Can an elevated heart rate make you a better player? This pro sells being nervous

Cam Davis hits a tee shot on Tuesday during a practice round for this week's Presidents Cup.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Davis, not a fist-pump guy. 

“I’ve never been much of a fist-pump thrower,” he said. “If they have been thrown, they might be a little wonky. I think I’m out of practice. I need to give myself as many opportunities as I can so I can dial it in when Sunday comes around.”

Talk to him for a few minutes, and all this is not surprising. At his pre-Presidents Cup press conference on Tuesday, he was articulate, though not exuberant. The Aussie is cool. And that made another revelation a bit stunning. 

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Davis wants the heart pumping when he plays his golf. 

The build-out that will surround the first tee and seat a few thousand this week at Quail Hollow? Louder, please. 

Shots that battle water, of which there are several here, especially over the Green Mile stretch? Can’t wait. 

In explaining it all, it’s also clear he’s spent time on the subject.

“I feel like I play some of my best golf when the heart rate’s up a little bit,” Davis said. “It’s easier to pick a shot.

“To be honest with you, when you’re stuck between hitting it soft or hitting it hard, you just hit it hard. The hands come out of play a little bit, you use your body a little bit more, and that leads to some of the best shots under pressure. I’ve played my best golf when I’ve been a bit nervous. It’s actually comforting to feel that way. I think for a long time I felt like if you’re nervous and your hands are shaking, you can’t make that putt because you feel the putter is moving, but there’s no reason you can’t make shots when you’re a little elevated.

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“To be honest, that’s what we all play for is feeling like that. If we get a whole week of feeling like that, it’s going to be pretty cool. So I can’t wait.”

So, how does one best go about getting the ticker ticking? As noted above, the first tee will do the trick this week. The game’s in the U.S., Davis isn’t American, and he’ll hear some things. But if you’ve heard of good nerves, where you’re excited to get going and not scared, this is that. 

“No. I mean, that’s the biggest grandstand I think I’ve seen around the 1st tee,” Davis said. “I’ve experienced winning tournaments and having a crowd around me trying to play down the stretch, but usually that’s at the end of a week where you’ve been playing great all week and at that point you’re in the zone, in a rhythm.

“I think this is going to be the first time I’m starting with that atmosphere right at the 1st tee. To be honest, the way I’m taking it is I’ve earned that crowd by playing well. So try to treat it as though you’ve already played well all week before you even turn up to that tee, and that crowd is going around you because you’ve earned it.

“So I’m really looking forward to the atmosphere. I try and take it as if it’s going to bring the best out of me.”

Of course, Davis’ process is more than a set of bleachers. Situations help. 

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“I spend most tournaments trying to psych myself up,” he said. “If anything, I find myself getting a little flat unless you can start building a crowd around you by playing really well.

“I feel like over the last couple of months I’ve gotten a lot of late tee times on Sundays and have had that sort of elevated heart rate given to me by the situation. I think this is definitely going to be a week where the situation is going to give you that elevated heart rate.”

Then there are the quieter times. The move here is simple, but takes work. 

A reporter asked: “What’s the Cam Davis pump up? How do you get yourself elevated?”

“It’s just breathing,” he said. “Slow breathing slightly to calm you down, fast breathing will speed you up. This week, I think it’s going to be slow breathing so you’re not overly elevated. I think an eight out of 10 is a pretty good place to be. I think eight out of 10 is going to be minimum this week.”

But no fist-pumps. 

“We’re trying to turn the tide of the stretch of events out here in this tournament where it hasn’t gone our way,” Davis said. “All we’ve got is the opportunity to turn that around for the first time in a long time, and there is a lot of freedom to that.

“We can all just go out there and give it our best. We feel like, yeah, it could be an upset, which would be awesome. I think for this tournament it would be awesome. For Presidents Cup in the future, it would be awesome to start having a bit more of a back and forth rather than a bit one-sided. It would be great to be part of the team that kind of gets that started.”

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.