Nervousness, Success and Jack Nicklaus

I remember in college when I was preparing for my first golf tournament my golf coach told me that I needed to expect to be extremely nervous. He said that if I knew it was coming it would be easier to deal with. He was right about both claims. I was nervous before my first college golf tournament. Big time! But he was also right when he said that it would be better for me if I anticipated that I would feel nervous. 

In my golf now, I still feel some so-called, “first-tee jitters.” Not always but often. I also feel nervousness before an audition. I think it’s fair to say that we all feel nervousness and anxiety about things that happen in life.

The great Jack Nicklaus was reportedly asked by a psychologist to diagram his thought process before he struck a putt in a professional tournament. Most people who follow golf know that Jack Nicklaus was probably the greatest pressure putter ever. If a lot was riding on the putt, the odds seemed to increase that Nicklaus would sink it.

Nicklaus described determining the break of the green, the distance, positioning his body, where he looked and other technical details. And the last thing that he supposedly thought before he struck the ball was that he didn’t care if he made the putt or not.

Did you read that? The greatest pressure putter ever and the greatest major champion in history (he won more major tournaments than Tiger Woods as of today) said that he didn’t care if he made the putt! That was supposedly his last thought before he moved the club back to hit the putt.

Obviously he did care. He cared enough to stop caring after he had maticulously prepared until there was nothing for him to do but take action. He was able to remove his emotions so that he could perform.

I’ve tried to do that. I’m pretty good at it with putting. With my driver, not so much. With auditions, I’m pretty good once the audition starts, but prior to that I am still trying to be like Jack.

So when you’re struggling with your nerves, consider that Mr. Nicklaus cared enough to stop caring so that he could perform. And that might be the biggest and most overlooked key to his success. All the other guys cared too much.

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