Whether teeing off in the final group in the final round of The Masters, or standing over a 4-foot putt to win a couple of bucks from your buddies, golfers at every level experience nerves and anxiety. Experiencing so-called butterflies in sports is a common feeling – and can be a beneficial one. It means you care about your performance. The key is learning, through experience and awareness, to harness the nervous energy and to still perform at the top of your game. It is a mindset that has been referred to as keeping the butterflies flying in formation.

Matthew Keller, a PGA Certified Professional at Cripple Creek Golf and Country Club in Bethany Beach, DE, offers his insights on mastering your nervous energy while on the course.

Analyze Past Performances – There are a number of techniques you can use to help relax during the round. First, think back to your best performance. What was going through your mind during your round? Now, think of your worst performance. Compare the two performances. Most people find their thoughts and feelings are distinctly different when comparing playing well and playing poorly.

Arousal Levels Determine your optimal arousal level during play. A football player probably feels intense and explosive on the opening kickoff. Typically, a golfer should not feel that same intensity on the first tee or throughout the round. While every player is unique, the majority of golfers should feel calm and relaxed. In fact, relaxation could help many players become more effective and consistent during a round. A personal form of meditation can help quiet the mind, improve concentration and reduce muscle tension.

Breathing Techniques One of the easiest ways to control anxiety and muscle tension is through breath control. When you are tense, breathing is short, shallow and irregular.  When you are calm, breathing is smooth, calm and rhythmic. The next time you face a pressure situation pay attention to your breathing. Avoid breathing in and holding your breath, which only increases muscle tension. Try taking deep breaths and focus on breathing out to decrease muscle tension.

Positive Thinking – Positive thinking is a powerful mental tool in a stressful situation.  Use positive self-talk to boost your confidence. Tell yourself you can make a three-foot putt. Confident players focus on why they will succeed, not excuses why they will fail. Focus on your great week of practice or the thousands of three-foot putts you previously made. Automobile baron Henry Ford’s quote applies to golf: “If you think you can do a thing, or if you think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

Visualization – Practice a visualization technique to develop confidence in each shot.  Many successful golfers visualize themselves in a competitive situation and successfully performing a skill. For example, visualize hitting a slight draw with a driver down a tight par-5 with water on both sides. Visualization does not guarantee a good shot; it does help experiencing confidence in the upcoming shot.

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