Years ago when I was training to become a GolfPsych Certified Instructor they introduced a brand new tool called a tension meter. It was a watch that measured your level of tension throughout your round. I used to wear it to work to see it jump up when my boss came around! Some players saw their tension level go up on the tee while others struggled with it when they walked up onto the green. In my case, mine dropped when I was on the green because putting was not only the best part of my game, but also the part I practiced the most.
No One is Immune
For some players putting makes them extremely tense. You can see the tension if you look for the cues. Having their shoulders rise up around their ears, standing over the putt forever or squeezing so tight that their knuckles turn white are all tell-tale signs that a player is not comfortable with the flat stick. Perhaps the length where you see this the most are those “tweener” putts. Tweeners are not the short 3 foot and in putts that we’re confident we will make and they are not the super long ones that we do not even expect to make, but rather all those 4 to 15 foot putts where we have a chance . Whether you are in your club championship, trying to beat your buddies in a big bet or about to win the USOpen, no one is immune to nerves when it comes to pressure putts.
Controlling tension on putting is similar to controlling it on your full swings. When someone asks how to keep their nerves in check the obvious answers are being prepared through practice, having a good routine and controlling your breathing with deep, slow breaths from the diaphragm. Along with these 3, there are more tricks however, to leveling your nerves on the putting green that I’d like to share with you in detail.
A Solid Pre-Shot Routine – As I stated above having a solid pre-shot routine is crucial not matter what golf shot you are trying to hit. It simply prepares you mentally and physically. A good putting routine should involve circling the hole to look at it from all sides, lining up the putt and taking a few practice strokes while focusing on your target just to name a few of the important components. If you rush through your routine, or are inconsistent with it you might throw off your confidence and actually add tension. It’s critical to have a routine, but to repeat it the same way each time is equally as important.
Aim the Ball – If you aren’t already putting an aiming line on your ball I strongly suggest you do so. Being able to pick your line, aim the ball down the line and then simply aim your putter face down the line on the ball eliminates second guessing. Being unsure of yourself is one of the biggest culprits in adding tension. Trusting your aim on the other hand will help you key down.
Check Your Grip Pressure – You’ve probably all heard the advice of grip the club like you are holding a baby bird. Or perhaps you’ve heard hold the club like you are holding a tube of tooth paste. Either way, the advice is meant to help you bring your tension level down. When we get nervous and tense up we get a death grip going on the club. Tension in our hands will only make the stroke jerky and inconsistent. With that kind of tension all feel goes out the window. Think soft hands.
Hover the Club – A common result of being tense in the hands, arms and shoulders is dragging the club back on the ground on the backswing. Another result is actually hitting the ball fat. This is caused because the golfer is actually pushing the putter down into the ground. To combat this simply hover your putter above the ground just a smidge. Think light pressure and light arms.
Keep Your Shoulders Low – When golfers get tense on the greens their shoulders raise. It’s easy to see with some players as they get their shoulders as high as their ears. For others it’s not all that recognizable, but if you look closely you can still see that the shoulders are up. If you struggle with this simply think low shoulders and push them down. As they lower, you will feel your muscles relax and let the tension escape.
Decompress – When tension is high, breathing becomes high and rapid. We tend to take quick, shallow breaths from our chest when we are under pressure and nervous. It’s important to take slow, deep breaths from your diaphragm (stomach area). Right before you take the putter back inhale and then let out a long slow breath. This will allow all of the tension to flow out of your body right at the moment you begin the stroke.
Taking these steps above will go a long way in helping you to relieve tension on the green. Like I said before the key steps are the same as you would take for any other shot in golf. Hopefully though, thinking about things like the pressure in your grip, the height of your shoulders and hovering the putter will give you more tools to use in your fight against stressing out on the greens.
The Situation: You are having trouble controlling your tension over putts.
The Solution: To relieve tension over the ball on the putting green follow these 6 steps:
- Develop a solid pre shot routine
- Aim the ball by striping a line down the center
- Check your grip pressure
- Hover the club in the air
- Keep your shoulders low
- Take a decompression breath
Always remember it’s just one shot. Whether it’s a tee shot or a 3 foot putt, all you can do is be prepared through practice and having routines and then it’s all about trust. Second guessing yourself is the worst thing you can do. Go through your routine, check the points above, take a deep breath and trust.