No matter if you are a 30 or a three handicap, we all have them…the dreaded first tee jitters. Some of us act like they don’t even faze us by putting on a good game face and walking with some swagger; others you can see it just by looking at them, but trust me everyone has them. Even professional golfers have them on every first tee and they say if you don’t get nervous, then something is wrong. You can see jitters clear as day from amateurs all the time; they are dropping tees, misplacing things, being a scatter brain, sometimes not even paying attention to the first hole where everyone is using a lay-up club and they of course pull out the driver, because they are so scared to hit that first shot, their brain has temporarily melted away.
I want to try to help everyone out a little bit by giving you some advice on how to curb the first tee jitters. If you talk to professional golfers many of them will tell you it starts when you wake up. Breakfast is a key ingredient to every golfer’s success and if your body is fed your brain is too; which makes those first tee jitters a little easier to deal with. If you don’t have a solid foundation in you with plenty of lean protein and complex carbohydrates, you are not going to be mentally prepared to step up to the tee. Sure you might be able to run on pure adrenaline for a bit or the coffee you slammed before the round, but that only lasts so long. Many golfers eat oatmeal, with some whole-wheat toast and maybe some peanut butter, or possibly some eggs and turkey sausage again with whole-wheat toast, or a nice yogurt parfait with low-fat Greek yogurt and granola washing it down with some juice or water to get them going in the morning. Nothing is better than a good solid breakfast to help fight off the jitters.
Taking it slow; Sir Nick Faldo says that he liked to do everything slowly in the morning. He would get out of bed slowly, brush his tee slowly, take a shower slowly, get ready slowly, and leave plenty early so he could drive to the course at normal driving speeds and not worry about getting there on time. There is nothing worse than rushing to a golf course and hitting every red light on the way there while yelling at slow drivers on the way; it is horrible for your nerves and can ruin your round. How can you expect to be calm and ready to play golf when you are bent out of shape from rushing the entire morning to get to the course on time? So long story short, take it easy on golf days. Now that is of course in a perfect world. If you are like me and many times have to work extra hard in the morning to get my work done so I can fly to a course for an afternoon round, I have tried to do some additional things that have helped me calm my first tee jitter.
Try to take some deep breaths and relax. A doctor once told me that when you breathe in you need to “smell the flowers” and when you breathe out think “blowing out the candles”. That has stuck with me for a long time and I feel it is a great mental thought on how proper breathing should take place to calm your nerves.
Stretching before a round for me is key. Once you get to the course, make sure you stretch. If you have time to hit balls and do some warming up, even better, but if not the stretching can start right in the parking lot. Warm up first by some simple stretches. For instance, put a club behind your back and rotate through the swing; Jack Nicklaus does it and he is pretty good. Do arm circles while you are walking or maybe try to reach for your toes after you put on your shoes; anything to get the blood flowing. If you have time to hit some balls, start out with your wedge and then work your way up through your bag hitting balls with every other club (SW, 9, 7, 5, any wood, then driver). One of the key features to this is finishing with the same club you are going to use on the first tee. This way if the first hole is a driver hole, finish with that club and make sure it is with a good one; that can drastically help your confidence. Now if you don’t have time to hit balls and you are rushing to the first tee like I generally am, you need to calm down for a min. Take at least one minute to stretch, take deep breaths, and then take some small practice swings. Start with a heavier wedge or maybe grab a couple of clubs and try to get ready for that first swing. Start by taking the club back to the three o’clock position working your way up to a full swing. It is hard to combat first tee jitters when you aren’t even ready to take the first swing. Think of your body is a car; it needs to get out of first gear, before you can really rev it up.
The final aspect of trying to rid yourself of the first tee jitters is your pre-shot routine. The pre-shot routine is crucial for staying in your normal frame of mind and calming the first tee jitters. No matter what you do as you pre-shot routine, stick with it. I like to take a practice swing behind the ball and visualize my ball flight. I then pick a small spot in front of the ball about a foot or so out and use that as my alignment. I set up to that then take a look at the target one more time and let her rip. You have to be ready to accept the consequences no matter where it goes. Accepting a perfect drive or a banana slice before it happens can sometimes help more than you know. If you are fine with the swing’s consequences either way, then you can almost laugh in the face of your first tee jitters.
Don’t stress…it is only golf.
Hit it pure!