Ask an Expert: What’s the secret to dealing with the first-tee jitters?

Everyone has first-tee jitters, but they can be tamed.

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Q: What’s the secret to dealing with first-tee jitters?
—Barker, Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

A: All golfers get butterflies in the stomach on the first tee, mostly from anticipation. They creep in as you peek into the future and suddenly predict that something is about to go wrong. Because you haven’t yet experienced the actual moment, you feel helpless and out of control. Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle calls this the “anxiety gap,” and this attempt to control a future that hasn’t occurred yet can be a scary proposition.

The need for control is normal. It’s not the jitters that cause the bad shots; it’s the judgment you cast on yourself for simply feeling nervous. We judge ourselves negatively, for example, by wishing we were stronger mentally and could rule out all bad thoughts. Insisting on this kind of elusive self-control just increases tension. Instead, if you want to deal with the first-tee jitters, allow yourself to feel the anxiety without changing it. This can be a difficult task, because humans are continually seeking comfort, but accepting uncomfortable feelings ultimately creates the freedom you need to motor out of the blocks.

GOLF’s new performance columnist Dr. Greg Cartin is the founder of GC3 Performance Consulting based in Belmont, Mass. He works with PGA Tour players and athletes of all levels and ages. Have questions? Send ’em to performance@golf.com.

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