Players Deal with Stress at Pebble Beach

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Man taking golf swing while crowd watches

As they compete under pressure during any major tournament at Pebble Beach Golf Links, the contenders for the 2019 U.S. Open Championship should act more like tourists.

“Walk slowly, look at the scenery, take deep breaths,” advised Laird Small, Director of the Pebble Beach Golf Academy and author of the newly released Play Golf the Pebble Beach Way (Triumph, 2010).

“Stress is what makes them crack,” said Small, who has helped beginners and tour pros alike for nearly 25 years at Pebble Beach. “They let their emotional guard down, which can lead to the crumbling of their game.”

Those cracks start to show through certain player body language:

  • Kicking the ground after a shot
  • Walking noticeably faster than normal
  • Arms folded in an “unapproachable” manner
  • Staring at a shot like it just stole his wallet
  • Avoiding any interaction with the gallery
  • Punching his caddie in the nose

OK, so the last one was not really on Small’s list of stress tip-offs. But, if a player does take a swing at his caddie, you can bet it’s not a good sign, either.

However, just because a player takes a lot of extra swings with his club, or putter, it more likely is a signal of concentration, than anxiety.

“When you see a player doing that, they are trying to rehearse, or create the shot,” Small said. “What they really are working on is feel…the feel of the stroke, the feel of what the ball will do, the feel of the club in their hands.”

Small said it’s also a good sign if a player takes a practice swing after finishing a bad shot, calling it the SAT process. “The player is assessing whether it was an issue with Strategy, Aim or Trust in the swing,” he said.

Without question, there will be players who crack during the U.S. Open. But there will be at least one who won’t.

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