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See the Line Every Time! The EOB Putting System

Anxiety and the Case of the Shrinking Hole

Dear Dr. Putt:
Hiya, this is Huggertypontas. Dr. Putt, I need help. I can read and line up my putts ok but as I stand over it the hole seems smaller and I tell myself I will miss. I have tried everything and nothing I have tried seems to work. I play off 4 and average 36 putts a round -- can you please help me? Thank You and I look forward to hearing from you..
Yours sincerely,

My Dear Huggertypontas:

Your predicament is most disturbing to Dr. Putt. The hole in which we attempt to propel the golf ball is small enough without our making it smaller, even if only in our minds! Excessive contemplation about its size can be as counterproductive as contemplating the size of other objects of importance to humanity, or at least to about half of humanity. As Dr. Putt is sure you are aware, when one is putting well, the hole seems as wide the ocean.

Vice President Dan Quayle, a fine practitioner of the sport, once said, “it is a terrible thing to lose your mind.” Although he was mangling a quotation about traditional minority institutions of higher learning, the quotation is, in its reverse, about the best advice one can imagine. Losing one’s mind is a wonderful thing in putting, at least with respect to one’s conscious mind.

The good news is that your problem is easily diagnosed. And it is a common problem. The bad news is that sometimes the problem, depending on severity, can take a significant period of time to cure. But the good news is that it is highly curable.

Dr. Putt must be very careful here for legal and ethical reasons. Your problem sounds very much like what psychologists call “panic anxiety disorder.” Of course, a trained psychologist should be seen to make a legitimate diagnosis. But Dr. Putt is familiar enough with this problem to feel as confident as any layman can in identifying it.

“Panic anxiety disorder” can generally be treated in one of two ways. Dr. Putt will start with the most drastic treatment, which almost certainly does not apply to your situation. Medication as a treatment is still undergoing a lot of research. Based on answers to questions and your descriptions of your problem, a psychiatrist could prescribe various medications that work on different chemicals in the brain. It often takes a while to find the right single medication or combination of medications. Of course, medication is almost always reserved for situations that threaten a normal life-even though Dr. Putt understands that a normal life does not include shrinking golf holes! Seriously, for example, medication might be prescribed for students who are unable to perform under the stress of a test and are therefore unable to complete courses of study that would enable them to support themselves.

A more likely cure is to work with a psychologist to mentally overcome one's fears. Many sports psychologists specialize in this very thing. They may try a variety of approaches, including desensitizing one to the fear producing situation, biofeedback, challenging one's belief system, and various relaxation techniques. Often this involves mental imagery, such as thinking of pleasurable situations when one faces stress. If you are located near a university, you might contact the psychology department and ask if any of the professors work with people in anxiety reduction. That might be more affordable than and equally effective as seeking out a sports psychologist.

But before you try any of these more drastic approaches, you might try a few things on your own. Here is a simple one that involves imagery and breathing. When you start to feel the panic and start to see the hole getting smaller, take a step back, close your eyes, do some slow, deep breathing (4 seconds in and 4 seconds out--feel that you are exhaling your fears), and tell yourself how relaxed and calm and warm you are. After a few moments, you should feel better and be ready to sink it.

You might also try making the hole larger by playing to a smaller “hole” in practice. Cut a one inch wide circular ring out of cardboard that overlaps the hole by about a half inch, thereby reducing the size of the hole by an inch. Place that over the hole on the practice green and in practice rounds that you play by yourself. Only use the whole hole when the pressure is on in competition. Then you will see it get larger, not smaller! Alternatively, place a quarter just in front of the hole where you want the ball to fall in. You are no longer trying to hit the hole, rather you are trying to hit the quarter. If you do not hit the quarter, add a stroke to your score. Do this on the practice green and on the course in practice rounds. In actual play, imagine where the quarter is and just pretend you are trying to hit it, forgetting about the hole entirely. You might even keep a separate score in your mind of how many times you hit the imaginary quarter. Whether the ball goes in the hole or not should be of secondary importance--at least, the trick is to convince yourself of that!

Finally, focus really hard on every minute detail of your putting routine. The idea here is to lose your mind, at least your conscious one, in thoughts other than shrinking holes. The greater the pressure, the more that you focus on the routine. But you have to practice this - never skip the routine, even on the two footers!

Dr. Putt will not wish you luck because your handicap indicates that you have a great deal of skill. In the long run, skill is more important than luck. As soon as you distract your overly active mind, the only thing you will see shrinking will be your score!

You also might wish to take a look at the letter on nerves, which has some relevance to your problem. Please let Dr. Putt know how you are progressing.

Dr. Putt

anxiety and putting in golf