Golf Science – Fight or Flight

Golf Science – Fight or Flight

Golfers of all skill levels tend to play completely differently when under pressure. That is because more flight-or-fight hormones (epinephrine and nor-epinephrine) are released when a person feels anxious or stressed, and they make muscles contract faster and more forcefully. As a result, the entire downswing sequence could get out of whack. As we see week after week, even the professionals who are the best golfers on the planet are consistently inconsistent. Could the pros be more inconsistent with a particular full-swing club than with the others? This was an interesting question to pose to some leading professionals of the PGA Tour during the recently completed Farmers’ Insurance event at Torrey Pines in Southern California.

Golfers were asked, “What’s the “weak link” in your bag – the full-swing club that causes the most misses under pressure, which way do you miss the ball, and what is your on-course quick fix for it?”

Jimmy Walker • the driver is the hardest to hit because it’s the longest. His miss is a push right when he does not get through shot, which happens because his fundamentals go off. His solution would be to hit another club or to just play through. 

Hunter Mahan • a 3 wood off the deck (fairway) because when trying to hit it off ground a person has to treat it like an iron shot and come down on it, while continuing to turn through the ball. It is easy to come off such a shot and push it to right. 

Kevin Tway • the driver. His miss is a pull hook to the left, which happens because he swings too fast and does not complete his backswing.

J.B. Holmes • felt that it may not be any one club that is the weakest, but that there are tendencies when hitting under pressure, because a person might get a bit tighter and the miss would be a bit of the tug. To fix it requires the golfer to be more aware of it, and to play through it. A golfer should learn how to do it by practicing in similar situations more often. His main miss is a bit of a pull left. He advocates taking deep breaths, being aware of being slightly tight, and focusing on routines.

Anirban Lahiri • he is more likely to miss if the shot required is not a full shot (yardage-wise). Because of adrenaline, it is difficult to control a swing when trying taking yardage off a club’s full-strength capabilities. 

Byeong-Hun An (Ben An) • His miss goes both ways, especially perhaps with a 2 iron or a driver, although he’d never thought about this topic. How does he fix it? He jokes “Keep the fingers crossed” but then makes a good point –  he just tries to hit hard, so the shot is less likely to go off line.

Jason Day • 3 wood (which he does not hit too much) or the driver because it’s sometimes most crucial to get a driver shot in the fairway. His miss can be both ways or sometimes one way, but the former is more likely. His fix? “Try not to think about it.” 

Keegan Bradley • maybe 3 wood. The miss is probably to the left. There is no reason for it, under pressure he just hits it to the left sometimes.

It must be rather scary for a professional golfer not to know precisely what causes the misses and when they are likely to occur. If only there were a school for golf instructors, where their final project was a research project. A collection of such projects could lead to a lot of useful information being revealed about what does and does not matter in the golf swing.