The U.S. Open is golf's biggest pressure cooker.
It takes a special athlete to survive the gruelling, 72-hole marathon. Players like Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson have figured out how to get the job done, but others like Phil Mickelson still haven't learned the necessary lessons to hoist America's most important golf trophy.
Playing under pressure is difficult for players at every level. It's one thing to play well with your buddies, but it's a whole other ball game to play well under pressure. As you approach your biggest rounds of the year in the next few weeks, here are 10 things you should do to if you want to play your best golf when it matters most.
Keep it in perspective: Upcoming tournaments may be important to you, but in the grand scheme of things, they really aren't that big a deal. No matter what you shoot, no one will take anything away from you and friends won't think any less of you. Playing well and even winning is rewarding, but playing badly really won't change your life. So relax and remember golf is your hobby and you play it for fun.
Know your swing: How can you hope to play well if you don't know what you did wrong when you hit a bad shot? It's impossible to adjust mid-round if you don't understand your swing. Get your swing videotaped so you know your tendencies. It will make you a more confident player and give you a better chance to save an average round.
Make it count more often: The best way to get more comfortable under pressure is to be under pressure more often, so increase your competitive schedule. Even when you play with your friends, put something on the line so you get used to feeling the pressure of having to pull off a shot or make a putt.
Play a practice round: If the tournament is important enough to make you nervous, make a practice round part of your pre-game preparation. Use your practice round to check out course conditions and any design characteristics you need to be aware of. Also, make sure to take some notes, so you can come up with a game plan and keep the odds in your favour.
Always warm up: Give yourself an hour before you tee off on game day to warm up, develop some rhythm and work on your touch and feel on and around the green. Focus on timing and balance as you hit balls and be sure to spend at least 15 minutes practising short putts for confidence and long putts for feel.
Focus on your game: Don't get distracted or intimidated by other players or any chatter on the practice tee, the first tee, or on the course. That's all just white noise. Pay attention to your ball and your game and don't worry about anything else. Just focus on what you can control and add up your score at the end.
Maintain your pre-shot routine: Make sure to keep a nice relaxed pace and stay calm on the golf course. Pay special attention to your pre-shot routine. Keep it consistent and don't hit any shot until you're comfortable and ready to perform. Take a lesson from Rory McIlroy's mistakes at The Masters and stay in your rhythm all day long.
Stay in the present: The only shot that matters is the one you're about to hit. Thinking ahead or worrying about the last hole, or even the last shot, will derail your game. Commit 100% to each shot.
Keep up your energy: You have to stay hydrated and you need to eat to maintain your energy on the course. You may not realize you're losing your focus or making tired swings, but you are if you're fatigued. No one can last five hours under tournament stress and pressure without proper nutrition.
Stay positive: There is a lot of luck in golf. You'll get good breaks and bad breaks depending on the day. No matter what happens on the course, approach every shot and situation with a positive attitude or you're in big trouble. Positive energy provides your only chance to succeed.