In the last edition, I reviewed many of the key factors that help people to enjoy their golf game and improve the way they manage their mental game on the golf course. In summary, we focused on the physical warm-up before play which included a good stretching routine, and a process that relaxed the body through breathing, emphasizing the short game, “soft” hands to enhance “feel”, and focusing to “quiet the mind”. Finally, we explored the benefits of an effective pre-shot routine to maximize consistency and setting ourselves up to score.
I call this approach “Conscious Golf”, and have found that it is never more valuable than in those situations where we like to compete. Competition can include tournament play of all kinds, match play or stroke play formats as seen in the Colorado Golf Association schedule of tournaments held each summer. It can also include informal competition among friends and family where the stakes might be no larger than beers at the 19th hole. The one thing that does stand out, is that we really want to perform well.
I like to tell the story of Billy Bob, who was practicing 4 footers, and had sunk 25 of them in a row. Just then his “buddy” showed up and bet him $50 bucks that he’d miss the next putt…..which he promptly went out and did costing him 50 clams. He was so upset, he broke his $200 putter. Competition comes in all forms and it’s important that we’re consciously ready for it when the challenge presents itself.
Today’s article is dedicated to those who choose to put themselves on the line, those who purposely engage in competition to hone their wits and their skills in performance, the tournament enthusiast. There are three aspects of “Conscious Golf” I will review in these pages that can better prepare you for tournament golf. They involve “Preparation” (on and off the course), the 80/20 Rule for scoring, and finally Course and Game Management.
Preparation begins when we sign up for a tournament. In almost all cases, we’ve got to pony up an entry fee so there’s more at stake than just pride. Every tournament is a little bit different. Some are city wide and involve play on consecutive days at multiple courses such as the Longmont City Championships. Others may involve a summer long commitment in match play where a different opponent is faced each week until one is eliminated. The important thing is to understand the mechanics of the tournament, assess the competition as best you can before play begins, and to be familiar with the layout of the course by having scheduled a couple of practice rounds in the weeks preceding tournament play. Sometimes tournaments involve teams, with Best Ball and Alternate Shot formats. Choosing your partner can be key, especially when looking for a goodness of fit amongst personalities. My favorite choice of a partner involves someone who has a good sense of humor, and realizes that perspective is all important when keeping the stress levels manageable.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about fueling our bodies nutritionally the night before and prior to the beginning of the round. By keeping certain foods in our bag we can keep our blood sugar and hydration needs met. Fueling ourselves optimally might involve a banana to keep our potassium up and a power bar to keep from ‘bonking’ on the course. The first symptom of ‘bonking’ on the golf course is a mind that “spaces out”, makes a mental mistake and fails us in managing our attitudes, or ‘committing’ to the shot (not second guessing our choice as we stand over the ball).
After a couple of practice rounds, it’s a good thing to have a course yardage book to go by. A good many courses now have GPS yardage and distance guides mounted in their golf carts. Even more have really good yardage books with graphics, distance marks to and from hazards and recommendations for optimal approaches to scoring. These books are likely to cost about $4-5 but are fabulous tools in preparing for tournament play. Since few of us are scratch golfers, and we’re not shooting for the $800,000 prize money in a PGA tour event…..its important that we take into consideration the best and worst of our game in planning our strategy for playing a tournament. Some holes should be played as a par 5, even though they may be listed as a par 4 for the scratch golfer. Choosing our shots before a round, so as to minimize trouble and maximize our course management is always a good strategy. Mistakes will happen. However, our ability to minimize lost shots and “blow-up” holes often makes the biggest difference in our ability to score. Preparation before the round should focus on short game the most, putting and chipping because 60% or more of our score will be comprised of these kinds of shots.
The 80/20 Rule for scoring comes into play most often the closer we get to the hole. The first rule is to “do no harm”. Keep the ball in play. Out-of-bounds and lost balls do happen, and can destroy the best of rounds. By playing a par 4 as a personal par 5, we can choose shots that increase our likelihood of staying out of trouble and those that put us in position to score. A difficult tee shot might best be made with a 5 iron instead of driver. The distance may not matter near as much as the ability to avoid trouble.
Most golfers in tournament play give away shots unwittingly around the putting green, chipping and putting. Target selection and club selection are paramount here. A chip shot over a sand trap, with a short landing area is not a good percentage shot, especially if we chunk it into the bunker. Choosing the play that puts us in position to score is first priority. Oftentimes that means we avoid the trouble strategically and purposely. The terrain approach and pin position will dictate our shot selection. Having the ability to pitch and run a 5, 6 or 7 iron vs. lofting a wedge may teach us about the speed of the green and allow us to “read” the green better for the putt that follows. Watching our opponent’s ball (and not our opponent) can let us learn from both their successes and their mistakes and give us valuable information we can use later in the round.
Partner golf (best ball/alternate shot team play) is a particular challenge in both the ability to stay in synch with one another, and in communicating effectively to maximize the partnership, thereby minimizing lost shots to mistakes. In best ball play, “ham and eggs” is a good thing and refers to how one partner scores optimally while the other is having a less than stellar hole. Teams that effectively communicate shot selection and strategy increase the effectiveness of the partnership. In Alternate shot play it is really important to consider each player’s strengths and weaknesses in course management and to agree on strategy before each hole.
Attitude adjustment is probably the single most important aspect of the 80/20 scoring rule. Choosing an attitude that has a short memory for “disaster” shots, and a long memory for successes is hugely beneficial. “Letting go” of self-criticism, guilt over “failing a partner” and any thought that intrudes on our ability to “Be Here Now” thereby planning and executing effectively and efficiently is key.
Anyone who plays this game with any degree of consistency will tell you they are not sure who is going to show up on the 1st tee. We have our ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ games and we can’t always tell when were going to see which. The ‘A’ game of course, is the one we most want in tournament play. We are “on”, in the “zone” hitting the ball crisply and putting in such a way that we see the hole like we’d see the Grand Canyon… it’s so big. And sometimes we will have that ‘A’ game to keep us company in a tournament. However, sometimes we won’t. What then?
Course management goes to our advance preparation and our knowledge of the course itself. Club selection, shot selection, target zones and “personal par” strategy are the hallmark of course management. No matter what game, ‘A’ ‘B’ or ‘C’ we have that day we can do our best if we properly manage ourselves and our choices during the round. Looking over the course layout the night before, it would be useful to plan contingencies for each hole….and keep our notes handy during the round itself.
Managing “our” game means managing our attitudes during play. Keeping our emotions in check, staying in the “Now”, and keeping our wits about us as we approach each hole and select each shot is the key to playing our best tournament golf. Of course, there are many other strategies and tools for maximizing our performance on game day, but no three are more important than those we discussed in this article. The methods for successful play in competition pale in comparison to the healthy attitude and joy of the game itself. There is no other game quite like it.
Of course, if we don’t play well, the Irish had an answer for us. Did you ever wonder why there are 18 Holes, not 15 or 20? That would be because there are eighteen shots of whiskey in a bottle, and they figured a shot on the tee box of every hole would have them all playing their ‘A’ Game by the time they hit the clubhouse at the end of the day. It’s no wonder most amateur tournaments have no shortage of partying and revelry in between each day of golf.
Dr. Stephen Walker is an award-winning sport & performance consultant whose clients have reached the Podium in world championships, the Olympics and, performed in the Kennedy Center Philharmonic, in their chosen endeavors.
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