Two weeks ago, I (Tim) played in the PGA Winter Series Event in Port Saint Lucie Florida. It was the National Junior/Senior Championship. A tournament consisting of PGA professionals from across the US and abroad, making up 2 man teams – one junior (less than 50 years of age) and one senior (50 years and older). Yup, I’m the “old guy” – I turned 50 a couple of months ago. BTW – I don’t feel “old” – but my 41-year-old partner let me know that I was the “old” guy in our pair many times. The 2 man teams play a best ball type format (both play the hole, and you take the best score on the hole).
Anyway – I wanted to write a little about the event and a very interesting issue I dealt with during the event – pressure.
Yes, I have played in hundreds of golf tournaments in my life… Everything from PGA events, to USGA majors to local club championships and everything in between. In fact, up to a couple of years ago, I would play in 20 to 25 events every year. I love playing in tournaments, I love the challenge, I love the competition, to me there is no better challenge then taking your game and testing it against the course in competition. I don’t care if it is a tournament I am teeing it up against Tiger (and I’ve done that a few times) or against your local buddies for a few $, the feeling of the challenge and competition is what I truly enjoy.
But…. to be honest, the past couple of years have been “down time” for me… I have been traveling across the U.S. with my son following his baseball, knowing I only have a couple more years until he is in college (or the pros) and him playing away from home. Yup, wouldn’t change it for a second – it has been absolutely AWESOME and something I would wish everyone could experience (those who have experienced watching their children’s successes (and failures) understand) …
So, during this down time the situations I have been in have been completely different. A completely different type of pressure. Is there pressure watching my son – no doubt. But a pressure I had NO control over. (And as many of you know, that might be the worst type of pressure). But, pressure none the less.
This tournament, a big tournament is considered a PGA “major” for use PGA professionals that work for a living. This is where I found myself 2 weeks ago. I have been looking forward to this event for a few months. Practicing inside (my academy) and out, trying to get on the course as much as you can in the winter, trying to get my game back to where it was a couple of years ago when I was playing in my 20+ events for the year. When I left for the event, I felt pretty good. I felt like I was ready to tee it up.
My partner and I went down to Pt. St. Lucie and had practice rounds on the three courses the event was held. One round on the Wanamaker, one round on the Dye, and one round on the Ryder courses. Then the final round (after the cut) was on the Ryder course. All three practice rounds went well, the courses were wet from the rain, greens were very good (not too fast or hard) and I felt like we had a really good chance to play well.
Tee time – 9:30 – Ryder Course
Windy, rained the night before… Course was very wet, playing long and fairly tough conditions. JUST LIKE I WANT IT! I consider myself a “mudder” – the worse the conditions (wind, rain, wet, etc..) the more I like it. I feel like with my short game I will have a big advantage on the field when the course is playing long and hard. The tougher the better – especially when you have a couple hundred teams and almost all are good players. The tougher the conditions, the more the field will separate.
So, I begin my round and hit it pretty well (for the conditions). Give you an example – Hole # 1 is a 430-yard par 4 that is normally driver and then an 8 or 9 iron. This day it played Driver and then 4 hybrid. Straight into the 30 mph wind and really, really wet. The 2nd hole is a 410-yard par 4 that you can cut the corner a little and typically a driver and wedge. This day it played Driver and then a 4 hybrid (again). Like I said – a tough day was in front of us…
As I started down # 1, I hit a good drive and a really good 4 hybrid about 20 feet left of the hole. My partner hit his drive and a 3 iron a few feet short of the green (actually a pretty good 2nd shot). As I approached the green to mark my ball… something unusual for me happened. I felt VERY uncomfortable. In fact, I felt really NERVOUS.
My partner had chipped up to about 8 or 9 feet for par – not an easy par by any stretch. In fact, probably going to be tough to make par for him. So I’m setting up over a 20-foot birdie putt and my heart feels like it is in my throat. As I was waiting for another gentleman (in our group) to play, I happened to look down at my “Fit Bit” I was wearing (an apparatus that records heart rates, # of steps you’ve taken in a day, miles you’ve walked, calories burned, etc..) and my heart rate (beats per minute BPM) was running about a 110 to 115. For those that don’t know about heart rates, that is pretty high in that circumstance. A reference – for me – resting heart rate is around 58 BPM, when I sleep it is around 50 BPM, when I walk briskly (exercise), it is about 80 to 90 BPM, when I exercise light it is around 100/110 BPM and when I run hard (very hard) it is around 140 BPM.
I’m looking at my Fitbit and it is registering like I am in exercise state (called Fat Burn Range). And I’m only about to hit a putt…Wow!
Result of the putt – I hit it about 2 feet short of the hole, and made my next putt for par.
I have to be honest with you, I was not comfortable during the round on the greens. I consider myself a good/in fact, sometimes a great putter, and very good short game – but I was uncomfortable with the pressure. It was not a “place” I wanted to be.
