Are You Really Under Pressure?

Posted on 18. Oct, 2012 by in Psychology

I got into a discussion during the Ryder Cup.

It was one of those Twitter discussion which is incredibly frustrating – although the other person thought I was disagreeing with them, I wasn’t. Well, not exactly.

We were, in my opinion, saying much the same thing…but between the drama at Medinah, and Twitter’s 140-character limit, I wasn’t making much headway trying to explain myself.

I’d made a loose comment about the “pressure” of the Ryder Cup. And he’d picked up on it, saying “pressure isn’t real”.

I know where he’s coming from.

No matter the situation on the outside, there is only the ball, its lie, the club and the golfer.

There are no other tangible factors.

Anything else – any values or meaning associated with the shot are consequences imagined by the golfer. They’re not real, are they?

And, in the Ryder Cup, we’re talking about professional golfers at the pinnacle of the game.

After a succession of poor shots, duffed chips and a shank, shots the pro’s in question would’ve completed without a second thought in normal tournament play, my comment had been: “The Ryder Cup: where the pressure makes Tour Pro’s play like us”.

My correspondent, another mental coach, took the “pressure isn’t real” line, a school of thought I understand and have plenty of common ground with.

But I don’t totally agree.

Because I know pressure is real.

But I still have a lot of sympathy with his point of view.

Confused? Don’t worry – all will be explained. But perhaps you can now see why I had some trouble explaining myself on Twitter! has 9 definitions of pressure.

Numbers 6 and 7 are the most relevant: a constraining or compelling force or influence: the social pressures of city life; financial pressure, or urgency, as of affairs or business: He works well under pressure.

When it comes to performance, the “influence” is fear of failure and its consequences.

And this can be real.

Imagine you have to put a central IV into someone who has liver failure and a bleeding tendency. They need the IV…but you have to go in beside the carotid artery.

Or you’re putting in a temporary pacemaker in a patient whose heart rate is so slow they’re not getting enough blood to their brain…and they’re allergic drugs which can buy you some time.

You’d feel under a little pressure, wouldn’t you?

I’d suggest you would. I have, when I’ve been in similar situations. No matter how much you’ve been trained, pressure comes when the consequences are so severe.

But I’ve never felt like this on a golf course.

Have you?


What do you think? Do you agree, or do you feel you’ve been under pressure out on the golf course? You can let me know via the usual channels; you can comment below, use the contact form or click here to email.



[image credit: "Pressure Gauge" by William Warby under Creative Commons License]


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5 Responses to “Are You Really Under Pressure?

  1. Tom D 18 October 2012 at 5:44 am #

    Ryder Cup pressure, or any performance-related pressure, is most certainly real. Just because it is being generated by one’s own thoughts doesn’t mean it is not real. I’ve never had the pressure of a physician needing to perform a delicate procedure where the stakes are, literally, life or death. However, many time in my Information Technology career, I’ve had to make a decision that could result in large financial loss if I got it wrong. I’ve never felt like that on a golf course, but, then, the only competition I’m involved with in golf is competing with the course and competing with myself.

    Oh, I do have one other competition that puts me under a lot of pressure. That competition is with Father Time. You see, I only discovered golf two years ago, at the age of 55. I feel the ticking of my personal clock every time I play a round of golf. I don’t have the years ahead of me that a young person has to get better. If I want to play at the highest level I’m capable of, I need to get good in a hurry. In two and a half years, I’ll be 60. Most golfers at that age start slowing down, playing lighter shafts, playing fewer rounds. Me, I’m just gearing up. My pressure, and it’s quite real, is that I have to get good, fast, in order to have a few years playing at my highest level. And it is that pressure that I need to learn how to handle or it will keep me from getting what I want.


    • Allan 19 October 2012 at 2:03 am #

      Thanks for your comment Tom, it’s a good one which will certainly stimulate discussion!

      I’ll reply more fully tomorrow, but I thought I’d ask a quick question, if I may? How do you know most golfers are playing fewer rounds with lighter shafts at 60? How do you know you’ll only have two and a half years at your peak, so you “have” to “get good, fast”?

      I’ll leave you with a thought. I’ve been in situations like the ones I’ve described 3 or 4 times in my career; I’m pleased to say I’ve come out of them well (more importantly, so have the patients). I didn’t let the pressure I was feeling get to me, and I managed it by focusing on the mechanics of the task. I made sure I’d planned it, with everything to hand. I mentally rehearsed the procedure until I felt happy with it. I then took a deep breath in, breathed out…and did it.

      Was that to shut out the pressure? Not exactly. My focus wasn’t on what I was feeling, it was on the task in hand..because that was what was relevant. The (all too real) consequences of failure meant I had to focus on executing the task as well as I possibly could.

      • Tom D 19 October 2012 at 6:12 am #

        When I said I had two and a half years until I was 60, I didn’t mean two and a half years at my peak. I feel that with each passing year, the odds increase that I’ll start winding down before I reach the level of proficiency I want to be at. I don’t know if that is 60 or 65 or 70, but I do know it’s much closer than I would like. Certainly much closer than if I had started playing in my teens or 20s.

        You are right that I can’t say what most golfers do. I can say that the 60-year-old+ golfers I encounter, and read about, all talk about having to slow down their game due to their frailties. Maybe that won’t happen to me at 60. Or 65. Or even 70. But at some age it will happen. So it’s the intersection of my learning and improving, and the age at which I start losing my physical abilities, that I fear. And that fear keeps me from enjoying the process of discovering, learning and improving at the game of golf.

  2. Andy 18 October 2012 at 9:40 am #

    Hi Allan…I too observed the set of interactions you had on Twitter discussing the concept of pressure and thought you both were on the exact same page, albeit using different terminology! (But then interpretation is unique to the individual’s quality of mind in that moment)

    Guess my question would be that whilst the FEELING of pressure is most certainly real for the player/person experiencing it, do you sense there’s a misinterpretation of that signal when attributing the source as being external? (and therefore ‘real’)
    We’ve spoken at length before about this subject Allan and I’m keen to hear your thoughts on the perceived source…and whether that is infact ‘real’ or an illusion thrown up by our state of mind in any given moment.
    Solid article as ever Allan..and a subject which continues to fascinate me.

    • Allan 19 October 2012 at 1:45 am #

      Andy, thanks once again for an insightful comment. I totally agree about feelings of pressure appearing real on the golf course. I’m not sure it’s about “appearing” real in the (admittedly extreme) medical example I’ve given (a situation I’ve been in only 2 or 3 times in my career).

      I also agree about golfers perceiving pressure as external, something which congregates near water, near the end of the round or in certain competitions…when in reality this is a feeling which arises from the story the player is telling themselves. It’s a common misconception, so common as to be near-universal. It’s conceivable a golfer could face 2 similar putts within an hour and yet feel totally different about them as a result of what’s happened in the intervening period…and they could feel different still the next time they face it.

      The problem with allowing yourself to be caught up in a narrative like this is there’s a very real danger it can end up a self-fulfilling prophecy, something I’m planning to touch on next week, if I may?

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