How to Handle First Tee Jitters

No Mulligans: How to Beat First Tee Jitters

Are you scared of the first tee shot on the golf course? Do you get the “first tee jitters?”

While some may laugh, it’s a real thing that plagues a huge percentage of golfers. For some reason, golfers put so much emphasis on the first shot. They think that this one shot will make or break the round.

I want to dispel that myth once and for all. Your first tee shot means almost nothing to your entire round. It’s literally one shot. Even if you top it or stripe it 300 yards down the fairway, it’s not an omen for the outcome of your round.

That’d be like saying Lebron missing his first basket of the night means he won’t play well. Or Tom Brady thinking an incompletion on his first pass attempt will mean it’s going to be a terrible game.

That’s not true so why do you think it’s like that for golf?

So if you’re suffering from the first tee jitters, understand first off, that it isn’t a big deal. With these steps, you will learn how to overcome the first tee nerves and walk up to the box with confidence.

How to Handle First Tee Jitters

As someone who has been at this sport for decades, I’ve come to understand that the first tee shot really doesn’t mean much. While it feels good impressing people that might be watching, a good tee shot doesn’t mean a birdie or par on the hole.

In fact, there have been so many times where I’ve stripped one down the fairway and made bogey. And other times, I’ve hit awful tee shots but scrambled to make par. That’s how golf works!

Remember, there is no correlation between your first shot and your entire round.

If you think there is one, that’s a huge mental roadblock that might hold you back from your best rounds. Nerves aren’t all bad. It’s 100% okay to be a little nervous on the first tee.

I once heard a reporter ask Tiger Woods if he still got nervous, Tiger’s reply was priceless, “If I don’t get a little nervous on the first tee then I probably won’t be out here playing anymore.” This is proof that nerves don’t mean anything bad. Getting nervous “butterflies” means you are human just like Tiger and if anything, nerves should make you feel alive.

If you use these techniques to calm your nerves, you will gain more confidence than you ever thought possible.

Practice the Shot on the Range

To help alleviate some of those nerves on the first tee, create a strategy for the first shot on the range. Grab a scorecard or look on the GPS to learn about the first hole if you’ve never played the course.

Ask yourself…

  • What’s the par?
  • Is the fairway narrow or wide?
  • Where is there trouble? What’s the ideal shot?

All of these should be components of a sound tee box strategy.

So once you determine the club, whether it’s a hybrid or driver, rehearse the shot on the range after you’ve already warmed up. Grab three balls at the end of your warm up and go through your full routine with each shot. The full routine means that you are visualizing the fairway and walking into the shot as if it’s your first real shot.

Rehearsing what you want that first shot to look like will train your mind and body for success. Make sure you end on a shot that you are happy with so your last memory of hitting a golf ball is a positive one on the first tee.

Master Your Breathing

Another common reason that so many golfers get super nervous on the first tee has nothing to do with the hole or their swing but instead their breathing. Think back to the last time you were nervous at anything, whether it was a job interview or round of golf, how was your breathing?

If you’re like 99.9% of people, it was shallow or almost non-existent. By holding in all the excess oxygen, you’re holding in stress and putting your mind it a small amount of panic from a lack of oxygen.

Instead, make sure you breathing throughout your warmup and as you head to the first tee. Keep breathing and stay loose as you wait your turn to tee off.

You want to give your brain the most amount of oxygen possible. If you’ve struggled with this before, make sure to add in an extra breath in your pre-shot routine as well.

First Tee Jitters

Get Rid of the Swing Thoughts

How many times have you stood over your ball on the first tee and noticed your mind go wild with swing thoughts? Things like…“Take it back inside, cock your wrists, keep it short of parallel, etc.”

Overthinking leads to lack of confidence and doubt which increases your nerves.

You need to stop overthinking when you play golf, especially on the first tee. Don’t have more than one swing thought for the round, at most! If you do need an anchor thought, make sure it’s nothing technical.

For example, don’t think “Take it back inside or try to drop it in the slot on the downswing.” Instead, think about things like “Smooth all the way through or keep my chin high throughout the swing.” Swing Tempo is another good thing to think about.