I want to show you a chart (recorded during the round on my Fitbit) of what I was dealing with:
Want to know something interesting – look at the chart above… Count the number of peaks between 10 am and 2 pm…. Yup – you guessed it – 18. 18 times I was on the green putting and my heart rate was way too high. Way too uncomfortable. The 2 peaks you see after the round was a short run I took after the round and a work out I did that night. My heart rate during the round was just as high as during my workouts and it was while I was putting. (I checked my heart rate when I was on the tee and during 2nd shots, etc… it ranged between 75 and 85 bpm. It was 20 to 30 bpm higher when I was on the green putting).
So why??? Why was I dealing with this? By the way – my partner and I shot 8 under that day. I made 6 birdies, my partner made 3 (we made one on the same hole) – no bogies. After day #1 we were tied for the lead. 8 under on those conditions – was a REALLY good round.
But, again – why?? Why was I so uptight and nervous when I was standing over my putts or about to putt…? It was something I knew would catch up to me during the event if I didn’t figure it out. It was only a matter of time until my nerves caused a few 3 putts or a few missed short putts for birdie, etc…
Here are the answers I came up with (from thinking about the past, about working with past sports/athletic trainers, mental game coaches, etc..).
1. Reason I felt more pressure on my putts was because of my level of expectation. It is/was much lower than when I’m over a full swing shot. When I’m over a driver – I never expect to hit it perfect. It doesn’t happen that often. It the nature of the game. A good drive is one with average to good distance for me on the correct side of the fairway. I never think I’m going to hit a “particular blade of grass” in the fairway when I stand over my driver. I try, in fact, try hard to hit it “perfect” – but the outcome can be a “slight” miss hit and if in the fairway with pretty good distance, I am not disappointed.
When I’m over an approach shot into the green, I pretty much have the same expectation as I do over my driver. I want to hit the ball close, in fact, I want to make it, but I know in reality, if I get the ball within a certain distance from the hole, I am happy. In fact, many times, if I hit the correct side of the green, I am happy (long shots, etc…) I understand, even for the best professionals in the world, a 7 iron hit from 160 yards will end up on average 20 to 25 feet from the hole. That is far from “perfect”. And I understand and am happy with that…
Now – over my short game…. that is COMPLETELY different. I expect, EVERY time whether I am over a chip or pitch shot, I will get the ball up and down or even make it. I will hit the chip or pitch shot and one putt for birdie or save par… every time. And with that expectation, I expect to make the putt. Whether I hit the green with a shot from the fairway, have chipped/pitched up to the hole, if that ball is within 15 to 20 feet from the hole or less, I expect to make it. My expectation is to make the putt. Outside of 15 to 20 feet, or maybe a severe green, etc… I want to lag the ball close to the hole for an easy 2nd putt, and if the first putt goes in, great, if not, as long as the 2nd putt is a few inches… I am good and happy with the outcome.
I think you see the difference here. Level of Expectation.
2. Reason # 2. Now, top that with playing with a partner/on a team. Not only are you doing it for you, you are playing for the team. I am not saying I don’t want to let my partner down, but I guarantee all those who have played on a team know there is some added pressure when you are playing for someone else.
(I once talked to Chad Campbell about his Ryder Cup experience… he said he was so nervous before he teed it up at Medina, that he threw up on the way to the first tee…. Why, because it was for his team and country – not for himself.) Now, I’m not talking that much pressure or nerves of course… but pressure is pressure and nerves are nerves… And I can tell you during this round, the pressure was definitely getting to me on the greens and I didn’t like it.
So, that night (after the first round), I thought about this. Even talked to my partner (a good friend of mine) about it. I even pulled out some old notes on my computer (from previous years play during events) and tried to recall how I handled pressure in the past.
2nd Day – Tee Time – 10:30 Wanamaker Course –
Here we go again. This day it was still wet (from the previous rain), but not as windy. In fact, turned out to be a very nice day. But the Wanamaker Course is probably 3 to 4 shots harder than the Ryder Course (in most opinions). We teed off and started our round. As I approached the first green, I began to think about the differences I was going to do this day.
#1 – I was telling myself to have Moe’s attitude on the green – “An Alert Attitude of Indifference”. To me, meaning, I want to give it my best shot, best putt, etc… but what happens after I hit the shot is what it is… It is out of my control when the ball leaves the putter face. Give it 100% effort and then see what happens. I am not going to judge the outcome as good or bad, but rather as I gave it my best effort.
#2 – I was NOT going to think about the “making” the putt (visualize the make) until it was my turn to putt. I would line it up, read it, watch the other balls on the green (watching break, speed, etc..), but I was not going to visualize the putt going into the hole until I stepped up to my putt for a couple practice strokes and then the putt. I realized I was sitting on the green waiting for everyone else to play and was worrying myself to the point of WAY too much pressure. I was sitting there watching everyone else worrying about making my putt. There was not good reason for that. I would “think about making it” when it was my turn.
