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How to Play Freely When the Pressure is Highest

You've been in this scenario. You just made the turn. You need to make two birdies coming in to make the cut in the mini tour event. Or you need no more than 3 bogeys to break 80. Or you can't have any more doubles or you'll shoot over 90 again. This scenario happens all the time. You make the turn and you start thinking about how to get it in the clubhouse without messing it up.

Hopefully you at least think in the positive terms of what you need to do, rather than what you need to NOT do. But both mentalities are flawed.

But why?

I recently spoke to my friend and mini tour player Casey Komline about this topic. He was playing in one of the eight international tour events the PGA Tour is hosting for all the PGA Tour-sanctioned mini tours around the world. He made the turn fairly certain that he would have to make two birdies coming in to make the cut and make some money. So he birdied the 11th hole, which he says is the hardest hole on the course (besides a 270 yard par 3). He hit a great drive, aimed slightly away from the tucked sucker pin, and made the 10 footer for birdie. A well-played, disciplined hole.

But at this point he started thinking. He could see running directly parallel to the 11th hole was the par 5 15th, which he deemed was the next viable birdie hole, and where he would need to make his next move to make the cut. But because he let his mind wander from the present like this, the next 3 holes lacked his focus. He hit good shots on each of them, but he tightened up on the greens and left his birdie putts short. He said he subconsciously knew that he didn't have to make them because of the birdie opportunity coming up in a few holes. But I think anyone would agree that you need to make birdies when you have the chance, because you never know what will happen on future holes.

He started forcing the issue.

So he didn't make birdie on those holes, and because he knew he needed at least one more birdie, he started hitting his putts way too hard. He started forcing the issue. Because of his lack of mental discipline to stay in the moment it caused him to miss much-needed birdie opportunities.

He said he learned a valuable lesson that day. On the tough 11th hole, because he didn't feel like a birdie was absolutely necessary there, he let the hole come to him, instead of trying to force the hole to bend to his needs. But when he started getting ahead of himself and thinking too far in the future he tensed up and could no longer play with freedom.

Had he played the remaining holes like he had played the 11th, where he took one shot at a time and let the result come to him, whether it was birdie or par, he may very well have made some more birdies coming in and made the cut and ultimately made a check or finished highly.

This is a lesson we all need to learn. And you can learn it before you get in this pressure situation. They say that you learn how to deal with pressure by being in the situation repeatedly, and that certainly helps. But I believe that you can learn before you get in the situation. You can know what the truth is. You can know how you will need to be logical and unemotional in your decision making. You can know that pressure brings out your worst tendencies, both physical and mental. And you can have a game plan for when the situation inevitably happens.

You can learn it before you get in the pressure situation.

So what is the truth? What is the logic that you will need to keep in mind? Ask yourself this: How many shots do you have control over at a time? I'll answer for you: only one. Only the next shot you're going to hit. You can no longer do anything about the previous shot, and you can't have any affect on two shots or two holes from now. The only shot that needs your full attention in this moment is the next one you're going to hit. That might be a drive on a long, tight par 4, or it could be a tap in. Either way, the next shot is the only one that matters.

Speaking this truth to yourself in the middle of the pressure situation is how you can remain even-keeled and unemotional in your decision making. It's how you can let the results come to you. And it's most likely how you can shoot the lowest score.

Learn this lesson ahead of time so you can handle the pressure with ease and freedom.


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