I get asked frequently what my thoughts are on how to prepare for a golf tournament to increase a player’s chances of success, so I put together this article to get you in the best possible shape to achieve success:
1. Be Careful With How You “Label” An Upcoming Tournament
It’s important that you don’t build up some rounds or tournaments as being “bigger” or more important than others. I spoke with a new student last night who told me that he has his “biggest tournament of the season” coming up next week. The golf ball doesn’t know whether it’s a “big tournament” or a friendly game with your buddies. They are all just rounds of golf and it’s important that you do your best to treat them as such. The more you build up a round or tournament as being more important than others, the more pressure you put on yourself to do well. Choose your words carefully about upcoming tournaments and try to play them down as being “just another round of golf…”
2. Feel Prepared
What will your strategy be for the round? Do you know what clubs you’ll hit off each tee and into the greens and where your targets will be? What are the good misses and the bad misses for each shot? The slopes on the greens? This will all need to be figured out before your round, so you get to each tee box feeling 100% prepared. You probably won’t know the pin placements and the weather conditions until the day of (and you can make some adjustments if needed when you get that information) but having this figured out beforehand will make you feel more prepared and more confident. Some of my students predict 3 possible pin locations and have a strategy for each location.
3. Visualize Success
Many of our behaviors and actions are predetermined by what’s already in our subconscious mind (your “belief system”). With the subconscious mind not being able to reason or know the difference between what’s real or imagined, you can shape it by using visualization. Spend 5-10 mins before each round, imagining yourself hitting the shots you’d like to in the round. E.g. See yourself on the first tee, shaking hands with your playing partners, going through your routine and confidently striking your drive down the middle of the fairway. By seeing this success before you play, you’ll give your subconscious mind a “green light” that it’s something to move towards and not be fearful of.
4. Take Your Mind Off Golf The Evening Before
Going over all the possible scenarios and outcomes for the round the evening before is only going to create performance anxiety. I speak to too many players who can’t stop thinking about what might or might not happen the following day, which causes them to get nervous. You’ve done your preparation, you have your plan and you have to do your best to take your mind off it. If you notice yourself fretting about it or giving it too much attention, direct your attention elsewhere and do something that takes your mind away from it.
5. Be Aware Of Tension
Before (and during) any round, tension awareness is key, even more so when playing under pressure. Tension and tempo changes the golf swing more than anything else, so noticing grip pressure, tension in arms and shoulders etc., should be an integral part of your pre-round warm up and then maintaining it during your round.
6. Prepare for A Grind
Golf is a difficult game, which is one of the great allures of the game. There are too many variables in the game for it to ever be easy or for a player to attain perfection. There will always be ups and downs – the ups being easier to deal with than the downs. Accepting that you will make mistakes and that there will be challenges to overcome is a positive step. Have a plan for dealing with the bad breaks, 3 putts, double bogeys and the like. These are an inevitable part of the game, so it’s better to prepare for them than be shocked by them!
7. Make The Mental Game The Goal
Whatever the tournament or round, the way you are going to get access to the best skills you have on that day is through the mental game. Just like Justin Rose said about his plan for the final round of the US Open, all his goals are mental ones. He knows that being able to access his best skills and play freely comes down to being focused, committed and managing the ups and downs of the round. This is why I created my “Mental Game Scorecard”, to keep you focused and accountable to the mental game.
8. Don’t Get Technical In Your Physical Warm-up
I spoke to 2 students last week who played some of their best golf without actually being able to hit balls before their rounds. One of them (while representing his country) was -8 through 11 holes! Although I’m not suggesting not hitting balls before a round, I don’t necessarily see these two cases as a coincidence. Too many players use the warm-up as a practice session and begin judging their swing and making fixes. For me, the purpose of the warm-up is physically warm-up your muscles, find your rhythm, be aware of any tension, and get into “playing mode” by going through your pre shot routine and hitting some of the shots you’ll be faced with on the course. Try limiting the number of balls you hit to 26 (2 balls with each club) or 39 ball (3 balls with each club). This will get you more into the “one shot mentality” and you will be less tempted to try and fix your swing.
9. Hydrate and eat well
Eating and drinking properly in the days leading up to, the morning of, and during your rounds will undoubtedly be a factor in your performance. I see too many golfers not take this seriously and suffer from poor concentration and fatigue, especially during the latter stages of a round.
10. Have An Attitude of Gratitude
Golf is a privilege not an entitlement. Whether it’s the club championship or the final round of the US Open, a shift in perspective can help take some pressure off. Have an attitude of gratitude for the opportunity to be out there playing our beautiful game, there are many worse things that you could be doing, so enjoy it and embrace it!