For everyone that watched the end of the PGA Championship yesterday, you probably saw Mito Pereira hit his tee shot on 18. Many of you probably said the same thing I did; what in the world was that golf swing? The follow-through didn’t even get above his hips. There was so much pressure on the line that we probably won’t know exactly what he was thinking, but it made me think that we should probably talk about pressure shots. How do you hit that shot when you are under immense pressure to perform?
The first way to negate the jitters in a high-pressure situation is to fall back on your pre-shot routine. This is why we have a set pre-shot routine that we do every single time. Instead of focusing on the shot's intensity and consequences, you focus on the same preparation you do every single time. This can help you to think about the moment and not the future consequences that come with hitting this next shot, good or bad. A good pre-shot routine and sticking to your routine to focus you on the moment is the best way to cancel out the intense pressure.
Practice can lead to improvement if you are doing it right. Pressure moments will be your downfall if you have a swing change that you are not 100% comfortable with. Under pressure, people tend to return to their old swing to hit the tough shot. To combat this, you need to go practice; no other way around it. Not just any practice, though; you need transfer practice. Transfer practice is some form of competition or game you can play with yourself that has consequences so that you get used to hitting shots with some kind of pressure on you to perform. A great way to do this is if you don’t complete a goal, do pushups. Whatever you think is a suitable punishment for not completing, I would also employ rewards if you achieve something; for me, it might be, if I finish this drill or this goal while hitting, I get to drink a beer or smoke a cigar, or drink a nice bourbon. But You should often employ both the whiskey and the stick. This is a great way to end your range session; I need to hit 7 out of 10 greens from 180 yards or 8 out of 10 fairways with the driver; make your own fairways. You can also do this with putting drills and the up-and-down drill while chipping! It is a great way to put pressure on yourself while practicing, and you will react much better the next time you feel pressure on the course.
The best way to be ready for pressure in a tournament is to play golf when it means something. Gambling on the golf course, putting a bet out there, and playing that way is one of the best ways to prepare for pressure. The more you face pressure, the more you will be prepared. Juniors play as many meaningful tournament rounds as you can or play loser buys fries in the clubhouse, it doesn’t have to be for money, but it does need to mean something to you.
Know your miss
When you feel an enormous amount of pressure, you need to have an understanding of your miss. I’ve talked much about this, but it is imperative when playing under pressure. If you understand your miss when you are put under pressure, you can mitigate it. You can either play it, if you just need par on a hole, play your miss, if you need a birdie and have to hit it close, you can try to stop the miss from happening, or you can lean into it and make sure it happens, and that you aim for it. If you just need to hit the green and two-putt, play that miss to the middle of the green and make sure you put yourself in a position to succeed.
Know the Course
Every course and every hole on that course will play differently. If you know the course well, where you can miss, how the hole breaks, and if the hole plays long or short, you can mitigate the pressure. If I am comfortable on a golf course, I know what I am doing on each hole, and I can become much more comfortable on the golf course. I know that I can get up and down from certain spots; on the 11th hole at Timarron, getting up and down from short of the green is easy, but going long on that hole is death. Pressure gets a lot easier to manage when you know the golf course, that is why pros play practice rounds, and if you are going to play in a tournament, you should too!
No matter how often you feel pressure or how well you handle it, there will be times when you get a negative thought going. Our brains function because they do not understand “no” or don’t in reference to “don’t go right” or “I can’t go left here.” Instead, all your brain recognizes is go right and go left here. It won’t understand the don’t. So when you get the negative thought, don’t go right here; you will go right—every time. Instead, think hit the green. Or hit the fairway, and your brain will recognize those commands and attempt to do that. I would suggest looking up ways to delete thoughts from your head. There are ways to do it for sure. One thought experiment is to think about being stuck in a room with a massive tiger. The tiger is hungry. You cannot get rid of the Tiger; you cannot leave the room. How do you stay alive? Thinking about this thought experiment can get you away from thinking about a negative result and help you get away from bad thoughts. Another way to get away from bad thoughts is to visualize hitting a great shot in this situation so that you are prepared to hit a great shot. Do not think about the bad shot; visualize the great shot, and take practice swings to get the feel you need to hit the great shot you are trying to hit. You just cannot think negative thoughts!
Feeling pressure on the golf course is not in itself a bad thing. Being nervous means you care, and if you are never nervous over a shot or never feel any pressure, then you may not care enough to be playing whatever round you are playing. All of this being said, the best players in the world will collapse under pressure, just like Mito did this weekend. It is something that he will learn from and hopefully be back in contention at the next Major, ready for it this time. He is going to learn and come back better; his character just screams that he won’t let this knock him down, don’t let succumbing to the pressure knock you down. Be ready to fight it the next time!