As a professional coach with more than 20 years of experience, one of the most common questions golfers ask me is how to prepare for an upcoming tournament.
Club golfers particularly have little to no experience playing under the pressure of tournament play and, as such, panic once faced with the situation. But these panic-stricken nerves are easily avoidable, especially if you follow the simple tips and strategies I’m going to outline in this comprehensive guide.
So without further adieu, let’s get straight into it.
1. Perspective On Your Upcoming Tournament
One of the most critical elements of preparing for a golf tournament is how important you perceive the event to be. Perception can play a significant role in determining the outcome of your success and your performance level.
When a club golfer comes to me and lets me know they’re nervous about an upcoming event, the first thing I tell them is that your golf clubs and ball don’t know it’s an important event. What I mean by that is every round you play is exactly the same; the only thing that changes is your perception.
In your mind, the more important you make a tournament, the more likely you are to be the victim of unwanted stress that can play havoc with your mental game and, ultimately, your swing.
Before your next tournament starts, ask yourself if the tournament is genuinely that important? or is it only that you’ve built it up in your mind?
2. Preparation Is Going To Be Critical
Do you have a strategy for your upcoming round or tournament? Have you taken the time to research the yardages of the course and each specific hole? What about the best places to approach and putt from or places that need to be avoided?
Ensuring that you have prepared for your tournament helps alleviate stress and pressure and allows you to play your best possible golf. It reminds you that you’ve left no stone unturned in your preparation for the event and provides you with a sense of confidence and professionalism.
Other elements you need to factor in are the wind and weather, along with possible pin placements for the round. The pin placements won’t be made available before the tournament, so it’s best to play the course as many times as you can before the event starts and take note of where the pins are positioned each and every time.
If possible, it’s best to have at least 2 or 3 potential pin positions for each hole; this way, you can be prepared for any number of different putting lines and speeds.
3. The Best Golfers Visualize Success
Our subconscious predetermines the vast majority of our behaviors or what you could call our “belief system.” Understanding how the subconscious mind works means that you can quite literally trick your mind into believing anything you want; now, when it comes to tournament golf, that means you want to be visualizing SUCCESS.
Despite the fact what most golfers think, learning how to visualize success is incredibly straightforward; as I always like to say, it’s not rocket science.
Actions to help you visualize golfing success:
- Hitting down the middle of the fairway off the 1st tee
- Making birdie putts
- Holding up the trophy
- Cashing in your prizemoney
- Visualizing the fans applauding your approach shot to the pin
- Being the talk of the club
Spending 10 minutes each day to practice visualization can significantly increase your chances of playing your best golf during the tournament. Now, I will be the first to admit that while visualization is simple in its method, the fundamental action of visualizing success can be difficult for golfers with negative mindsets.
With that being said, this is precisely why the art of visualization works so well and is practiced by top PGA Tour pros.
4. Relax The Night Before The Tournament
The most common mistake that golfers make, and yes, that even means PGA Tour pros, is going through all the possible scenarios in their head the night before the 1st round starts. The problem with this is that most players only focus on the negative things that could happen, and this is where the tension and anxiety start to come into play even before you’ve teed it up.
It’s much easier said than done but learning how to switch off before a big event can significantly boost your chance of success. It’s also one of the most critical skills that the best golfers display. Being able to clear your mind is a skill you should start mastering today.
Ways to clear your mind the night before can include:
- Watching a movie
- Reading a book
- Listening to music
- Spending time with family and friends
Before your next big event, make sure you do your best to stay calm and keep your mind from wandering too much. Regardless of whether it’s positive or negative, too much thinking the night before can destroy your chances of performing well.
5. Being Aware Of Your Body Tension
Before and particularly during your round, the stresses and pressure of playing in your first big tournament can negatively affect your performance. One of the areas you need to be paying attention to is your grip pressure. Without even realizing it, you can hold the grip so tight that it affects your feel and touch, particularly when chipping and pitching around the greens.
