By: Ray Bikulcius
In September of 1999 at The Country Club course in Brookline, Massachusetts, the United States was lagging behind 10-6 in the Ryder Cup. Now known as, the “Battle of Brookline”, Justin Leonard was left to make up the four-point deficit on the 17th green. The win, his team, reputation, fame, and glory weighed heavily on his shoulders as he walked up to take the putt. Keeping a calm, confident composure, he made the putt that would be remembered as, “…the greatest putt in Ryder Cup history, there’s no doubt about it,” according to NBC’s Johnny Miller. Leonard’s incredible putt catapulted his team to victory in the Ryder Cup.
When making a high stakes putt, I reflect on the concentration and calmness that Leonard brought to the green. He was confident in his approach, practice, and routine, and that’s how he was able to hit the putt of a lifetime. When you ingrain a routine and mental approach into your brain, the pressure becomes more manageable and less overwhelming and you’re able to succeed. While we might not have the pressure of the Ryder cup following us around the course, it’s safe to say, the pressure is still on. Figuring out the best way to deal with that pressure will help you become a better player.
When players lack confidence, they become more tense in their game and will likely miss the shot. However, when they have a tried and true pre-shot routine, that fosters confidence, they give themselves a much better chance of making the putt.
I’ve coached a variety of clients throughout the years, but one thing remains consistent when pressure befalls a nervous player: Nervous players will decelerate their stroke, leading to poor contact and missing cup entirely. If the stroke isn’t smooth and consistent, a player risks the embarrassing, glancing blow. Confident players have a smooth, consistent stroke and make the shot. In practice, make a confident putt and aim for the back of the cup. It may be helpful to practice taking away the break completely and become accustomed to hitting the flagstick. By practicing a harder stroke, you’ll become more comfortable with a smooth, consistent putt.
TRUST YOUR ROUTINE
I’ve found, golf is the only sport where the practice conditions are easier than the competition conditions. Many golfers tend to practice the perfect stroke on an ideal green without any variance or undulations. They eliminate pressure in practice, golf only on fair weather days, and pick a favorite course, instead of a challenging one. I cannot encourage you enough to resist the temptation of an easy practice. Your ability and confidence level rely heavily on a sound practice routine that challenges you. Practice different scenarios, courses, and shots to feel confident in what you’re doing. Tell yourself, “I know I can,” instead of “I think I can.” Through a practice routine, you will become less timid, hesitant, and fearful, and gradually be assured you know what you’re doing.
Push yourself to practice hard shots and practice under pressure. Give yourself negative and positive reinforcement by playing against your friends with something on the line (golf balls, candy bar, or the next cold one). When we consistently put ourselves in high stakes situations, we will gradually grow more comfortable working under pressure and choke up less often.
In setting up a well-rehearsed pre-shot and post-shot routine you will be prepared for whatever the course holds. By challenging yourself with friends and putting the pressure on, you will become comfortable with stress, discomfort, and intense focus. Through this practice, you can approach any putt with trust and confidence that you have fully prepared.
Ray Bikulcius is a ONE Way Mental Fitness Golf Coach in Denver Colorado. He has been helping golfers reach their potential as a fitness golf instructor for six years. Ray is currently accepting new clients; visit his website for more information or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.