In honor of Leap Day, take a leap of faith in yourself to handle nerves on the first tee.

By Jon Levy

I’m nervous just writing about it.

Embrace your nerves on the first tee boxI mean, all those eyes. Those peering, judging, disapproving, evil eyes, with evil thoughts behind them. Focused squarely on the shot I’m about to hit. And me. Focused on everything. About. ME.

If I fail and hit a bad one, I’m a failure at golf. And life.

If I succeed and a hit a good one, it was probably luck anyway. And I’m still a failure. And there’s something in my teeth and I smell bad.

OK, so maybe this is just a bit outside reality and, by all means, didn’t mean to drum up bad memories like the time you choked asking your crush to dance in the 7th grade. Because chances are you did have something in your teeth and smelled like a high school locker room.

But, one thing’s for certain: If you play the game of golf, nerves on the first tee are just part of the deal. Of course that full-blown scenario isn’t running through your mind (hopefully), but there’s likely a version of this making you sweat on the opening box.

After all, if there’s a game that can make you question EVERYTHING, it’s golf. So, in honor of Leap Day, let’s take a leap of faith in ourselves to overcome the dreaded first tee issue.

Embrace, not race (away).

Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Or something like that.

Embrace your nerves on the first tee

But, seriously, whether they’ve just called you to the tee at the U.S. Open or your local muni, the moment of truth is coming so instead of rushing to get it over with, you’re better served by embracing the challenge and opportunity to overcome it.

The mind is a powerful thing, as they say, so if you can view this one moment of your life just like it is –  a golf shot – and accept your nerves are a GOOD thing (because it means you’re aliiive!), then you’re turning a negative outlook into a positive one. And that can only be good for your golf game.

Identify how nerves affect your swing.

How do nerves affect your golf swing?Even if you’ve reworked your outlook, you’re probably still feeling the burn and it’s making your body and swing feel different. So, here’s a trick to help: Try picking apart just exactly what feels different, and subsequently how you may be able to remedy the issue.

For example, if you identify tendencies of forgoing your normal pre-shot routine and making shorter, quicker backswings resulting in pull-hooks, you can use these conclusions to your aid.

In this scenario, you could consciously focus on having the same pre-shot routine on every shot, while taking a full backswing, with a slow and smooth rhythm.

Stay true to your personality to overcome.

This means to find a way to become comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.

Listen, we’re not talking life or death here – it’s GOLF, after all – but when your mind perceives danger (i.e. everyone will laugh at me if I top it), we can still go into a primal fight-or-flight state and then all hell breaks loose with our golf game. So, fight back against your silly mind and get as comfortable as you can.

This could mean talking to your playing partners about last night’s game, the kids or work. Or if you’re the type who finds more solace in solitude, walk a few feet away and take some swings and diaphragm breaths to dispel the nervous energy.

Have faith in yourself!

Hit a good tee shot regardless of nerves

The point is to trust in yourself that, no matter what happens, YOU WILL BE OK.

The mind is a powerful thing, and just like you’re able to all of a sudden feel like the whole world is watching and judging your every move, you’ll be surprised what a different outlook and some new tricks make yourself comfortable can do for your first tee success.

Great. So now that we’ve got this under control, back to that time in the 7th grade …

Jon Levy
A former Instruction & Equipment Editor at and guest author for, Golfweek and others, Jon Levy is an accomplished golf writer. His extensive golf experience also stems from a competitive background in college (Iowa State Univ.) and on the mini tours, and nine years as a college golf coach at the University of Colorado, Scottsdale Community College and Paradise Valley Community College. In 2007, Jon was named the NJCAA National Coach of the Year after leading Scottsdale to the NJCAA National Championship title.


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