The heat is on

First published on the Golf Monthly website on Sunday 24th June 2007

Top professionals thrive on pressure while the average amateur crumbles. Fergus used to dream of being a professional but only in a very amateur way.

Putting pressure on yourself can destroy your game: The swing tightens, the putting stroke becomes twitchy, every shot seems to be a pull and let’s not even talk about chipping. It’s amazing how small incentives can suddenly increase stress levels resulting in ugly and cagey play. A £5 bet or a chance of breaking your handicap can be enough to start the palms sweating and the stomach churning.

The Club Championship got underway this week at Banchory. It’s an event where I put myself under ludicrous amounts of pressure. No matter how much I tell myself: “it’s just another round,” or, “it’s supposed to be fun,” I can’t help but feel nervous when I tee it up. The very first hole of this 72 hole competition epitomised how pressure gets the better of me.

The first at Banchory is a 315 yard par four. For the longest hitters it’s driveable but there’s out of bounds left and right so many choose to play safe with an iron. I decided to be aggressive and took driver, adrenaline kicked in and I felt no nerves. I hit a great ball just short of the putting surface. On the walk down the fairway I began to suffer mixed emotions. Half of me was still feeling positive, already marking down the birdie; the other half had begun to hyperventilate at the prospect of a delicate pitch so early in the round.

After making a couple of nice practice swings and employing breathing techniques I would have learned at my wife’s antenatal classes had I gone, I composed myself over the ball. Unfortunately the actual swing bore no resemblance to my rehearsals, it involved a deceleration, a dip and a head up. I knifed it through the back into thick rough.

The shock of such a poor effort was enough to shoo the nerves away temporarily. After a quick self-assessment involving the opener: “You stupid,” I was back to complete concentration and determination not to screw up. With a totally different mind-set to the previous chip I played a delicate flop from the US Open style rough that rolled to about two feet of the cup.

“Good, a par save.” Thought my positive half. “Oh no, a two footer.” Thought the negative half. Guess who won the battle. Yup, I whiffed it past the right edge and made a bogey. My psychological state had taken more u-turns in ten minutes than the average London cabbie on a Friday night in Soho.

I’ve played 36 holes of the Championship now and feel emotionally drained. I haven’t relaxed over a single shot and I don’t think I made one pure strike. All things considered my total of +5 doesn’t seem too bad. At the halfway point I’m in a tie for fifth, but I’m nine shots behind the leader David Brand. He opened with a great round of 64 then followed it up with a solid 70. I’m going to need two awesome rounds this week to stand any chance at all. It’s not going to happen unless I can find a way to deal with the pressure a little better.

As a youngster Retief Goosen was struck by lightning. He survived and the only side effect was he ended up in a permanent state of chill. Thundery showers are forecast over the next couple of days so I’m off to stand on the top of the hill behind my house wearing a pointy copper hat.



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