A college golf coach told me that he could always tell when a golfer was tense during his short game. His many years as a coach and as a PGA rules official has made him very aware from countless observations that when golfers get tense they shorten their normal back swing or putting stroke, which causes them to miss their target. He smiled while shaking his head and said it happens every time.
When faced with a difficult chip or putt, do you tense up and shorten your back swing or putting stroke? If you do, you are throwing away shots. So how do you handle tension when facing a difficult shot?
You can greatly reduce tension and eventually eliminate it with an inside-outside approach. First, you have to realize that tension results from concern about the outcome. If you don't think about the outcome, tension will not exist.
By merely shifting your thoughts to the process of executing your normal back swing or putting stroke for the chip or putt your are trying to make, you will automatically change your focus from the outcome and reduce your tension.
Just like it's hard to teach old dogs new tricks, it will take time and repetition to train your mind or unconscious to think this way. It is your choice. You can continue tensing up and shorten your back swing or putting stroke, which will cause you to miss. Or, you can start focusing on the process of making your normal back swing or putting stroke and increase your chances for success.
If you make the smart choice, you can use the process of deep breathing to calm and relax yourself before you chip or putt. This will cause a physiological change in your nervous system and reduce your tension.
Also, while you are chipping or putting, inhale during your back swing or putting stroke and exhale through the ball.
Using this inside-outside approach will greatly improve your short game, as well as the rest of your game, and increase your chances of shooting lower scores. Try it. It works!
P.S.: Do you feel nervous on the first tee? Do you feel under pressure sometimes when putting to win? Are shots over water a problem for you? Then this problem can be a mental one. Here is a program that I can recommend to help you overcome it: The mental side of golf