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How to deal with pressure shots in golf? Focus on your routine

If you want to see what pressure can do to someone’s golf swing, just watch the last hour of any Tour event. Many amateurs believe that Tour players never miss a shot. That is simply not the truth. We have all succumbed to the pressure.

Did you watch the end of the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in Hawaii?

Let’s start with the Sentry event: The last hole. Justin Thomas is leading by one. A reachable par five. Penalty area left, lots of room right. Thomas comes over the top and hooks it into the penalty area. Patrick Reed is sitting in the clubhouse at 14-under. Xander Schauffele hits the green in two. He has 35 feet for eagle. Justin makes bogey. Schauffele three-putts. Three-way tie at 14-under.

How can you play 71 holes almost perfectly and yank it into the penalty area on the last hole? You start thinking about results. You try to make something happen. You lose focus on the process. How do I know this? I have gagged it myself more times than I would like to admit. Thomas had a two-shot lead with three holes to play ...

Have you ever hit on a shot and immediately thought, “Oh, wow, can I have that one back, please?” If you have played golf for any length of time, of course you have.

Thomas, Patrick Reed and Schauffele went into a three-hole playoff. Schauffele was out after the first playoff hole. On the third playoff hole, Thomas again pulled his second shot. He landed short of the penalty area and was able to hit a wedge to about 3 feet. Reed was on the green in two. He three-putted and Justin got it up and down from 107 yards for birdie to win the tournament.

At the awards ceremony, Thomas said he thought he threw the tournament away. He knew he was lucky for the chance to be in a playoff and come out on top. He said, “For some reason, I was supposed to win this week. I got very lucky to even have that putt.”

I asked my husband, Allen, to investigate what Thomas said after the fact about his left shots on the 18th hole. There was something going on in his mind that made him yank it. What Allen heard was Thomas saying that he doesn’t feel comfortable on that shot.

Have you ever had a hole or a shot on a course where you just don’t feel right? If so, I want you to step back. Pay attention to the internal dialogue and ask yourself what is bothering you. Are you afraid of the water? The tight fairway? The bunkers in front of you? Identify the issue that is causing the fear and apprehension. Once you know what it is, come up with a different strategy to play the hole. Hit an iron off the tee. Lay up. Aim one way or the other. Trick your brain to think different thoughts so the ruminating voice in your head doesn’t win out.

The very next week at the Sony Open, Brendan Steele was on the final hole. Leading by one. Par five. Had an iron in his hand. Flipped it over the trees left of left. Cameron Smith is one shot back. Steele makes par. Smith makes birdie. Playoff. Smith wins.

Again, how can you play 71 holes almost perfectly and allow one swing to change the game and outcome? It is easy. You lose focus on the process and think of the result.

You must know what your personal routine is. If you don’t have one, create one. Make sure you are comfortable with it. You will hit more good shots consistently when you know what you are doing. Guessing doesn’t work.

The ball has no idea what is in front of it. The club has no idea who is holding it. If you swing the club correctly, the ball will go where you are aiming the club. There is no emotion. Only facts. Is it difficult to master? Of course. But it is worth the effort.

Cindy Miller is a former LPGA Tour player, a current member of the Legends Tour of the LPGA and a Golf Channel Academy lead coach. She is a certified behavior, motivation and judgment professional who is sought after as a speaker, coach and corporate trainer. She inspires and challenges people to take another shot at business, sport or life. For your free learning style assessment, click here. Reach out to her at Follow Cindy at and on InstagramFacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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