To play your best golf and have the least amount of nerves, you need to go unconscious and not think about any swing changes. Leave them for the range and focus on playing golf and not playing your swing.

Focus on the Target

I’ve talked about this in several articles but it’s so important I want to repeat over and over again. On the first tee and through your entire round, focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. You need to hold 100% of your focus on where you want the ball to go, not where you don’t want it to go.

So many golfers think about “not” going in the bunker, water or rough, especially on the first tee. But like I’ve said before, the mind doesn’t understand negatives like “don’t” so when you say, “Don’t hit in the water” it hears, “hit in the water.

Instead, pick a target and imagine as vividly as possible, the ball ending up exactly where you want it to go. This will help your mind and swing coordinate the desired results.

Own Your Pre-Shot Routine

Your pre-shot routine is your best friend on the course. It helps you stay focused, present for each golf shot and eliminate nerves.

Here are some great things to incorporate into your pre-shot routine to help with the first tee jitters.

  • Locking in a target for your shot. Focus on where you want it to go only!
  • Take a deep breath. Remember, this is great for calming nerves and keeping your muscles loose
  • Visualize or try to feel the shot you are about to hit.
  • Close your eyes for one or two seconds to calm your mind (Jason day regularly does this)

While these are just a few ideas, having any routine is better than none. Make sure it is consistent from the first tee to the last green. I highly suggest practicing this on the range as it’s just as important as your actual swing.

Focus on the Entire Round

Remember, one shot isn’t going to make or break your entire round. I’ve hit great shots on the first tee and ended up making bogey or worse. And I’ve hit awful shots and made pars. Remember, you’re playing golf and one hole doesn’t determine everything.

Even if you hit a terrible shot off the first tee, you still have plenty of time to get your round going in the right direction.

While you don’t want to expect to hit a bad shot, give yourself a break.

Don’t let one bad swing ruin the next 4-5 hours of your day!

Play More Golf

Want to get rid of first tee jitters?

Start playing more golf…seriously!

Anytime you take a big break from any sport, especially golf, it’s easy to build it up in your mind and get nervous. Tiger even talked about this during his comeback season of 2018. He said the longer he was off, the harder it was to get back into the swing of things and get his game going.

As you play more golf, you will get more comfortable rising to the challenge of hitting a great shot off the first tee. Even if there are strangers watching, you will be ready to go with your consistent pre-shot routine and deep breathing techniques.

One thing I like to do is to try to remember some of the good first tee shots that I’ve have hit over the years. This “highlight reel” helps create good feelings before the round.

If you have any videos of your swing, I recommend using an app on your phone to pair them together for one single clip (1-2 mins). This way you can watch anytime and remind yourself of your past accomplishments so you can play better in the future.

Don’t Forget That Confidence is Earned

If you want more confidence on the first tee, don’t forget that confidence comes from competence. You have to train your game so you can trust it on the course.

To have swagger on the first tee, everything else above will help but you also need to practice and groove your swing. The more you can groove a consistent swing (it doesn’t have to be a perfect swing) the more confidence you will have on the first tee box.

If you watch a skilled amateur or tour player, they do all of the above. They trust their swing but also have a great routine, target, and the right thoughts standing over the ball.

Final Thoughts on First Tee Jitters

Don’t expect to simply put a few of these tips to use and instantly eliminate the first tee jitters once and for all. In reality, you will probably always feel a little bit of nervous energy before you hit your first shot. If Tiger still does, so should you!

One important and final note, make sure you reframe your “nervous” thoughts to your mind. While you might feel nervous, your body and mind don’t know the difference between nervous and excited. Instead of saying “I’m nervous” say out loud, “I’m so excited.”

This small reframe will prime your mind for success as it will assure your mind that you’re not nervous (i.e. scared and afraid). Don’t forget, it’s just golf and I’m guessing you’re not playing for the green jacket at Augusta.

Make sure to have fun, enjoy being outside with friends and family, and do your best.

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