Word Away Your Jitters


Ever since Johnny Miller shamelessly expressed on air, the word “choking” seems to be a
routinely repeated word in every golfers’ vocabulary. We’ve all felt the first-hole jitters. We’ve
all had the yips, shakes and shanks. As the pressure mounts, we’ve all seen the size of the cup
shrink to a pinhole.

In a recent study published in the journal Science, US researchers Gerardo Ramirez and Sian L.
Beilock show that such inability under pressure can be overcome by simply expressing worries
before a stressful event.

It is human nature to be motivated to perform at your best, yet high-pressure situations can cause
one to perform below their ability and expectation. This is most true in a round of golf. Hours
and hours of practice on the range do not often get translated into a good round of golf.

This is also true in professional golf. Woody Austin openly admitted that he “puked his guts
out” and that he chocked playing the last nine hole of the 2008 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Remember the infamous “I’m such an idiot” collapse at 2006 US Open that Phil Mickelson lost
on the last hole of the tournament? And of course the Jean Van de Velde meltdown in the 1999
British Open…

With mounting pressure, efforts to control the mental game also have increased.

In 2008, PGA tour and European tour began testing players for performance enhancing drugs
such as beta-blockers that are used to calm players’ nerves and minimize stress-related shakes.
According to the new study, simple act of writing down also does the trick. It appears to clear
the mind and it allows one to focus more on the job at hand. This method is so effective that test
subjects showed a 17 percent improvement in comparative performance when applied before an

The significance of this study is that, it not only confirms the belief that “getting it out”
helps you relax, but also expressive writing method allowed students to perform above and
beyond their normal ability under pressure. The group that completed a 10-minute expressive
writing exercise before a high-pressure test “showed a significant five percent math accuracy
improvement,” while the other group “choked under pressure” showing a 12 percent drop.

People look upon quiet perseverance as a sign of a strong character. Tiger Woods, for example,
fought through the pain of a torn knee ligament and the double stress fracture in 2008 US Open
and emerged victorious. He never made a whining comment nor complained of the pain. He
didn’t make a deal of it prior to the tournament so it could serve as an excuse after the fact. This
was reflected in the eyes of public as a sign of mental toughness and physically enduring nature
of a champion.

Winners don’t complain. Winners don’t make excuses. Winners don’t whine. Despite such
perception, the research proves that expressing concerns can help you win-over a stressful

“I have a bad back, I worked all day, my cat kept me up all night, I just don’t play enough...”
Expressing these sometimes creative “concerns” before a round to your golf buddies can earn
you ridicules and maybe a roll with the eyes. You may also create a potentially humiliating
situation if you excuse yourself, as you need few minutes to write out your feelings.

It doesn’t have to be an embarrassing event. Write them in numbers on your scorecard. Write
down how many greens-in-regulation you hope to hit, number of putts for the round, fairways
hits, club you will use on the first tee… Don’t just think about it. Write them down and solidify
your focus as it will ease you mind.

So if you are worried about your upcoming golf game or terrified of the first-tee jitters, you
should maybe drop the 5 iron from the range and pick up a pen. Start jotting down your worries,
anxieties, and your goals for the day. You will be much more prepared for the pressure of a wild-
eyed crowd and self-expectation.

Don’t take my words for it. Make it your own and write them down.

By Lee J.H. Lee,
PGA of Canada Class A
Emirates PGA
Titleist Performance Institute Level 2
Lee J.H. Lee is the Executive Director of the Links Times and the creator of Hush Golf. He coaches golfers of all skill levels from the Track Meydan Academy by Troon in Dubai, UAE and at the Cedar Hill Golf Course in Victoria, BC, Canada. Follow Lee on Twitter @leejhl@UAEgolf and @linkstimes. Also on Facebook at “Dubai Golf Chat with Lee