Tee to GreenSeptember 16, 2019

Butch Harmon's checklist for overcoming first-tee jitters

Photos courtesy of Houston Astros
Photos courtesy of Houston Astros

This summer, I got to experience baseball’s version of the first-tee shot. As honoree of the PGA Tour’s 2019 Houston Open, I threw out the first pitch at the Astros game on July 23. With a few deep breaths and a little advice in my head (Aim high), I chucked a pretty good one, as Bob Uecker said in “Major League,” just a bit outside.

People ask me if I was nervous, and what I was thinking about out there. On the walk to the mound, I told myself, One of two things is going to happen here—a good one or a bad one­—so just do it. The first thing that struck me was how high it feels to be on a pitcher’s mound. You’re really throwing downhill. As for my nerves, I didn’t have much time to think about it. It had been a long day of meetings and media for the Houston Open, so I didn’t even have a chance to throw a few balls to warm up—exactly what I tell my players never to skip!

In the weeks before the game, I’d gone to an indoor training facility a couple of times with two ex-baseball players who live near me, Tyler and Cooper Kitrel. They gave me some pitching tips: Forget the windup. Just turn, rotate your hips and go. Release it higher. The one thought I ended up using on the mound was, Throw it over the catcher’s head. I’m convinced that’s how I got it to the plate. One thing was for sure: I wasn’t going to throw it in the dirt and get booed.

You can see me here in my honorary jersey. Why No. 75? My age. With 38,000 fans in the stadium, I’ll tell you, I was happy with the result. My takeaway for golfers is, when you’re in a tight spot, don’t over-think it. The more you delay, trying to control the situation, the more tension you create. Like I said, a few deep breaths and a positive thought. Try that on the first tee next time.

—WITH PETER MORRICE

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