Whether you're scratch or a 22-handicapper, golf can make your hands tremble, knees wobble and another part of your anatomy feel a little tight. Fear not you're about to become oblivious to pressure, make money putts and be known to friends and foes as the guy they just can't beat.
We found three players just like you, monitored their brainwaves and let them battle it out for $500. Here's what you can learn from our experiment.
THE LAB RATS
HANDICAP: 25 AGE: 44
BIGGEST FEAR: FIRST-TEE JITTERS
HANDICAP: 9 AGE: 40
BIGGEST FEAR: BUNKER SHOTS
STEVE HENRY HERMAN
HANDICAP: 12 AGE: 59
BIGGEST FEAR: BUNKER SHOTS
Observe players as they compete during a round and a $500 putting contest while wearing heart-rate monitors and EEG sensors (which measure your brain's electrical activity) to determine how golf-related stress affects your mind and body.
DUKE UNIVERSITY GOLF CLUB
Dr. Richard Keefe, associate professor of sports medicine at Duke, a 6 handicap and author of the mental-game manual On the Sweet Spot.
FEAR OF THE FIRST TEE
"My problem is that I can't not think about the trouble," Kevin Leibel said on the first tee. "That, and I tense up when I play with better golfers. I feel I don't belong. But today, I feel good." A glance at the digital wristwatch monitor revealed his heart rate: 89 beats per minute. He's cooler than Fonzie until he's reminded that 6 million readers are, in essence, about to watch him tee off. "Hey, thanks." He looked again at his wrist. "Wow, 93." Awkward laugh. "Now 99, 103, 107. I better swing before I pass out." The result: a frail push-slice. Heart rate: 122. Minutes later, after his partners split the fairway, Leibel found his tee shot, then topped two straight. His heart neared 130. "I hate messing up in front of better players," Leibel said. "Now I'm flustered."
Later, on the tee of the par-4 13th, Leibel's pulse tumbled from 120 to 94 after the other two unleashed wild tee shots; he then coolly launched his best drive, a 230-yard missile. "I hate saying this," Leibel admitted, "but when other guys mess up, it relaxes me. I think, 'OK, I'm one of them. I belong.' I have to remind myself that they don't care what I shoot. And I have to stop letting every little thought enter my mind on the tee."
How to conquer the first tee
By Bob Rotella, author of The Golfer's Mind
"My advice to anyone suffering from first-tee jitters is to develop a pre-shot routine and stick with it. Look at Tom Watson today and 25 years ago. Same routine. Two waggles and go, whether it's a major or a pro-am. A good preshot routine is like being in a quiet room, where pressure can't get you. Make it simple: Pick your target, see the shot and swing. Do your routine on the range before hitting your last 10 practice balls. Then take that same routine to the tee. Then the first tee won't own you you'll own the tee."
FEAR OF SAND
"No, stay up, ball! Stay up!" Gabriel Szulik barked after pulling his tee shot on the 167-yard par-3 12th, all carry over water to a peninsula green. ("This hole is heart-attack city," a fellow guinea pig said.) But Szulik wasn't worried about the lake. "I just wanted to stay out of the left bunker," he admitted. "I hate bunkers. I'd rather rinse it than go in the sand." The pounding muscle in his chest agrees: his heart rate rocketed 19 ticks to 111 beats per minute.
While he'd rather step in a bear trap than a bunker, trouble found Szulik on 18 when his ball trickled into a yawning crater some 50 yards from the flag. "Oh, boy," Szulik said with a laugh. "The hardest shot in golf. Here goes nothing." He dug his cleats into the sand and then a funny thing happened. He grew icily detached, and his pulse dropped: 105, 99, 94. Then thump! He caught a perfect wedge, cleared 30 yards of sand, and parked it five feet from the flag. "Unbelievable! For some reason, I felt no pressure," Szulik said. "I just saw it and hit it."
Dr. Keefe's take: "You were so convinced you'd butcher the shot," he told Szulik, "that you were completely relaxed and unattached to the outcome. You had no fear because you had no expectation, and you just hit the shot of the day."
How to be the man from the sand
By Gio Valiante, who has taught Jack Nicklaus and Chris DiMarco
"Gabriel was clutch on the shot he fears most the 50-yard bunker shot because he was utterly relaxed and had no expectations. However, I don't suggest the 'here goes nothing' approach. Instead, take these two steps when facing the shot that scares you most. First, squeeze a golf ball hard several times. Chris DiMarco does this it gets blood pumping, improves feel and relieves tension. Second, reframe the question. Instead of saying 'What if I miss?' ask, 'What's my target?' Ask a positive question and you cannot ask a negative one. Together these two actions one of body, one of mind will reap good results." (For more mental-game advice from Valiante, go to fearlessgolf.net