The issue is a serious one and not a flippant reaction to topping a drive or chunking a chip shot. And in all my years of golf I recall experiencing two panic attacks on the golf course. One was last summer and I was fortunate to let my friends and playing partners know I wasn’t feeling 100% and that I needed a little space and simply tried to focus more on breathing rather than grinding over bogey putts. The feeling lasted about 20 minutes and I settled and enjoyed the back nine on what was a glorious summer day. My second happened yesterday.
Wednesday Men’s Night at my club in Burlington, Ontario is something I look forward to. I am in with a great group of guys who and we all play to the same skill level, approximately. As is with many groups we can support good play and needle each other over missed putts. May 16 was a sunny, mild mid-spring day and we felt fortunate with a sense we had the course to ourselves for a late afternoon tee time. I felt great on the range, loose and relaxed. My winter reading list of Gio Valiante and Joseph Parent has had me feeling very calm and comfortable all season. But on the first tee, I recall feeling unsettled over the ball and nervous…more so than the usual first tee jitters. Two bad shots later and I was practically in an anxious sweat. This was not about performance, this was a feeling of being completely uncomfortable in the moment. It mirrored an experience I had many years ago at an airport in Europe, where I simply needed to sit down and have some water and just breathe.
But here I was on the first hole and a par chip now seemed irrelevant to me. But I kept a focus on my breathing and made every attempt to smile, simply to ease tension from my body. I had some water and kept a conscious focus on my breathing. 5 minutes later it had passed and the rest of the round was a relaxed walk…a few more bad shots sprinkled in but a good day overall.
The purpose of sharing this is to shine a light on this and to help other golfers out there understand that issues of panic and anxiety are not always caused by poor play. PGA Tour players Charlie Beljan’s experience is most notable but Bubba Watson has also suffered through these. My playing partners last summer handled the situation perfectly; they stayed calm, they stayed close but gave me quiet time and were very positive. This year, the feeling past more quickly and I was able to move past it and focus on enjoying the day.
Sometimes our anxiety on the course is not strictly from three putts or duck hooks off the tee. Being able to provide support for a playing partner can be an important step to help them through the situation and get back to enjoying their round.
Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has a comprehensive guide on Anxiety found here