#3 – For me – talking really helps me calm my nerves. In fact, when I talk my heart rate goes down significantly. (Probably for many – breathing out during talking, etc…) So, I decided, when my partner and I were getting to the green and waiting for the others to play up to the green, I would talk to him – like a caddie. Not about things like “We have to make this putt” or “We are playing good/or bag” – but rather, things that were not related to the moment. This was “down” time – time we were waiting for our turn. We have plenty of time when it is our turn to discuss the line, the speed, the putt, etc… but while we were waiting, we would talk about something else (our dogs, my son, the “birds and bees, flowers and trees” as Moe would say). You all think that when the professionals talk to their caddies on the course it is all business…. it is anything but. In between shots, it is about anything except golf. There is no way a player can handle 4 to 4 1/2 hours of stress like that. A caddie’s job is to take off the stress.
I have a good friend that plays golf overseas. She has a caddie travel with her. She told her caddie – her only expectation was for her caddie to keep up, keep her clubs clean, give her yardages and have good jokes on every hole. When she ran out of jokes, she was out of a job….
#4 – If at any time I started to think about the upcoming putt (or short game shot) and it was not my time/turn to play – I would STOP. And stop by thinking about something else. In fact, I thought about being at home, sitting on my couch, talking to the dog…. yup the dog…. talking to my teenage son or wife…. too much pressure. So I pictured sitting on my couch talking to my dog….
Here is my chart from Day # 2:
Look at the difference. My heart rate still the highest on and around the greens. Yes, but when comparing the amount of peaks and the rate (bpm) it is significantly lower and less frequent. SIGNIFICANT. In fact, as you see, the highest my heart rate got this day was 102 – that was the highest, and only a couple of times for a short duration. The overall average was much lower and much less frequent. Looked like I had figured something out.
And as a side note, of course I was watching my Fit bit during the round. And was working on these same decreasing pressure techniques on all my shots. Not only putting, but over the driver, over the 2nd shots, etc… Why not? I believe the more calm, the less stress, etc… the better you will hit it any time…
2nd day results: Another 8 under (64). This day I made 5 birdies, my partner made 4 (again, one on the same hole). No bogies. Being this course was more difficult in general – we were happy with the 64. We ended the 2nd day tied for 2nd.
Day # 3 – Tee Time – 10:00 – Dye Course
Needless to say, I was pretty excited to get on the course the 3rd day… Only issue was we were about to step up on the Dye Course. For many, they really like this course… Me – it is my least favorite of the three. Not because of difficulty, but because of “fairness”. You can hit the drive down the middle of the fairway and end up in a pot bunker the size of an eye of a needle that you have to it backwards out of. And another person in your group and blow it 50 yards right of the fairway and have an easy shot into the green…. Little too “gimmicky” for me (think that is a word… you get my point). (If you ever see me in person, ask me the story some time about how I told this to Pete Dye himself – accidentally… oops)
We played the round and I used the same pressure coping techniques as the 2nd round.
Here are my results:
I’ll be honest – not quite as good as I wanted – but still better than the first day. And I can tell you – I definitely felt MUCH more comfortable around and on the greens this day.
Want an interesting side note… Look at the graph and the two peaks early in the round. Guess what, my partner was out of the hole on those holes. He had played great the entire tournament – but he went a little sideways on a couple early holes. Needless to say, my heart rate reacted accordingly. When you are as we call it “naked” on the hole – your partner is in his pocket… it’s a completely different pressure again. I think I did a pretty good job dealing with it – but that is the peak you are seeing early.
3rd Day Results – 3 under 69. I made 4 birdies, my partner made 1, and we made bogies on 2 holes. (Again, the Dye is my LEAST favorite course…) After Day # 3 – We have fallen to 9th place (out of about 200…)
Long story made short – we obviously made the cut. Going into Day # 4 we were very excited. Day # 4 was on the Ryder and I felt like we could go deep – and guess what – it was another windy, rainy day.
We teed off in one of the last groups, birdied the 2nd hole, birdied #3 and…… wash out…. We were called in and round/tournament was ended. Too much rain – tournament results after Day # 3 finalized. We ended up tied for 9th overall.
It was a great tournament. Not only because of getting the “juices flowing again” – but because it was a lot of fun to get the pressure feeling again. And I had never had a way to monitor it, check it, work on it like I did with the Fitbit heart rate monitor I was wearing. Did it help me during the round…? not really. But, it gave me great analysis after and a lot to work on now to help me lessen my pressure during upcoming tournaments and upcoming rounds (as you saw above).
Hopefully, this experience and the way I dealt with the pressure will give you some good ideas/hints on how to deal with your “pressure moments” on the course.
Trust me – I’ll keep you updated on my future events and how I deal with the circumstances then. Now that I’m a “senior” and will start playing in a few more senior events, I expect to try and put myself in many of these pressure moments. To me, that makes the game fun and a challenge I’m looking forward to.