How to Deal with Fear on the Golf Course

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Recently I reviewed emails from last year that I had received from different golfers and it helped me understand that playing in fear is a pretty common thing for lots of golfers.   All in all, 37 emails mentioned the word FEAR in different ways:

“I fear the 1st tee shot at my home club”

” When chipping, I tighten up and with fear swing the club”

“I am frightened of short putts, I hate them” 

“I am scared to play competitively, because my swing isn’t perfect yet”

So I decided to do some more research and chatted to a number of PGA Professional coaches who also went on to confirm a high percentage of their clients, played fearfully, in one way or another.

Let’s strip this back further, in my Mental Toughness development work outside of sport I’ve been fortunate to chat to soldiers and police officer who experience frightening situations on a regular basis.

If you’re about to be attacked by a bunch of thugs or are being shot at in the battlefield you have every right to be frightened? – YES

This adds some perspective I hope…… let’s think about other situations that may scare us.  Heights are an issue for me… the dark, public speaking, crowded spaces, fear of flying are all pretty common issues for people.

Now, let’s think about this on the golf course…… from the 1000s of golfers I have come across it is fair to say the main problem  people have is not so much the slice, hook, shank but it is the fear that they bring to the golf course.

Fear breeds tension in the hands, wrists and arms and then has a huge negative impact on our swing – with our rhythm, balance and timing going well out of sync.   Think about it – on the range many people hit the ball pretty well – but put them on the golf course – they then go to pieces. 

What is the solution to this fear?  How do we calm down our overly sensitive brains?

Here are 3 tips:

1. Breathe

Yes, it’s simple, very simple – but it works, when we get fearful, our breathing changes and makes the problem intensify.  Focus on deep diaphragmatic breaths to calm the brain down and ‘re-set’ its reaction.

2. Practise under pressure

Put yourself under pressure in practice. Do not just hit balls for the sake of it.  Putting yourself under pressure, regularly creates immunization. If you want to play your best golf, more consistently and under pressure this should be a MUST.

3. Face your fears

Instead of focusing on the problem and doing nothing about it.  Recognize it is an issue, face your fears.

Ask yourself these questions:

What am I NOT doing on the golf course that is being ruled by FEAR?

What do I want to change on the golf course?

How will making positive changes to this aspect of my golf impact on me?

Now think about putting in place and focusing on key processes and routines that can help you.  These processes can become a lifesaver when you’re under pressure.   They really do allow you to relax and trust your skillset, especially when they are practised.   

If you’d like to work with me and improve your mental game to reduce your scores on a 1-2-1 basis please get in touch or alternatively your golf club may like to book a Hole out in Less Shots seminar.

Best Wishes

David Charlton Golf Psychologist

David Charlton

Performance Coach / HCPC Registered Sport and Exercise Psychologist / Golf Fitness Coach

T: +44 7734 697769


Based Near – Newcastle Upon Tyne, England