Q&A: From Tee to Zen - How we can control Anxietys Grip

Posted by Nicholas Ilias on

Golf is a beautiful and challenging sport that requires a unique combination of physical skill and mental focus. Many golfers experience anxiety on the course &  can significantly impact performance and enjoyment of the round.

Anxiety is this year's focal point of the UK mental health awareness week, so Nick, Founder of Left of Field Golf sat down with James Sinclair, the co-founder of the UK-based Golf Guru App to have an open discussion about anxiety in golf, our personal experiences with anxiety and some tips on how we can overcome some of these feelings we have on the course.

What does golf and Anxiety conjure up for you both?

Nick: “My mind goes straight to the first tee box. With the unknown of how the round will go, you have enough time to stew on some negative thoughts that might creep into your mind too. If I have had a terrible warm-up and get to the tee box, generally some self-doubt comes attached with that warm-up and finds its way into the game”

James: “Couldn’t agree more with what Nick touched on about the unknown. Personally, that’s what can make me anxious! One of my favorite definitions of confidence is not actually having a bulletproof feeling, but more that it’s an ‘excitement for the unknown’. Whatever happens on that first tee shot, say you duff it in front of the clubhouse, it’s important to accept that result and own it. You can choose to be excited at the challenge it presents to you, and learn from the situation. Affirming with yourself that whatever happens from here I am not going to let one situation dictate how the rest of the round will feel, I find that helps to reduce my anxiety”.

As golfers, we set such high standards for ourselves on the course, which can add tension and inhibit our ability to make a golf swing. What are your thoughts on this?


Nick: “Absolutely! We see 4 days’ worth of PGA Tour highlights where they stick it close to a foot. Then we head out to the course thinking we can do the same and get super frustrated when we don’t get the results we think we deserve. I think if we were easier on ourselves and relaxed our expectations, we would be able to enjoy the round more and most likely shoot better scores too. We set unrealistic standards and get down on ourselves when we can’t execute an extremely difficult shot. Usually, the outcome is negative self-talk. We’ve all had a playing partner call themselves an idiot or negatively curse themselves after hitting a bad shot”.

James: “Mhmm, I thought how good it would be to have PGA tour coverage of the bottom of the leaderboard. Quiet eye-opening and much more relatable!

I remember speaking to Dr. Joe Parent about when he was coaching Vijay Singh. Despite being one of the best players in the world, Vijay would go around the course and see all the bad spots, focusing on the places he couldn’t hit his ball, and that negativity evolved into always making a negative comment about his shots. They worked on flipping that mindset and always saying something positive about the shot, no matter the outcome. It had a super powerful compounding effect on his performance and his mood. The more you diminish those negative thoughts and substitute those with positive comments, we will feel less anxiety and self-doubt around obtaining a certain result of course.”


 What comes to your mind when you think about golf and mental health?


Nick: “Well I feel that golf exemplifies what is going on in someone’s life probably before they know it.  I was diagnosed with depression a few years ago and now after years of self-development on my own mental health through meditation, I now look back and I can say I missed a lot of early warning signs on the golf course. The short temper, not being in touch with my surroundings and completely engulfed in the negatives of the game.

The irony is that golf is the perfect avenue for stress relief and to get in touch with yourself and be more mindful. You are out in nature, phone is off, usually with good company and enjoying the highs and lows of the round. It’s a safe haven for so many people.” 

James: “I go back to the creation of the Golf Guru App, reflecting on my time when I was playing a lot of golf in my late teens & early 20’s. Comparing that to today, I can’t even imagine playing that way. I had incredibly high expectations and there aren’t many people that get the yips in their 20’s and decide to quit, but I was one of them. 

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about that exact point you made too, how the struggles in your life will tend to come out one way or another in golf. You know, anger issues, doubts and frustrations, fears... Golf has this crafty way of showing you what needs attention in your mental game. We just get so caught up in a round of golf that is hard to step back and see what’s going on. So my past mental health issues massively influenced the creation of the Golf Guru App. I don’t want anyone to get to the point that I did, where I nearly quit the game for good, so there’s a lot of great golf psychology learning within the app, to help you build up your confidence, focus on the present moment, hitting and executing the shot in front of you, and thinking more positively.”

Jack Nicklaus once said, “concentration is a fine antidote to anxiety”. What is your interpretation of this quote?

Nick: “I think it means to be concentrating means you are present in what you're doing. No external factors can infiltrate your mind and focus on one thing and one thing only. When we focus on just one thing, it is hard for negative thoughts to come into the mind and we are much more capable of executing a singular thought.”

James: “You can funnel your mind down to something helpful in those moments you feel anxious on the golf course. Going back to that first tee shot in front of the clubhouse on a busy Sunday Morning, monthly medal, three groups waiting to tee off. Your mind naturally becomes aware of these things as ‘threats’, but that external information is super unhelpful to you hitting your golf shot. How can your mind become a tool in these situations, where your full focus on a situation means anxiety can’t come in at all? It’s a bit like training a muscle, it can be as simple as locking into a target, or triggering a pre-shot routine and you get fully in the zone of the shot. Anxiety can’t have the same impact when you are fully present and completely focused on the task at hand”.




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