Being aware and accepting that you will be tense before and during your round will help you identify and alleviate it. Taking some deep breaths and performing some simple stretches are a couple of simple strategies. Your shoulders and neck are areas of your body that will become quite tense along with your hands which is why you need to pay attention to your grip strength.
Pro Tip: Think of the grip of your club as a baby bird; this will help you grip the club softly.
6. Prepare For The Ups and Downs
Golf is a challenging and frustrating game; Ok, so you’re thinking, thanks for that advice, Captain Obvious, but here’s the thing, most golfers simply forget how tough golf is even during a casual round, let alone a pressure-packed tournament.
How well you prepare for the ups and downs of your tournament is going to be a critical marker in the outcome of your success. Accepting that you will inevitably make mistakes is a crucial skill that top-level athletes display. Those pros who can accept they will make mistakes can swing with much more freedom than those golfers who can’t.
No matter what level of golf you play, you’re going to make mistakes, so you’re much better off accepting them so that when they happen, you’re not surprised and can simply move on.
7. Managing Your Mental Game
In my experience coaching professional athletes across several sports, the most significant barrier to achieving success or realizing their full potential is the mental side of the game.
Countless times, more than I’d like to remember, I’ve seen incredibly talented athletes fail to reach their maximum potential simply because they could not conquer their mental demons. Whether it was nerves, anger, stress, or anxiety, the damaging effects on their professions were, in some cases career-ending.
I’m sure you’ve seen some golfers on the PGA Tour with swings that look like beginners, and you’ve probably wondered how they made it to the tour; well, the answer is simple; hard work, a positive mindset, and the ability to control their emotions.
8. Keep Your Warm-Up Simple
What is a warm-up? It’s precisely that; a warmup, but you’d be amazed at how many players turn their warm-ups into complex practice sessions that destroy their mindset and, ultimately, their round.
Your warm-up should be kept very simple, but far too many golfers start paying attention to how well they’re hitting their shots during the warm-up; this is quite literally the worst thing you can do. I’d be a millionaire if I had a dollar for every golfer that hit horribly during their warm-up but then great during their round. I even know a few pros who don’t hit a single ball before the round; instead, they focus on a few simple exercises and stay as relaxed as possible.
Now I’m not suggesting that the average club golfer should walk onto the first tee without hitting any balls. Still, it can help to give you an idea of how important staying relaxed is compared to worrying about how well you’re striking the ball during your warm-up. Take my advice; stay loose and stay relaxed and keep those injuries at bay.
9. Fueling Correctly For Maximum Performance
Fueling correctly for your tournament is probably one of the most overlooked factors that beginner golfers forget to incorporate when preparing for the big event. Far too many golfers don’t take this area of their game seriously enough, and they pay a hefty penalty for it toward the end of their round.
Underestimating the power of nutrition is a big mistake, especially when you consider a typical round of golf can last up to 5 hours, 6 if play is slow. Your best bet is to consume plenty of carbs like sweet potato, rice, pasta, and fruit the night before.
Prior to the start of the round, you can have something like a tuna or ham sandwich, basically something light that won’t have you feeling sluggish halfway through your round. Once the round is underway, you can snack on foods like trail mix, energy bars, fruits, sandwiches, and nuts.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated too. Water is an excellent choice, but it won’t be enough to sustain you. You will have to compensate with a quality sports drink, preferably one with plenty of electrolytes to help keep you focused and energized throughout the entire round.
Alcohol is generally frowned upon the night before, but to be honest, a glass of wine or a beer will not hurt your performance.
10. Positive Self-Talk
Playing great golf and performing to the best of your ability starts inside the most important real estate on the golf course; the 5 inches between your ears. Put simply, having a positive attitude is like fuel for your mind. Just as you fuel correctly with nutrition, positive self-talk fuels your mental performance and allows you to get the best out of yourself.
