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.