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How To Reduce The Stress Of Putting

By Nicholas Wilson | 08/25/2022
How To Reduce The Stress Of Putting

Putting is about getting out of your own way. We all can hit putts on the practice green, so why can it be so hard when it matters most? The answer lies in your mental game and routine. When we are tense and stressed, it is expressed in the muscles. This is revealed in our putting stroke and leads to missed putts. So, the key is to bring calm awareness into your putting stroke via breathing, taking your time, and using a free throw mentality.

The National Institute Of Mental Health defines stress as “The physical or mental response to an external cause.” Insert putting. We are in an arena to perform where we have other eyeballs on us. We have done this one million times before and know we can(and from certain distances should) make the putt. So why can it be so hard to execute sometimes? Let’s take a look.

Free Throw Mentality

Before we get into the technical side of how to calm yourself mentally for putting, an approach is necessary. I teach this as the “free throw mentality.” Putting in disc golf and shooting free throws in basketball both share a very similar approach. They are both highly repetitive and require mental calmness to allow muscle memory to take over. The main difference is that putting in disc golf includes environmental factors and is performed at various distances.

Watch successful basketball players at the free throw line, and you will see them go through the exact same routine every time. EVERY TIME. Steph Curry is the greatest free throw shooter of all time and is very direct with his approach. He checks his feet; one bounce with the right hand looks up and releases his shot. Splash. EVERY TIME. Basketball is played indoors, so there is less need to account for wind and other environmental factors. Fifteen seconds of concentration is all it takes. Whatever calming techniques you decide to go with, make sure you do them every time.

Take Your Time

As per PDGA rules, you are allowed 30 seconds to take your shot once you arrive at your lie. Take this time! I am not saying to take all 30 seconds and be “That Guy” that everyone has to wait for, but settle yourself during this time. Many things go through your head between the time you make a throw and the time you get to your putt. Use your routine during this time and settle yourself. This may include deep breaths, positive affirmations, deep focus on the target, or any number of other concentration techniques that work for you. However, the key here is to do this routine every time.

Before every putt, it is beneficial to take fifteen seconds to calm yourself and take inventory of environmental factors (wind, obstacles, sunlight, etc.). Then visualize your disc going into the basket at a very specific target point. Some people like to focus on the center pole. This is the heart of the basket and is a great place to rest awareness. I like to concentrate on the chain link to the right of the center pole. Most baskets catch well here, and it works for me. Find what point works for you and stay with it.

Breathe

Last but not least, breathe. Always take a deep breath as part of your pre-shot routine. Do this while visualizing your putt entering the chains. Yufang Lin, MD, is an internal medicine doctor at
the Center for Integrative Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Health System. She has studied the human body under stress extensively. Dr. Lin had this to say about how the body acts while under stress and how it acts when deep breathing is introduced; “When you’re under stress, your sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, which is associated with stress-related symptoms such as faster breathing, heart-rate elevation, irritability, elevated blood pressure, anxiety, and body tension…When you engage in deep breathing, your abdomen is soft as you engage your diaphragm and take a deep breath in with the intention of really filling up the whole lung with air. You’re slowing down the heart rate, reducing your blood pressure, and relaxing your muscles.”

Deep breathing is the antithesis of stress. This all leads to getting out of your way, so muscles are relaxed. Muscle memory is best utilized when muscles are relaxed. Otherwise, our tense muscles perform differently than on the practice green, and we end up with different results in competitive rounds. So, deep breathing on the putting green is crucial for physical performance.

When breathwork is combined with focus (mindfulness), it can bare even greater results. In an academically reviewed study from 2020 out of Taiwan about neural plasticity via mindfulness and breathing techniques, researchers found a positive correlation between conscious breathing and performance; “Influencing breathing can impact muscle activation, respiratory function, and physiological performance. It can also direct the mind and reduce emotion-based reactive behavior. Creating stillness in thought helps us to be more mindful of our energy and manage negative emotions. Mental clarity and decisive action improve performance. Therefore, the purposeful practice of breathwork and mindfulness may provide athletes with enhanced performance outcomes.”

Bringing It All Together

The goal is to incorporate strategies to cope with the inevitable stress of putting. Always remember to breathe. From there, use whatever calming techniques work for you. Treat each putt as a free throw and use the same routine as you take your time and visualize the putt going into the chains. Remember that you have made this putt countless times on the practice green, and then toss that putter in the basket!

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