Column: Don’t let fear rent space in your brain

Betsy Larey
Betsy Larey

How many times have you been tentative over a shot you are facing? Maybe you were unsure of the club selection, or the distance, or your ability to actually hit the shot you’re attempting. When you plant the seed of doubt in your brain, the fear factor sets in and we all know it’s downhill from there.

Fear is actually a physiological effect that can ruin your golf game. So if everyone knows this is true, why can’t most people control it? I think it’s because most people have no strategy for what they are going to do when faced with adversity during a round of golf.

You can’t make fear go away but you can know your tendencies when fear sets in. Does your swing get quick? Do you decelerate on the downswing and bail out on the shot? Do you pull it? People do different things but we all tend to do the same thing over and over. So the first thing you need to figure out is what you do when you are bit with, what I call the “fear bug.”

The first thing that happens most often is muscle tension. I’ve seen many players shorten their backswings and that is a telltale sign of tension setting in. This is because muscle tension works its way into your hands first. The other common problem associated with muscle tension is blocking the ball to the right. The tighter you hang on to the club, the harder it is to release the club head though impact.

In the short game, tension will kill those little ‘touch shots’ around the green. If you decelerate when hitting a wedge, you can hit it fat, blade it across the green or top it and watch it go about 3 feet.

Here are a few suggestions you can try when the fear factor sets in.

When faced with a difficult shot, make sure you take a big breath right before you make the shot. This takes all of the tension out of your muscles and allows you to hold the club with your perfect grip pressure. Trust me, this works.

One of the best tips I’ve picked up this year is to say the words “smooth swing” as you’re swinging the club. Those two words put together are the perfect tempo for the golf swing. The other thing that’s accomplished when you say this is it forces you to have a transition at the top. There has to be a transition from the backswing to the forward swing. If there isn’t, the sequential order falls apart and the result is usually pretty ugly. Give it a try, it works for me and it really helped the girls on my high school golf team this year.

And then there’s the most basic concept of all; keep your eye on the back of the ball. Once your left brain takes over with mechanical swing thoughts, it’s so easy to forget what you are trying to do here — hit the ball.

The best way to conquer fear is to not let it have the opportunity to rent space in your brain. The easiest way I know of is to have a perfect pre-shot routine. I have written about this before. You are so busy going through the process, you don’t have time to let it seep in. So if you know your tendency is to tighten your grip, make sure you build the deep breathe concept into your pre-shot routine. If you know your tendency is to decelerate on your short game shots, have your one swing thought be to accelerate through the shot.

Everyone acts just a little bit different when the fear factor sets in. The next time you’re playing an important match, make a mental note (better yet, a written one that you can catalog) of what happens when you are faced with adversity. I think you’ll find that you do the same things again and again. Knowing what your tendencies are and having strategies in place to deal with them will help you gain confidence and become a better golfer.

Betsy Larey is an LPGA Class A Teaching Professional who has taught adults and juniors for years. She is the Head Coach of the White Bear Lake girl’s golf team this season. She has taught at the PGA Tour Academy in St Augustine Florida and has coached at Carleton College and Flagler College. She teaches in Stillwater, White Bear Lake and Hudson Wisc. You can reach her directly at [email protected] or call 651-470-2297.