As a competitive golf athlete, more often than not you have an intention or a purpose to your round of golf. It often is as simplistic as taking what you’ve been working on in practice and transferring that skill to the golf course, or it could be a bit more “big picture” and be focused more on scoring and finishing rounds strong. No matter if you’re on your way to your best round ever, leading a tournament, or leading a tournament by one stroke with one hole to play, each of these situations brings with it that feeling that brings competitors back. That rush can be so hard to recreate until the moment presents itself and you’re faced with an opportunity to succeed in the situation you’ve worked hard to get yourself into to begin with. So what is it, exactly, that you’re feeling when you finally do transfer all of that practice to the course and are faced with an opportunity to accomplish a goal you’ve been working so hard to achieve?
There are a variety of stress hormones that get released in these types of situations, but one of the most common is adrenaline (known more formally as epinephrine). Adrenaline is a hormone that is released from the adrenal glands during stressful situations as a way to support the body’s intuition to “fight or flight.” As this hormone continues to be released in that stressful situation, increased blood flow is sent to large muscle groups as well as the heart and lungs to facilitate either option, either fighting or fleeing. As a result, elevated heart rate, respiratory rate, and levels of strength are all common results of a rush of adrenaline. And just like that, as close as you may be to achieving the goal you have worked so hard to achieve, one last obstacle presents itself and must be overcome before you conquer it!
I don’t mean to make this feeling out as a bad thing, however, these situations are what you strive for. They are what make you stronger! Your mindset toward this (at times uncomfortable) feeling is a subject I’ll leave more to Dr. Brant to elaborate on, but I promise the best in the world often embrace it like no other. What I am going to suggest from the physical side in order to best manage the stress of the situation is to consciously take control of your response through slow, deliberate breathing techniques. Slowing your breathing is going to provide a sense of calm in this moment of “fight or flight” and begin to tell the body everything is ok (in the scheme of things). I also encourage you to “scan” your body for tension in areas you may not even realize. Are you squinting? Are your shoulders shrugged or pulled back? Again, are you holding your breath?
Experiencing adrenaline in your system during competition is ultimately one of the best ways to improve the end result in these situations, but it is my hope that understanding what is happening physically will help bring awareness to the moment and result in some fist pumps and goals crossed off that list before long.