As a coach, I’ve seen what the power of positive self-talk can do for an athlete’s performance and career. The world’s best golfers spend hours and hours a day working on their swing dynamics and maintaining peak physical condition but what you don’t see is the hours they put in each week working on their mental game.
Self-talk can help you turn things around when you’re going through a rough patch. No matter how bad things are going, if you look hard enough, you can always find positive aspects of your game to help you stay upbeat and keep your motivation high.
11. You’re Going To Be Nervous, So Accept It
If you’re new to tournament golf, you’re going to have to deal with nerves; yep, those little butterflies can make you feel queazy and even sick. But if you know how to deal and, more importantly, accept them, they’re pretty easy to overcome.
Being nervous can quite literally paralyze players when they stand on the first tee; I’ve seen it several times, and it’s very tough to watch, you feel sorry for the athlete, but at that point, there’s nothing you can do to help. Keeping your emotions on an even keel and maintaining a common-sense perspective for the tournament will go a long way in helping your performance.
Conquering your nerves is not rocket science, but that being said, it’s one of the least mastered skills by golfers of all levels, even some pros. Simply taking some deep breaths on the first tee and performing some stretches will help keep the stress away and take the tension out of your neck and shoulders.
In my experience, dealing with your nerves all comes down to how much importance you place on the event; if you perceive the event to be momentous, you’re more likely to struggle with nerves. Keeping things in perspective and understanding that your performance won’t be nearly as important a year from now as it is today will help alleviate a lot of your nerves.
12. Trusting & Believing In Your Game
Believing in yourself is a must if you’re going to play to your maximum potential during your first tournament. This is a tough one because, in my opinion, it’s directly correlated to the amount of practice you’ve put in and how much trust and belief you have in not only yourself.
Pressure can do funny things to golfers, and although you might have a sound and solid swing during a casual round with mates, playing tournament golf is a whole different ball game. Pressure can cause you to tense up, playing havoc with your swing; this is when the inevitable mental demons come into play.
Believing that you have the ability to play under pressure is a massive advantage that you’ll have over other golfers, especially if you’re in contention over the final few holes. There are things you can do to help simulate pressure situations, but none are really going to come close to the genuine thing in practice.
The old adage rings true, “you’ve got to start somewhere,” so embrace the challenge, get out there, and gain some tournament experience now.
13. Play Your Own Game
When you’re standing on the first tee, it’s very easy to become intimidated or influenced by the shots you’re playing partners are playing. Let’s say you’re a good driver of the golf ball but not overly long off the tee; if you’re playing partner bombs one out over 300-yards, it’s pretty standard for most golfers to try and emulate the shot; this is where the trouble lies.
Playing your own game during the tournament is a NON-NEGOTIABLE, and it only becomes more critical, especially over the final few holes. Each golfer is different; some have a natural draw ball flight while others hit with a fade; some golfers are long and wild off the tee while others are shorter and accurate.
Having a deep understanding of your game is probably the best weapon you can have in your bag. Knowing when and where to attack during the round can help you pick up some valuable birdies and steer clear of those unwanted bogeys. Playing your “own game” is an age-old cliche, that’s been around forever, and for a good reason.
Stick to your strengths and stay away from your weaknesses; it’s that simple when it comes to playing your best golf.
The 18th Hole
Playing golf in a tournament is an exciting time for any golfer; whether you’re an experienced club veteran, a PGA Tour pro, or a rank beginner, that feeling of having butterflies never goes away and never gets old.
We covered a lot in this guide, but as a coach, I’m passionate about helping others get the most out of their physical and mental games. If you follow the tips and strategies I’ve outlined, you’ll be on your way to playing your best golf and, more importantly, enjoying the experience.
Things to focus on are:
- Perspective on your tournament
- Preparation is key
- Visualizing success
- Staying relaxed
- Being aware of your tension
- Getting ready for the ups and downs
- Managing your game
- Keeping your warm-up simple
- Positive self-talk and nerves
- Trust and belief in your ability
Finally, I’ll leave you with this, to truly play your best golf, make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.