How to avoid first tee nerves

Mind coach Simon Vittelli helps you overcome a nervous start

Simon Vittelli
Wed, 7 Mar 2007
How to avoid first tee nerves

First tee nerves
Tiger looks focussed

Few Tour pros travel without a psychologist as part of their entourage because with so many talented players - coping with pressure and having confidence in your own ability is all that separates the winners from those struggling to make a living.

But access to a mind guru needn't be restricted to the pro - an amateur can benefit from some simple phsychology tips, too.

In this second in my series of articles I can help you overcome those inevitable first tee nerves.

First Tee Nerves

Every golfer can suffer from the anticipation of hitting that first shot in the round - from Tour pro to Sunday morning hacker.

Regardless of whether you are playing for your livelihood or merely competing in the monthly club medal or a competitive fourball first tee pressure eliminate all that rhythm and focus, you've just been practising - if you let it!

Club golfers often let the first tee shot dictate the whole round that faces them. Full of apprehension their chances of performing badly over the next few holes, hang on the anticipation of hitting a bad first shot.

I've even heard the story of a highly respected club professional, not used to playing competitively, because of his coaching commitments, joining a group of members on a day out and shanking his opening tee shot into a nearby spinney. The members were so shocked, they didn't know whether to laugh or sympathise. Allegedly the silence was deafening!

Downward spiral

If nerves get the better of you and a big miss-hit follows, it's a downward spiral, as you try to chase your score. And the damage has been done in your mind as you walk away from the first tee.

Alternatively a good tee shot, struck with confidence, settles the nerves, puts a spring in your step and sets you up for a good round that's both enjoyable and successful.

Nerves on the first tee
Nervous or what? These guys look a little apprehensive.

We tend to put too much emphasis on that first shot, pre-determined by our mental state as we head for the first tee.

If you have rushed to the course by not giving yourself enough time to prepare, are pre-occupied with domestic issues or in a bad mood, chances are you won't be relaxed and your lack of focus on the game will show when you reach the first tee.

Pressure is self-induced but things we can do to reduce or eliminate those anxieties.

Rehearse the perfect shot in your mind

One way is to mentally rehearse a successful shot - even the night before. Breathe slowly in and out and learn how to relax.

I cannot emphasise enough how breathing correctly controls anxiety and reduces apprehension.

Of course spending some time on the driving range helps not only to warm you up but releases some of the tension and helps find your rhythm for the day. They say there's no fear on the driving range and it certainly helps if you've hit even a handful of balls before the round begins.

Play the imaginary first on the range

It's also a good idea to imagine the first hole while on the range. Re-produce your pre-shot routine, take out the preferred club - driver, fairway metal or iron - then play the shot. Then imagine your approach shot and so on.

When you get to the first tee you know what shot you are going to take, and your breathing has helped you relax.

Keep yourself occupied

If you are still experiencing nerves do something while you wait. Do some stretching, check your course planner, exchange scorecard with your colleagues - whatever puts you in a comfort zone.

I've also known players who clear their minds by counting down (in threes) from 300 or recite the alphabet backwards to themselves. Anything to keep the mind occupied.

Once you are calm these simple pointers should increase your chances of getting off to a good start.

Don't change your game plan

As for club selection hit the one with which you are most comfortable to get you in play - changing from driver to 3-wood won't necessarily ease those nerves. Changing your game plan at the last minute can work against you.

Zero in. Pick your target - be specific not general - and picture the shot you want. See the ball flight as you want it and where the ball will land.

Play how you rehearse. Let your swing become a rerduction of your relaxed practice swing. No ball to hit means 'no pressure' and therefore 'no anxiety.'

Stick to the pre-shot routine

And stick to your pre-shot routine. This not only calms nerves but it reminds the body what mechanics are required to make the shot.

The pressure we put on that first shot is ridiculous and we should remember that it is only the first shot of many that day (well not too many!). Approach the first tee, relax, take the shot and walk away with a smile on your face.

Good luck.

Simon Vittelli is a qualified sports psychologist, with extensive knowledge of golf performance techniques, hypnosis and neuro linguistic programming.