Larry Canning: When ‘performance anxiety’ becomes a pain in the pants

By Larry Canning.

THE most important thing I learned when I played the tour was…. I couldn’t actually do it. It looked so bloody easy watching players on TV hitting long irons over water hazards, opening up the face on a sand wedge and flopping a ball over a trap and confidently belting a three foot down hiller firmly into the back of the hole. And it was!… In a Wednesday 4BBB stableford.

You’ll have to trust me on this one folks but when you’re playing for something that’s more important than a $25 pro-shop voucher, it’s not so easy.

Maybe it’s the fact that I stopped playing for ornaments and pro-shop credit when I was only 16 and have been playing for dosh unsuccessfully ever since? I still remember playing one of my first Trainee Pro Tournaments at Royal Canberra and between you and I, I fancied myself as a bit of a chance. After the first round I was in there just a couple back of the leader, Peter Kohlsdorf.

That’s when it became, to use a modern tosser cliché… “Real”. I blocked my first drive in the afternoon round and it hit one of those scary imported Pines that line most of the fairways there. But it wasn’t the fact that it dropped down behind the base of the tree that made me nervous, it was the noise it made as it rattled around the branches. It was exactly like the sound an old fashioned cash register used to make as it opened. “Ring” followed by the “Slam” of the draw being shut.

By the end of the front nine, whenever my errant pill hit a tree or landed in a hazard I was hearing all kinds of ugly noises in my head like “Sorry your car loan has been unsuccessful”, ‘Hey it’s your shout Larry” and “NO! You can’t marry my daughter”.

I (kind of) managed to gradually move through levels of the significance of the moment and how to deal with the nerves of  – winning a pro-am,  pre-qualifying for a tournament, making the cut and even making a decent cheque to the point where I could actually survive. We’re not talking harbour views from Sydney’s North Shore, more like a 2 bedroom apartment in Woy Woy overlooking the RSL car park.

Unfortunately, when I accidently became involved with that holiest of golfing grails – The  Leaders Board – during some of the biggest tournaments in this country, it turned really nasty.

I flat out couldn’t do it. I know it sounds soft but again trust me, its bloody hard!

A physiologist recently explained it to me as “Performance Anxiety”. I prefer the term – “Shitting Ones Pants”. I was far from the only bloke out going through this. In fact, from my experience, there only a few players I have met or seen who can work out how to not only cope with this kind of life-changing opportunity, but embrace it.

Last month I saw a bloke do exactly that. Tassie’s Simon Hawkes got his chance after shooting an unbelievable 64 on Saturday in the Oates Victorian Open. But instead of just being happy to get through the last round without blowing too much cash into the middle the nearby Pacific Ocean, Hawkes took the situation by the scruff of the neck and birdied the final hole to force a play-off then birdied it again to win the one of the biggest events in the country.

“I was going to be quite happy if I made the cut and made a cheque, and was going home and have a week off,” a humble Hawkes said earlier in the week.

It was almost a cathartic experience watching a young bloke whose journey is far from the usual path of the brilliant young amateur who turns pro with more fanfare than a Donald Trump election campaign. No – “I’ll have to discuss that with my Agent”, or “I have a great team behind me” stuff. Simon became a Vocational Member of the PGA behind the counter in a pro-Shop for three years while completing his traineeship. 

Before that week his biggest cheque was $4,500, exactly $113,000 less than his purse for winning at 13th Beach. Now that the mountain has been conquered and Simon Hawkes has a totally different view of not only where he has come from, but also what lies ahead, I have a strong feeling in my Srixons he is not about to sit back and just enjoy the scenery.

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