the time he took over the ball (he is very stationary and slow as it is) and his time got longer and longer. As a consequence there is build up of tension and poor shots are the result.

      Golf-Kaizen Dave and readers…getting a little bit better here and there, it adds up over time.:)

  2. Dave August 28, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    Hi Anthony
    I get you’re point and you’re right a few degrees open or closed club face for the massive hitters is a long way off line.
    and for us senior or weekend golfers 5 to 10m off line is probably something we can deal with so I don’t think we feel that much pressure the object for me is to go out with a few friends and play the best golf I can on that day and have some fun while secretly in my heart wanting to beat everyone else out of sight lol.

    I guess the most pressure I feel is on that 1st tee with everybody else watching preying to the golf gods that I hit a long straight drive
    if I do then I pretty much relax straight away but if I don’t then the pressure mounts.
    On the second T I would take a few deep breaths slow everything down a little make sure my fundamentals are right relax and swing again that usually does the trick.

    as for putting I feel more pressure on the 3 to 5 footers than I do on the 15 to 20 footers
    and when I miss I blame the usual suspects the wind blew it’ I dropped my putter on the way through’ someone moved the hole’ cramp in my wrist lol.
    I don’t have a pre-shot routine yet for putting i’m working on some drills especially how to control speed and distance and reading the green for instance on a 6 foot put which looks straight to me i’ll hit a straight shot only to see the ball veer off left or right about a foot from the hole I just didn’t see it so would like to learn more on how to read the greens it’s a work in progress.

    anyway enough from me
    talk to you soon m8

    • Anthony August 31, 2013 at 7:43 am #

      Hi Dave,

      For that 1st tee shot: 1. A good warm and a few hits in the practice nets helps to get the coordination going and the muscles warm.

      2. Make sure you focus on your target and what type of ball flight and swing you want pre-shot. And like you said, working on slowing down everything (relaxing).

      Putting: yep, the shorter the putt, the greater the expectation of making the putt. A routine and specific things to think about is the way around this. I like to aim at a small spot on the way to the hole. I do it when the pressure is on, I do it when there is no pressure. I always do it. Routine.


  3. Troy Vayanos September 15, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    Great advice Anthony,

    I have been guilty of the ‘don’t go there’ mindset in the past and it almost always backfires on you.

    I like the thinking of picking a target and the type of shot you want to hit and then executing. It’s clear, simple and gives your brain a target to aim for.


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