The perils of pressure: meltdowns, helicopters … and headaches

The Ontario university golf championship provides a window on the affects of pressure

October 23, 2017—By a large margin, the Ryder Cup is the most exciting event in golf for one simple reason—emotion.

When the individual game becomes a team game, the mental and emotional circuits are prone to running hotter. As fans, we lap up all that fist-pumping drama.

Whether you are a pro or an amateur, learning how to manage yourself emotionally is one of the most difficult parts of golf. It’s what separates average players from the elite.

And regardless whether you ever play team golf or you’re trying to lower your handicap, the inability to manage yourself emotionally will keep you mired in mediocrity.

With awareness and commitment, you can improve at this essential part of the game. It’s not voodoo woo-woo stuff that only ‘weak’ people need to think about. Managing yourself emotionally is an essential skill for golf and for life.

As head coach of the University of Guelph men’s and women’s golf teams this year, I watched all season as my players and other teams struggled with emotional management, but especially at the season-ending Ontario University Association championship in Ottawa.

As play wound down Sunday Oct. 15 at Loch March Golf Club, I watched players implode and explode as the pressure to finish well for their teammates weighed heavily on them, especially over the course of a six-hour round on a wet course.

After pumping his drive into the woods and then foozling his provisional, I watched a player ram his head into wooden fence rail in a rage, leading to a triple and then a double (and, presumably, a headache). Another player who made a large number on his last hole was devastated by the assumption he was personally responsible for his team’s failure to grab a podium finish. (He wasn’t.) Another player freaked out over a shot, broke his iron in half and then helicoptered it into the woods (actually, it happened Saturday).

I understand that under the pressure of a team championship that young people can lose it. They’re maturing and learning how to deal with pressure and stress, but I’ve watched many supposedly grown-up folks freak out on the course as well.

It’s serious stuff. Your inability to respond effectively to stress will not only marginalize you as a golfer, but it can also have dangerous ramifications off the course.

The way you show up as golfer opens a window to the way you show up in the world. I guess it’s better to break a golf club than to do something dangerous and stupid in a bar, at work, or with a child or a spouse.

It is important because you will have far more serious challenges in your life than golf. That’s why golf is such a great metaphor for life; the game offers us many gifts that we can take into the rest of our lives.

Wednesday: What you can do on the golf course to remain safe and sane.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to manage your emotions, thinking and how to improve your performance on the golf course and life, I encourage you to contact me. I’m a performance coach and trained facilitator.

The first session is always complimentary. If it appears that we’re a fit, we can talk about a formal coaching arrangement. I also do workshops for groups and teams.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!