Sunday, August 30, 2009

Preparing For Tournaments

I've been getting a few e-mails on how to prepare for a club championship, so I wanted to go over my thoughts on the subject and how I am preparing for my club championship which will be in October.

The general consensus with golfers in regards to tournament scores is that they will shoot higher in tournaments than in a normal round of golf, or as one of the more astute golfing minds I ever met once told me 'when the tournament flags go up, so do the scores.' I think it's a good thing to prepare for that to possibly happen, but I don't believe it HAS to be that way. If that was the case, then we would never see the PGA Tour pros or top ranked amateurs shoot course records, break tournament scoring records, etc. So I believe a lot of preparing for a tournament, especially a club championship, is a case of mental management and mental preperation. And again, if you haven't already I HIGHLY recommend Dr. Bee Epstein-Shepherd's 'Mental Management for Great Golf' book. It is far different from any other mental management book out there and I believe it can help any golfer.

I believe there's a big reason why the PGA Tour pros can play tournaments and shoot lower than they can in casual rounds (granted, they are usually going to shoot lower in casual rounds, but there is still a good possibility to turn in a great tournament score). I believe it's because they are very accustomed to playing tournament golf that they almost become callous to situations or conditions that would rattle the normal golfer. That being said, I believe they are extremely PREPARED to play tournament golf. They have made the proper preperations for the course, their equipment and they are mentally prepared for good tournament golf.

I am preparing for my tournament by basing it off of Mark Sweeney's ( top 5 'Stats that Matter the Most' in relation to stroke average.
1. GIR
2. Putts per GIR
3. Double-bogey (or worse) rate
4. Scrambling
5. Go For Its
First, here's some of my course preparation tips:

- Go to Google Earth, find the direction the hole is pointing and then on tournament day find out from which way the direction is blowing so when it is swirling you have a better idea of how to play the shot.

- Ask the pro shop for tournament pin locations. If they are no help, play a round with a willing member who knows the typical tough tourney pin positions.

- Get each tee shot to 'fit your eye.' Hit multiple shots off the tee in the practice rounds until the hole 'fits your eye', then make note of where your target was and what type of shot you were trying to hit.

- Find out the spots on the green you cannot miss towards. Important to note that even if you're not in trouble in these missed spots, it's important to note what areas are tough up and downs from and make sure to avoid those areas.

- Check out the yardage on each hole in the area about where your approach shot will be and see what the distance is playing like from that area. A Bushnell Rangefinder with slope works best, but if you don't have one then I would suggest hitting multiple shots if needed.

The big key IMO is to avoid wasting shots and be prepared for the worst, like getting off to a slow start. Most slow starts in golf consist of the golfer missing greens and not getting up and down. So one of the keys is to not only focus on hitting the greens, especially early on in the round, but also avoiding double bogeys (or worse) so you don't 'lose your round' early on. Avoid double bogeys (or worse) and then when you start to get into a groove later in the round you can possibly make up things with a few birdies.

A lot of this removing double bogeys from your game requires the golfer to assess the situation and put their ego aside. The great Tommy Armour's book 'How to Play Your Best Golf All of the Time' goes over this extensively.

This is part of the issue I'm facing as well. In one of the courses I'm playing, the first hole is 460 yards par-4 with H2O to the right of the green and O.B or a very tough up and down left of the green. The fairway slopes upward and to the right. So the ball doesn't get a lot of roll with your tee shot and the approach leaves you with a lie below your feet. Sometimes I've been able to hit as low as a 6-iron into that green, but I've often had a 3-hybrid into that green. And if the wind is blowing hard enough, I may need a 3-wood into that green. Instead of going for it, I have prepared myself to layup short of the green if the situation calls for it. In my case, I want to be about 85 yards to the pin on a layup so I can hit a full swing SW and get it within 10 feet. Armour would highly recommend this as it takes double bogey pretty much out of the equation and still gives me a chance at par.

But the real big key in my situation, and something that you may run into, is that the very next hole is probably a bogey hole as well as it's a 241 yard par-3 that requires a 3-wood off the tee for myself. It's tough starting the round +2 after two, but getting by without double bogeys and then I can make it up with a few birdies.

I don't like focusing on score and I advise others to stop worrying about it as well. When you start focusing on score that presents a problem because if you start out a little slow, you start to press a bit and then make mistakes. If you wind up starting out playing well, then you start to get ahead of yourself and not focus on the shots at hand and mistakes will be made. Instead, I put my focus on the process and if I execute the process well, the scores will come. What I mean by that is that my focus and goals for my club championship are:

- Hit 27 of 36 greens in regulation
- No 3-putts
- No double bogeys (or worse)

If I do that (and I have the capabilities to do that) then I'm likely to come away shooting a couple of quality scores.

I suggest putting forth some similar goals as well. That will keep your mind away from the score and more on the process.

