adjust your focus

How to beat first-tee jitters and get your round off to a good start

April 26, 2022

Photograph by J.D. Cuban

Raise your hand if the first tee makes you nervous. I see you; and it’s OK. Many players, even some pros, fight serious anxiety on that opening shot. The trick is to accept the extra energy you’re feeling and use a little planning to relax yourself. Just trying to be tough or trust your swing probably isn’t enough. Trust comes from preparation.

The first thing you can do is to shift your attention. Most great players focus on a single target: where they want the ball to go. A lot of average golfers have two targets: where they want the ball to go and the ball itself. When you’re feeling uneasy about a shot, you might tend to make the ball your target, which adds tension and restricts the swing. Fixating on the ball leads to freezing the body and swinging with the hands and arms only. It’s a good time to remember the old saying: “The ball just gets in the way of the swing.” Ray Floyd used to call it, “Parking the car in the garage,” which means, think about where you want your hands to end up—in this case, over your front shoulder in a full finish.

Also, be realistic. Don’t let the pressure lure you into thinking you need a big, high draw if you normally play a fade. Hit the shot you know you can hit. You’re just looking for a positive outcome here, not to be a hero. Make a good plan, pick a target down the fairway and swing through the ball. —With Peter Morrice

MICHAEL BREED is one of Golf Digest’s 50 Best Teachers in America.


The challenge on tough drives is that when you look out and see what you don’t like, the fear comes rushing in. A good workaround is to pick a target high off the ground, like a tall tree in the distance or a passing cloud. The trouble will disappear from your view and won’t trigger those negative emotions. What you let yourself see—or not see—can really make a difference in how well you perform off the tee.