Would you like to play better golf when the pressure is on? This series will look at how I approached my recent Club Championship and overcome pressure and injury to perform well. There’s some good lessons to be had.

Round 1

As usual the first round causes it’s fair share of nerves. Everyone wants to play well so there’s always a bit of tension around the practice fairway and locker room.

A strategy that I use is to embrace the nerves. Instead of worrying about what is happening I look at it as a sign that my body is preparing for the round. For years I tried fighting these feelings without success. It’s much easier to accept nerves are normal and get on with it.

Despite what others say, they will be feeling the same. It’s normal – so don’t panic when you feel the rumble in your belly.

The bigger concern for me was a shoulder injury. My left shoulder had been giving me some grief for about a month. In that time I had physio and rest but it wasn’t too good. I couldn’t finish the round from the week before and I wasn’t certain I could play this day.

Warming up the shoulder was feeling OK. I knew it wasn’t great but I thought it would be good enough to get through the day. Boy was I wrong…

I quickly learned that practice fairway golf was a bit different from that on the course. I flinched on my second shot (I was feeling a tad uncomfortable) and scored a double bogey. It was like someone was sticking a needle into my shoulder joint. I’d get a nasty jab and it was hard to concentrate.

Sometimes a minor injury can be a good thing. You’ve probably heard the saying “beware of the injured golfer”. This works because your mind is taken off golf and is focused on the injury. Your subconscious mind is then free to play golf.

But this injury was different. It was affecting the way I played. Compounding the problem were the super hard and fast greens. The new course superintendent was keen to test every golfer playing.

The early part of the round consisted of flinched shots and a battle to keep the ball on the green. Then I had to try and two-putt which was easier said than done.

I kept plugging away. Despite some pain I made a couple of birdies. These always help to keep the score going in the right direction. After seven holes my score was still at only 2 over. Not too bad considering the double bogey start.

Then some problems set in.

My tee shot on 8 was a complete duff. I cold topped it. It only went about 100 metres and was still in the rough. With no chance of par I scrambled well to make a bogey.

On 9 (a par 4) I flinched again. This time hitting it low and way to the right. The ball ended in a fairway trap under the lip. I could only blast it out, leaving about 130 metres to the green. The third shot found the green, leaving me a super fast putt which went up a tier and then downwind to a hole situated on a baked part of the green (read: it was really quick).

At the time I remember thinking it would be good to two-putt. Make the turn at 4 over and try and hang in on the back nine. Three-putts would be a disaster – but I forced that from my mind.

The putt went up the tier and then swung left, picking up speed as it went. It was going way too fast but it was on a good line. It hit the middle of the hole, jumped up, and then went back in.

This piece of luck gave me a surge of confidence that was desperately needed. I made a point to try and play as freely as possible – to stop worrying about the shoulder and play golf.

I hit the ball on 10 and 11 well. A good drive and approach on 10 and then a nice seven iron into the 11th (a par 3). Unfortunately for me I three-putted both of them. The greens were so quick that three-putting didn’t look too bad.

Now at 5 over.

I messed up the 12th badly. Poor drive (another flinch) and then tried a miracle second shot. Bad idea. When you’re not feeling well it’s a good idea to play well within yourself. Instead of hooking my second around a tree I actually flinched again and blocked the shot. It nearly collected some golfers playing the 13th hole. In the end I got lucky again. I was able to chip onto the green for three and two putt for another bogey.

The round was falling apart. Now at 6 over with a difficult stretch of golf to go. The shoulder was not helping and the condition of the course was making scoring tough.

Once again I pepped myself up. I recommitted to playing as free as possible. I stopped thinking about the course, my shoulder and the score. I was determined to play golf. I recommitted to playing golf my way – automatic golf. Here’s a rundown of the remaining six holes:

Hole 13 – par 5: I made a 2 metre putt for par. I actually played the hole badly. The putt was no gimmie and I remember walking up and hitting it with a relaxed stroke. It was as if I didn’t care. That holed putt stopped the rot and got the round moving in the right direction.

Hole 14 – par 4: I decided to hit my driver. I wanted to take advantage of this short hole. I hit a good one and played a good pitch. When the 4 metre putt found the hole I was back to five over for the day.

Hole 15 – par 5: I found myself in a greenside bunker for two. This turned out to be the best shot of the day for me. I relaxed (despite feeling anxious) and followed my automatic routine. The ball came out high, landed softly and finished less than a metre from the hole. All of a sudden I had gone birdie, birdie and had some momentum.

Hole 16 – par 3: This was one tough hole. Over 200 metres and now into a stiffening breeze. I found a bunker, played a good shot and narrowly missed the putt for par. Back to five over.

Hole 17 and 18: These were into the wind. I played them well enough to score par. Nothing special to report other than sticking to my routine and game plan. On 18 I two-putted from the front of the green. The par putt was another testing two-metre effort. Again, I didn’t analyse or think too much. I looked at the putt and walked up and hit it. Nothing complicated and when it found the hole I was relived to score a 77.

I played the last six holes 1 under the card. All things considered it was a pleasing effort.

Amazingly this topsy turvy round was good enough for second place. I was a long way behind the leader who scored 73, but I had avoided blowing up.

I tell you this story to highlight that golf can have some very low points. The key during these times is not to panic. You have to keep swinging and trusting your game. I see many golfers who change their approach and do something different when things go badly (or well).

The easiest thing to do when poor golf strikes is to go into your shell and try and work out what is going wrong. But it’s not the right thing to be doing. You don’t have enough time and this analysis makes the game harder, not easier.

At the risk of repeating myself you want to be swinging more freely as the round continues. You can always change your game plan but you never should allow outside distractions or interference affect the way you swing the club.

More to come in the next post.