Tour players get nervous, too. Hitting shots that mean the difference between winning and losing tournaments (and hundreds of thousands of dollars) is nerve-racking. The players who beat those jitters aren’t eliminating the feelings. They beat them by having a process they can rely on. That’s something you can steal for your game, especially around the greens, where execution matters most. What is a process? It’s making decisions about what you’re going to do before you do it. Walking to your pitch shot or getting ready to putt, answer a list of questions: What’s my lie? What kind of shot do I want to hit? What’s the ball going to do? After you answer them, focus on one thought when you hit the shot—something that makes you feel good. Don’t worry about the result. Disaster strikes when you’re fixated on the outcome, especially if you’ve had bad results with the same type of shot. Pressure, expectations and fear really make it hard for your body to respond naturally and athletically. Instead of giving away strokes to nerves, use these tips around the greens and you’ll learn how to be a closer. —With Matthew Rudy
GET IT ON THE GREEN...
A lot of players make a practice swing out of habit. It’s just something you do before you hit. But if you don’t have a purpose to it, you’re wasting time. Your goal should be to make a practice swing that is as close as possible to the swing you want to make when you hit the shot. When pitching, always rehearse the size of the swing and feel how the sole of the club interacts with the ground. Keep rehearsing until you get the feel you like. Then immediately step into your stance, recall that positive swing thought, and hit your shot. Thoughts I like? Soft arms, and let the clubhead swing. Most players try to move the grip faster, and that prevents the clubhead from getting the ball up and on the green.
... GET IT IN THE HOLE
When players get tight over important putts, a common denominator is time. They grind over the process, spending more seconds on their read and setup. This usually produces tension, and tension tends to produce a short, tight backswing. From there, they have to surge into the ball to get it to the hole—which makes distance control really hard. To avoid this, keep your process consistent. That means doing the same stuff on the 18th green as you did on the fourth and the fifth, and so on. Same routine. Same amount of time. If you treat every putt with the same amount of care, you’ll stay loose and give it your best stroke.
Stan Utley, a Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher, is based at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale.