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Ask the Pros: Best Ways to Handle Pressure Putts

We’ve all faced pressure putts. Whether it is for a two-dollar Nassau bet or to eclipse your lowest round, the pressure of an important putt can rise up and strangle the fluidity of your stroke and send the golf ball awry. We must handle the pressure to succeed, but what is the best way to handle pressure putts? What do the pros (who have experienced plenty of pressure putts) do to sink them more often?

Anxiety Leads to Adrenaline

Pressure on the greens can come from doubt and anxiety about one’s ability, whether our game warrants it or not. Regardless, the mental anxiety builds in our minds and can affect us physically when we have a putter in our hand.

“Adrenaline is a byproduct of stressful situations and a common feeling to avid golfers,” John Kendall, director of golf at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, says. “By design, it causes everything to speed up with thoughts and muscles working differently under its influence. If not recognized and controlled, its presence decreases our abilities on the golf course.”

Put Your Putt into Perspective

Okay, mental pressure affects us physically, but how best to keep it from occurring? Don Berry, PGA Professional at Edinburgh USA Golf Club in Brooklyn Park, believes that the pressure starts with us and can be prevented.

“I think it’s important to not live and die with every putt, put it in perspective — it’s just a game,” Berry says. “There are many more important things in the world; nobody else really cares whether you make or miss. Things like that are important to keep in mind. But, obviously, sometimes it’s easier said than done.”

Redirect Your Thoughts

Pressure does creep in, so Christopher Foley, PGA Master Professional and director of instruction at Cragun’s Legacy Courses in Brainerd, offers a different tack:

“One of the skills that separate the elite player from the average player is having a greater awareness of their thoughts,” he says. “We all have the ability to control our thinking. Elite players have better awareness and create mechanisms to redirect their thinking to reduce pressure. They develop ways to be comfortable when they are uncomfortable.”

Slow Your Breathing and Stick to a Routine

There are some ways to arrest that pressure before it builds, and our pros suggest the following:

“Slowing down your breathing and thoughts will help greatly,” Kendall says. “Staying with a consistent and practiced routine will help normalize stressful situations and decrease the impact of nerves.”

Practice, Practice, Practice

“Distance control, regardless of the situation, is the number one priority to great putting,” Foley says. “Pressure, being self-induced, you have to practice being and putting yourself in pressure situations. If you have put yourself in pressure situations in practice and been successful in the practice situation, then it is easier to perform when we are truly under pressure.”

Ultimately, then, it comes down to practice, and Berry says it starts with believing in yourself after all the work you’ve put in to get this point: “You can’t necessarily prepare for specific pressure situations, but you can — through repetition and a lot of practice — know that your fundamentals are solid. And when the pressure is on, you’ll revert to solid fundamentals, which give you confidence that you can do it when the heat is on.”

While we can’t always replicate what pressure putt we eventually will face, you may be able to prepare for how you will perform when faced with them.

“The positive reinforcement of quietly making putts by yourself definitely builds confidence in your mechanics, but friendly putting games with friends can help more by simulating game situations,” Kendall says. “A putt that means a free drink, lunch, or a couple bucks from a friend prepares you to make the ones you’ll someday need on the course.”

Make Attainable Goals

Berry, who has won numerous elite local tournaments, has faced his share of pressure putts and made plenty of them. But he is still willing to ask a famously great putter on the PGA Tour how to get the job done.

“I asked Brad Faxon once about putting when I was playing with him in the 3M Championship,” Berry said. “He told me he works hard on not caring whether the ball goes in. To piggyback on that, the goal of a putt should not be whether it goes in or not, it should be something more attainable.

“A lot of times my one and only goal would be to hit it solid, or to hit it straight for an inch — then what happens after that is not controllable. Basically, work hard on fundamental, then forget results and let the ball go in the hole.”

See? No pressure.

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