How to use your first tee nerves to your advantage

When the first tee shot is struck at Colonial it will be more than ninety days removed from the canceled second round of The PLAYERS Championship. That is a layoff that would make even Bruce Lietzke a little antsy.

Be assured, just as you are salivating at the prospect of PGA TOUR golf returning, the competitors are equally as excited.  Indeed, I am sure that even someone as laid back as Dustin Johnson is a little amped up at the prospect of getting back into the fray. 

Further, just like you, the PGA TOUR’s best are loaded with anticipation, nervous energy, hope, and even a little anxiety.  And those feelings will only ramp up as game-day nears.

Now it would be easy (and intellectually lazy) to assume that if the golf swing was in good working order, the putting stroke was smooth, and the touch around the greens was on-point the scores would manifest nothing but good news.  

Honestly, nothing could be further from the truth.

Performance, at any level, is a function of more than just your physical attributes.  Mental acuity and emotional equilibrium also play a substantial role in your success. 

Put simply: Playing golf is a holistic endeavor. 

Thus it seems sensible that we understand our inner workings and how we respond to a stressful environment – in this case the return to a golf contest – so we can hit the ground running.

The main element to grasp is the “Fight or Flight” release of hormones elicited by your Central Nervous System in response to incoming sensory information from your environment. This all-important reaction essentially slows down unnecessary bodily functions and accelerates important “life-saving” mechanisms.  Its symptoms may include an increased heart-rate, clammy hands, increased perspiration, “butterflies in the stomach” or nausea, a feeling of being tense or anxious, and in extreme cases loss of bladder control.

These feelings are all completely normal and they need to be expected and embraced.  They are evidence of your body preparing itself for high performance.  I stress to all my competitive clients that when these feelings inevitably occur it is the body accessing its “Superhero-mode”.

To quote noted Psychologist, Dr. Carolyn Fisher:  “The fight or flight response is an important reaction that we all have and need, but it’s meant for true stress and danger. Everyone is going to have it in varying degrees for different reasons, but learning to slow down, be aware and conceptualize what’s actually happening can help you regain control.”

Along those lines I turned to a dear friend and expert in Fear and Anxiety disorders, Dr. Kevin Chapman (who recently appeared on my On the Mark podcast).  

Says Dr. Chapman:  “Anxiety is also known as ‘Preparatory Coping’. It has the purpose of alerting us to a future threat.  Anxiety contains three parts: Thoughts, Physical Sensations and Behaviors.  This experience is meant to help us in taking effective action in dealing with a threat. Coming off a long lay-off is something that ‘should’ be anxiety-provoking.  Understanding that this anxiety is trying to prompt us to prepare to utilize our skills (which is why our arousal increases) while shifting our attention to the situation, will will lead us to successfully regulating the anxiety, which will lead to a positive outcome or performance.”

Fundamentally, the things that the pros, and you, will feel upon return to competition are completely normal, and to be welcomed. 

Don’t stress, your system is not shutting down… On the contrary, it is arming up for battle. 

So… 

Understand and welcome your “SuperHero juice”. 

Don’t panic, just make sure you “dot your I’s and cross your T’s”.  

Focus on your score and don’t worry about how strange your swing might feel,   

And don’t forget to smell the roses.

Golf.com Contributor

On-course announcer and analyst Mark Immelman is passionate about the game of golf. As a decorated instructor, award-winning NCAA college golf coach, and an accomplished golfer, Mark brings a robust knowledge and vast experience to his role as a television broadcaster and golf instructor. He is currently a Golf Analyst for CBS Sports HQ, and an Analyst and On-course Announcer for CBS Sports and Golf on CBS. He currently also serves as a Studio Analyst and an On-course Announcer for PGA TOUR Live  for PGA TOUR Live.

The older brother to 2008 Masters Champion, Trevor Immelman, Mark grew up in Somerset West, South Africa. After a successful amateur career in South Africa he was offered a golf scholarship to Columbus State University (Columbus , GA). He enjoyed a prolific collegiate tenure highlighted by his four-time All-America selections, two-time Academic All-America awards, and two NCAA Div. II National Championship victories. After graduation, Mark had a short season as a playing professional, but quickly turned his attention to his true passion – golf teaching.

As a golf instructor, Mark believes in cultivating ability and talent by providing comprehensive, holistic golf instruction that is easily understandable and of the highest quality to golfers of all abilities and skill levels. His passionate approach and keen knowledge of the game have led to him being a sought-after mind by leading Professional and Amateur golfers alike. Through his career he has taught and/or consulted to PGA TOUR and European Tour professionals and tournament winners such as: Larry Mize, Loren Roberts, Trevor Immelman, Scott Brown, Patton Kizzire, Louis Oosthuizen and Will Wilcox. He has been recognized as one of “Golf Digest’s Top 20 Instructors Under 40”, Golf Digest’s “Best Teachers in the State of Georgia” and Georgia Trend Magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40 – Georgia’s Best and Brightest”.

As a NCAA College Coach at Columbus State University (since 2001) Mark continues to coach the Columbus State Men’s Golf Team and his program is a perennial contender for Conference and National Titles. He is a two-time NCAA Div. II Atlantic/Southeast Region Coach of the Year, two-time Peachbelt Conference Coach of the Year, and the 2009 NCAA Div. II National Coach of the Year.

In 2019 Mark was selected as Captain and Coach of the (Arnold) Palmer Cup International Team. His team triumphed over the United States Team in the Palmer Cup Matches held at The Alotian Club outside of Little Rock, AR.

Mark’s additional broadcast duties include being a guest analyst on the CBS Sports “First Cut Podcast”. CBS Sports also uses Mark’s unique voice for audio and promotional PGA TOUR advertisements and promotional reads.

He has also served a 6-year tenure as a Play-by-Play Announcer for Sirius/XM PGA TOUR Radio.

Additionally, Mark hosts “On the Mark”, a PGA TOUR Podcast, which to date has been downloaded more than 3 million times in more than 125 countries.

He has also written golf instructional columns and articles for Golf Digest SA, Golf Digest USA and is currently penning instructional pieces for Golf Magazine. As an author, Mark has published two e-Books on golf instruction: “Scandalously SImple – The Easy Way to Accurate Golf Shots” and “Golf is a Game of Recovery”.

You can learn more about at MarkImmelman.com