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Low handicaps: These 4 tips will help you play well even when you're nervous

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HRAUN

Mental coaches and tour pros preach that pressure is a privilege, but when you’re faced with a 5-foot slider to extend your best-ball match at your club, you might not agree. Without the right approach, pressure can be a barrier to great golf, but channel the energy in the right way, and you can learn how to play your best golf when it matters most.

To help you play well under pressure, we asked a couple low handicaps on the Golf Digest staff, Drew Powell and Luke Kerr-Dineen to share the strategies they use.

Drew Powell, +2.0

1. “Well, you’ve never done ___ before”

Expectations will kill your score, but it is very difficult to convince yourself that an important round is not, well, important. One strategy I have learned to use to relieve expectations is to trick myself into thinking that I have nothing to lose. I do this by telling myself, “Well, you’ve never done ___ before, so at the end of the day, the worst thing that will happen is you still will not have done it.”

Let’s say you’re in the finals of your club’s net match-play tournament. If you’ve never won it before, the worst thing that can happen is that after the match, you still have not won it. The match cannot take anything from you. You only have something to gain. Approach the match with this mindset, and you'll turn fear into excitement.

Even if I’m about to play a crucial round where a lot is on the line, I will find a way to convince myself that I have nothing to lose. Have you won your club’s tournament three times? Well, you’ve never won it four times, and the worst thing that could happen after this year’s event is you still have only won it three times.

Try it out, and you’ll be amazed at how freely you will play when you realize that the round only presents an opportunity. Nothing can be taken from you.

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Somchai Sookkasem

2. Show off!

The best players in the world are excited by pressure because it gives them an opportunity to show off their skills. This is the approach my assistant coach and former PGA Tour player, Bob Heintz, taught me in college. When you are under pressure, he said, approach the shot as if you are telling people, “Hey watch what I’m about to do.”

It takes a ton of confidence to embrace this mentality, but the funny thing is, you don’t even need to fully believe it. Even if you aren’t entirely sure you will pull off a shot, say this mantra right before you hit the shot. You’ll be surprised how often you pull off the shot. And each time you perform well under pressure, your confidence will grow. You will start to see yourself as a player who thrives in big moments.

Pressure often leads people to play with fear—fear of hitting a terrible shot, fear of judgement, fear of failure. But this strategy channels the pressure into an opportunity to show off your skills. Internally, you need to get a little cocky before you hit a pressure shot, even if it’s not entirely warranted.

Luke Kerr-Dineen, 0.6

3. Fight or Flight

Golf Digest Top 50 Teacher Todd Anderson once shared some great advice: That under pressure, golfers fall into two buckets. Some tend to swing faster, harder, and more aggressively when they're nervous; others tend to swing slower and softer.

If you're a swing-for-the-fences type, that means learning to dial it back and swing slower. If you're a guider, it means you may need to force yourself to give it a little extra. A small adjustment that can bring your swing right into the sweetspot.

4. Strong swings to safe targets

When you're trying to get a good round to the house, or close out a tough match, playing a little safer may be the smart play. Boring golf is winning golf, after all. But even when you're aiming away from hazards and into the fat part of the green, commit to making an aggressive golf swing to that safe target. Playing to the percentages isn't an excuse to make an uncommitted golf swing.