How many times a round do we find ourselves unable to relax before a shot? How many times does this ruin the sequence? We don’t finish our back-swing before we start down or we are nowhere near the angles needed to bring the club down on the ball smoothly. I think of this (in any form) as a lurch.

When we are not relaxed and primed, we will not likely like the swing, the feel of the swing, or the result of the swing. We know this. We can repeat this to ourselves before, during, and after our round. But we can’t put “relaxed” and “tempo” first at the exact time when they are needed— when it is time to make a swing under pressure.

Let’s first look at forms of pressure— from least to most.

  1. When first learning something new in a golf swing’s sequence, we have little pressure and can easily stay relaxed. We expect to have issues grooving a new sequence or position. If, over time, we believe we are not making the appropriate progress with the new sequence, we can start applying just the smallest amount of pressure on ourselves. Not a bad thing in itself; but if we can’t talk ourselves down, we are eventually likely to abandon the effort. Over time, this may even affect our approach to learning and practice.

  2. Moving from learning to practice and drills, we encounter our first, very natural, form of pressure. We expect more in this phase— but it is still nowhere near muscle memory. So our expectations are nowhere near reality in the beginning. We need to remember that the sequence worked when we focused on exclusively and will take time to make second nature. Maybe lots of time.

  3. This can be a particularly bad time on the actual course. If you don’t commit to the new sequence you can undermine the changes making them take longer. If you do commit to the new sequence, you may be in for a long day as large portions of your swings are all mixed up with old and new. Over time, the percentage of shots will naturally use the new sequence. Still, every once in a while, the old sequence sneaks in. At some point, the new sequence in fully ingrained. Your practice sessions and your play on the course both comfortably use the new sequence without having to even think about it.

  4. Until you find some pressure greater than a round of golf with you friends. Enter the lurch in its full glory. This could happen when you are trying to impress someone, or playing in a small tournament, or a big tournament, or a super-difficult shot, or too much money on the line, or trying to break 90 for the first time.

So let’s take a few stabs at limiting our lurches that are based on pressure:

Stab #1. Alleviate the pressure. There is lots of good golf writing on this; but my favorite approach is to re-think the situation. Is this putt to win your first tournament? Walk through a quick “what’s the worst thing that happens” exercise. You don’t win the tournament. With you growing skill, another chance will quickly follow. You would get a chance to practice good sportsmanship. Now put your best stroke on the ball.

Stab #2. Grow your perspective. Let’s go back to the “putt to win the tournament” scenario above. In that time and space, you are totally locked in to the importance of the moment, the fear of failure, the immediacy of the hole, the ball, your shaking hands, and your heart racing. Take a step back. Look at your opponent. He’s shaking almost as much as you (maybe just inside). This moment means just as much to him / her. Look around the green, and around the course. See everyone playing their own rounds? This moment for you is just one of the many moments happening all around the course. It is important. Very important. But not critical. Enjoy your moment.

Stab #3. Make yourself get used to pressure. Pros bet massive amounts of money when they aren’t playing tournaments to keep themselves accustomed to pressure. If you want to be able to handle tournament pressure, then play more tournaments. You’ll get better with that kind of pressure. Bet with your friends (but not too much). Play 2-ball worst ball when you are practicing. Get used to handling the pressure.

Of course, for many of us, we simply aren’t good enough to find ourselves needing to handle tournament pressure. We just need to remember to relax, don’t take on too much, and swing smooth. Lurching can’t happen if you relax and swing smooth.

But if you are anything like me, that only lasts three or four holes. Then I start swinging harder… relaxed and smooth be damned.