Now that we Minnesotans have nothing to do but wait for the snow to melt, the golfers among us can’t help but daydream of such fine images as strolling over rolling hills of well-groomed carpet and the golf ball getting nice and intimate with the flag stick. Only 3 more months.  The extra down time has allowed me think about my mental game lately, which needs some refining if I’m really going to lower my handicap to a 5.

So here’s what happened in ’10, something I’ve never experienced before.  Instead of the 1st hole jitters, I was getting the 7 hole jitters.  Literally wasn’t able to control and settle the nerves until the first side was almost done.  A little shaky, mind racing, breathing heavy — too amped up.  While I didn’t always score badly during these episodes, I never scored great, trying mostly just to hang on until the nerves subsided.  This is not the stuff of low rounds.

I tried the whole zen relaxation thing with deep breathing, then the thing where you say “#@%& You!” and try to overcome it with sheer will power.  But it didn’t seem to listen.  I say “it” because it felt like some kind of immovable object I couldn’t control, like a big cow sitting in the middle of the road when I’m trying to get somewhere.

So how do I get the cow off the road?  Lacking credible bootstrap theories, I scoured the interwebs for the best golf mental game tips I could find.  Overall, there seem to be some prevailing theories from a variety of sources.

First there’s the physical side of controlling nervous energy, as summed by this 1st Tee Jitters video.  In short, practice how you would play on the range — aim to a target, hit driver, then iron, and go through your routine.  Don’t just hit balls to nowhere.  On the tee, slow down a bit and make sure you’ve got your target picked out.

This is all well and good, but is there a way to get rid of the nerves entirely?  According to sports psychologist Nick Hastings, eliminating nerves is bad.  Instead, focus on controlling nerves.  Seems like pretty good stuff.  Work with your nervous energy, not against it.  Don’t just breathe deep, aim your breathing at specific body parts.  Simulate pressure wherever possible and get comfortable with it.

Certainly worth trying out.  If these tips don’t work, I may give the bull dance a shot, or I’ll just take David Feherty’s advice: “Take your practice swing first, but let the ball get in the way. Then make your real swing afterward, when the ball is gone. Think about it. No one ever f—s up a practice swing.”

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