Here’s a blanket statement about nerves: they originate from expectations.
When you expect something of yourself, or someone else expects something of you, it creates a tension inside of you. The term that we have used to identify this feeling of tension is “nervousness”. It’s the tension between where you are and what you want. Or where you are and what someone else wants for you. And when you want to make that person proud, or prove yourself right, or live up to your own expectations, it creates that tension. It’s the desire to live up to a standard.
So when you have expectations or other people have expectations for you, you become nervous.
It makes sense, then, that when you are about to play in a golf tournament, you get nervous. Because you have expectations for how it should go. You expect yourself to play well. You want to make the cut. You want to finish in the top 20. You want to win. You want to make your entry fee worth it. You want to impress the people around you. You want to prove that all your hard work wasn’t for nothing. There are all sorts of motivations for why you want to do well. For where your expectations come from.
But the very presence of these desires and expectations are what create the tension. The conventional wisdom, the cliche statements about nerves in golf (and sports and life in general) state that “if you’re not nervous then you must not care”. And conversely if you are nervous then it means you care, you’re doing what you love, and you are trying.
My personal opinion goes against conventional wisdom. I believe that nerves should not exist. Because in my experience (and probably 95% of other golfers) nerves make me play worse. When you’re nervous is creates friction between you and playing well. Your ability to play with complete freedom and zero fear is compromised.
Conventional wisdom says that nerves brings out your best. That being nervous allows you access your best skill. Almost like the pressure that creates a diamond. When you feel the pressure is squeezes good golf out of you. But in my experience this just simply isn’t true. And I believe that when people say these things about nervousness it is a cop out. It is them try to explain away the unexplainable.
Nervousness shouldn’t be the status quo. I believe complete equanimity should be the status quo. Total calm, peace, and lack of tension. And being nervous should be the rare thing that happens that you know feels wrong.
I can’t claim to have achieved this state permanently, or even fully. But I can say at my peak, at my personal best golf, I had lower expectations and cared less. This lack of care, those lower expectations meant that I was less nervous. I didn’t have that tension of not having what I wanted. It’s important that I speak from my personal truth and not simply regurgitate what other people say. And this is my truth. I know it to my core. I’d be pulling the wool over your eyes to say anything different.
Having less care and lower expectations doesn’t mean that you have less ambition or less drive to achieve a big goal. Every time I showed up to a tournament I wanted to win. The balance isn’t easy to strike, but what good thing is ever easy? The balance comes from having those big ambitions, that desire to succeed, the passion to win, but setting it aside once you tee it up. Between rounds, you are on fire with crazy ambition, but the warmup before the round you are purging those thoughts from your mind. You aren’t just physically warming up, you are mentally warming up. You are actively setting aside the thoughts of result, outcome, place in the tournament, others expectations, and your own standards for what good golf looks like. So that once you tee it up all you care about is that one shot. And then only the next shot. And the next.
Everything you do needs to be geared toward you focusing on just the next shot. That’s the goal of all of this.
Have that ambition and passion to succeed. Expect a ton of yourself. But once it’s time to play, just play.