4 Ways Golfers Can Avoid Choking

Note: The following blog is addressed to golfers directly.

Choking is a natural part of sport, golf especially. At the big moment, with our anxieties high our thinking mind, which we can control, usurps command of our swing from our non-thinking, instinctual side, which can’t be controlled. For skilled golfers, the fine tuned, rhythmic action of the swing is almost instinct. The plodding conscious mind can’t hope to keep up.

Sport psychologist Sian Beilock from the University of Chicago set up some experiments to see how golfers would handle pressure. In the first experiment, golfers were forced to putt quickly. Low handicap players performed better when they had time pressure to putt instead of taking their time at a pace of their own choosing. For high handicap players the opposite was true. Without a deeper, more ingrained skill set, they putted worse when they had to do so quickly. The takeaway for more highly skilled and experienced players was to question the old adage about slowing everything down when the pressure mounts.

Another study revealed a dramatic decrease in performance when they were asked to spend five minutes explaining their putting technique before taking a stroke. Similar studies reached the same conclusion: under pressure, the goal should be to disengage the conscious mind as much as possible. This is much easier said than done however.

Recommendation: Sport Psychologist Tom Dorsel suggests the following techniques to defend against choking. 1) Distract yourself by humming your favorite tune before putting or taking a shot. 2) Develop a rock solid pre-shot routine and never deviate from it. However, in the heat of battle late in a round, golfers don’t always stick to their plan, which lessens the impact of the routine. 3) When the heat is on, favor shots that are simple and straightforward, while avoiding those that require delicate skills. 4) The best way to fight off choking is to frequently put oneself in pressure practice situations that may cause you or your teammates to choke. After practicing under these conditions, record how you and your teammates reacted. Do a self-analysis. What helped you conquer the pressure in practice? What things did you or your teammates do that caused more pressure? For example did giving a fist bump after making a putt help or hurt performance on your next tee shot? What can I transfer from the practice situation that works best during live action?

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