With the golf season underway I've been getting a lot of emails and Tweets from golfers who are playing in local tournaments and qualifiers. The questions are all pretty similar - people want to know how to prepare for success in a golf tournament.
While I can't tell you the magical secret to shooting low scores in competition, I do have a few thoughts on how to give yourself the best chance for success. Here are a few things I have learned from playing in many tournaments over the years.
1) Study the Course
Many times a golf tournament will be played at a course that you are completely unfamiliar with. Practice rounds are certainly the best way to study a course beforehand, but sometimes it's just not feasible. A great trick you can do to prepare yourself is to study the course on Google Earth beforehand.
In this article I showed you a few things you can do to make a plan beforehand. Your goal is to familiarize yourself with key yardages off the tee, and make decisions ahead of time on what clubs you will use and targets that make sense. Additionally, you can survey the area around greens to know where the major trouble is.
Being prepared with a strategy beforehand is one of my top recommendations.
2) Arrive Early (but not too early)
The last thing you want to do is feel like you are rushed before a round. I recommend giving yourself anywhere between 45-75 minutes beforehand to show up. That way you can go through a proper warmup on the range (if one is available). If you show up 15 minutes before your tee time you may not be as calm as you should be on the first tee.
One caveat I have found is not to show up too early. If you have too much time on your hands, and you aren't doing anything except sitting around, then it might make you unnecessarily anxious. You don't need two hours or more to get ready for a golf tournament.
3) Get the Speed of the Greens
This is a big one, and it ties into the last section. One thing I have found is that almost every golf course superintendent likes to put a little extra pressure on players during a tournament. Typically they will throw some difficult pin positions at you (don't aim at them!). Additionally, they will likely cut and roll the greens to make them a little extra slick.
One of the biggest mistakes I have made in several tournaments is not spending enough time on the putting green beforehand. It is very possible that the greens you are used to are going to be slower than the ones you will face. Give yourself a good 15-20 minutes to putt so you can familiarize yourself with what the speeds will be that day. If you skip this part, then you might struggle earlier in your round with your distance control.
4) Expect the Unexpected
Tournament golf is not like your normal weekend round with your buddies. It is a completely different animal. When you have real pressure on every single shot, some unexpected things might occur.
You could miss a few short putts that people normally give to you. Tee shots might be a little more wayward than usual. Also, your reaction to poor shots might be met with more anxiety, and all of a sudden your mind is racing.
That is supposed to happen.
The biggest mistake most players make is that they assume the round is going to go as planned, and that they can expect a similar environment to their recreational rounds. Don't be shocked if you are more nervous than usual and your swing doesn't behave normally. Big numbers can pop up unfortunately. This is all part of the learning process. The more you play competitive golf, the more comfortable you will feel in that environment.
Since most qualifiers and tournaments are usually going to be one round, you really just have to accept that any version of your golf game can show up.
5) Don't Forget to Have Fun
Here is the good news. Nothing is really on the line for you in a golf tournament. Men and women who are playing professional golf for a living have an incredibly difficult, stressful job. Their livelihoods are at stake every time they tee it up.
Not for you though. You might like to play competitively, but it is still not your vocation. Remember that when you tee it up during an event, this is not a life or death situation (although sometimes it might get that dramatic). Personally I have found that I have played my best in tournaments when I enjoy my time out there, strike up conversations with my playing partners, and remember that it is just for fun.
That's not always so easy to do when you're in the heat of the moment, but I believe it is something you should keep trying to remind yourself. Generally I find that most golfers approach tournaments way too seriously. They think they have to do something differently or special in order to play well. In my opinion this just adds more stress and pressure to a situation that should be mostly fun.
If you find that tournament golf is too stressful and not enjoyable - don't play. That's the best piece of advice I can give anyone. Unfortunately golfers can go to some really dark places in their games after bad results during a competitive round. If that ruins your enjoyment of the game overall then I don't believe it is worth it to keep pursuing tournament play.
That being said, if you like to get the competitive juices flowing, it is a great way to add another dimension to your enjoyment of golf. It is nice to schedule a series of tournaments throughout the year that you can look forward to and prepare for.
Further Resources to Find a Golf Tournament
If you are looking for a list of tournaments in your area it is always best to look up your local golf organization. Many of them run multiple tournaments for different levels of amateurs. Amateur Golf is a wonderful resource to find local and national events as well as the Golf Channel Am Tour.
Best of luck, and remember to have fun!