I would also mentally and physically prepare for the worst. Expect slow play. Expect some bad bounces. Expect bad weather. Expect rain. If you wear a glove, get 2-3 new ones. You never know, one may rip mid-round or you may lose one on the way to the range, etc. You should have an umbrella and a bunch of good towels to clean your clubs, your ball and keep your grips dry. Make sure you have quality soft spikes on. You should have 2 putters, one meant for faster greens and one meant for slower greens. Bring plenty of tees. Make sure to have a few ball markers and bring a lot of golf balls in case the ball goes out of round or scuffs, etc. Whatever you bring in a casual round, multiply it by 2 or 3 in a tournament round so you are prepared.

Lastly, two of my final tips for preparing for a tournament are to play for money and to play a lot of different courses leading up to the tournament.

Playing for money helps add pressure to your casual rounds. You don't have to play for a lot and even if the competitor has a far higher handicap, give him a little more strokes than you usually would. And leading up to the tournament PUTT EVERYTHING OUT, since you will have to in the tournament.

But I'm a bigger believer in playing different courses leading up to the tournament. Mainly because I want to feel comfortable with my mechanics, course management, green reading and mental management. When you're just playing your home course, you become comfortable with the course and you know exactly what to do. This makes it easier to hit great shots. But when you go to a new course, the comfort level isn't there and you don't hit those great shots anymore. This can be eliminated by playing different courses as much as possible. Then when you get into the tournament, you should be much more comfortable with your mechanics, course managment, green reading, etc.



Anonymous said...

"Rain gloves " can be a huge advantage in a heavy or steady rain because everything eventually gets soaked. I've seen it be the deciding factor.

Also, your comment about preparing for the tee shot is really good. In Scotland, where you use a caddy, you will always be given you a spot for aiming, and it seems the brain loves that.

Rich H. said...

Thanks for the idea on rain gloves. I tend to struggle in the rain as I can't keep the grip on very well. I tell people all of the time that I've had practice rounds where I've hit about a dozen shots or so off the tee until I feel I have the shot that 'fits my eye.' The good thing about it is that once you get the hole to fit your eye, you generally never lose it.

Unknown said...

Definatley something to the idea the more you play....they easier it is. I have started playing in more GSGA qualifiers and touney over the last 2 years and it has become a lot easier to shake the "jitters" and get into the groove. The only thing I cannot seem to shake is the 1 or 2 doubles a round during a tourney round. I missed the cut at the Mid am this year making a double on the last hole, they just kill the round. They always come across the same way, miss the green on the short side, or in a spot you "normally" would never miss it. Either miss the green with the chip or hit it long on the green and 2 or 3 putt.

I did hear a tip recenlty that has helped out with a pressure shot. Basically it was to focus on hitting a type of shot....not just aim and shoot, but cut it off the bunker, flight it down, draw it in. It gets you into a different frame of mind.

Rich H. said...

That's why it's important to note where not to miss. Not just from a perspective of 'there's a bunker here, or a water on this side or OB on this side, but in the sense that you can have an open shot, but it's such where you realistic chances of getting up and down are slim. If that type of area is close to the pin, then I would suggest hitting to the fat of the green and trying to knock one in from 20 feet. That is unless you are supremely confident with the club you are using that you can hit it close. I'm pretty confident with my 9-LW, but anything more than that I start to assess the situation as to whether to go for it or not. A big part of the confidence with the club is distance. Sometimes the most deflating thing is hitting a shot really flush and going too long and leaving yourself with a difficult up and down. That's a big reason why I may not go for it with an 8-iron vs. going for it with a 9-iron, I can't quite trust the distance control with the 8-iron like I can with a 9-iron.

I think playing more tournaments can help, but the problem is for many golfers it is costly. That's why I don't like the idea of guys playing a lot of mini tour events and racking up bills. I still think they can get themselves prepared to play in Q-school or PGA/Nationwide Tour Monday qualifiers thru hard, smart work and reading the 'Mental Management for Great Golf' book. Quite frankly, Q-school and Monday qualifiers could care less how much tournament experience you have. Probably not the most popular stances, but I think it holds true and saves people money.

As far as pressure goes, the way I look at it is that if my mechanics are pretty good then my results will likely follow. So instead of focusing on the shot at hand, I start thinking about some of the stuff I've been working on and think 'if I do this, I'll hit a good shot.' And if I use good mechanics and hit a poor shot, well there's not much I can do about that.

Macon Willard said...

Sounds like focusing on mechanics helps you perform under pressure. That seems to be contrary to the "conventional wisdom" that you should think about mechanics only when practicing- not when playing- instead, focusing on the target (or even something totally non-golf, like a "clear key") when executing the shot. I think executing up to your abilities when it counts & dealing with pressure is the biggest challenge of golf. Many can hit good shot after shot at the range or in a practice round but not so well when under the gun. I don't know if it's mechanical though, since you must have had decent mechanics when you hit the good shots when it didn't count. Probably the mental aspect under pressure changes the mechanics.

I've ordered 'Mental Management for Great Golf' & hope it will help me with that difficult course between my ears.