Competitive golf is a juiced up form of the game. For many golfers it adds an element to the game that makes it incredibly fun. For other, it is a form of torture.
Part I is for those golfers on the fence about competing. It offers clues that may help you decide if competition is for you. Part II talks about preparations for competition; things like practice, gear, and knowledge of the rules. Part III delves into the competition itself and is primarily about the thoughts that creep into your head during competition.
Part I. Is Competitive Golf for You?
“Golf” and “Competitive Golf” are almost two different sports. Both are fun but the competitive part of the game makes it really different. Golf is mostly about being with friends and enjoying the beauty of the game, the exercise, and the challenge. Competitive Golf should have everything that Golf has but with the added twist of beating other players. The addition of this little variation really changes the game.
By Competitive Golf we are not just talking about the PGA Tour, but things like the Tuesday night league at your local golf course or the city golf tournament. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you decide if you even want to compete:
1. If you are reading this, you are at least interested so you passed the first test.
2. Can you handle failure? Even Tiger Woods wins less than one-half the time. If you want to work on humility, you should consider competing because any golf competitor will fail more times than succeed.
3. How do you handle pressure? Do you like pressure or do you try to avoid it? If you would like to handle pressure better, competitive golf may be good for your personal development.
4. Do you have a handicap? There are two types of tournaments amateurs play. One is called a “Gross Tournament” where everyone plays even up. No one gets or gives shots to opponents. For this to work, all the players need to play at relatively the same skill level so even if there are no shots exchanged, you need a handicap to get you in the right “flight”. The other type of tournament is called a “Net Tournament” and here shots are exchanged to allow players of varying skills to compete and a handicap is absolutely essential.
5. What is your knowledge of the Rules of Golf? To compete you need to have an understanding of the most common rules like “out of bounds”, “unplayable lie”, “hazards”, etc. There are just a few you need to know. The others you can look up when the situation arises.
6. Do you like to wager when you play with your buddies? This gives you a taste of what it’s like to compete, but competitive golf is still different than just betting with your golfing buddies. If you do not like the feeling of betting, you will probably not enjoy competition.
Hopefully this will give you clues about whether you will enjoy “Competitive Golf”.
Part II. Preparing to Compete.
Preparing to Compete in golf for most people is really fun. If it does not turn out that way for you, you might want to reconsider competing. Preparation for competitive golf isn’t like getting knocked around in preparation for a football game or a marathon race where you need to spend hours running. It should be enjoyable.
These are some of the things you will need to do if you want to play your best golf in competition. If you get really serious about competing you may want to consider all of these suggestions:
1. Work on the weak parts of your game. To play well, all parts of the game need to be working. If your game is reasonably good in every respect except that about one-half the time the ball comes flying out of the bunker at warp speed, I would recommend working on your sand game not perfecting a Phil Michelson flop shot. Under pressure weaknesses in your game will kill you.
2. Practicing versus Playing. How you allocate time between the two should depend on what works best for you but you clearly need to allocate time for both. Hank Haney spoke to Charles Barkley about Tiger’s preparation for competition. He spends 2 hours practicing, then plays 9 holes, and then spends another 2 hours practicing. He seems to prefer more practice over playing. Dave Kendall, the director of Kendall Academy, who recently won his 2nd Michigan Senior Open, prefers to combine playing and practice. He will often go out alone on a course and play several golf balls on each hole.
3. Tweak your equipment. Playing your best requires that you feel good about hitting all the clubs in your bag. When there is pressure, doubts about your equipment get magnified. When there is pressure, confidence in your equipment also gets magnified.
4. Know the rules. Bone up on two things, the fundamental rules of the game and how the Rules of Golf Book is organized so that you can look up some of esoteric rules when they occur on the course. Some of the rules you should know cold are: “out of bounds”, “lost ball”, “unplayable lie”, “playing a second ball” and “hazards”. Be sure to put a rules book in your golf bag.
5. Acquire either a golf range finder or GPS measuring device. Most tournaments now allow these devices. If you do not have one, you are at a real disadvantage.
6. Practice the gimmes. When you compete, those 3 and 4 footers you may have been conceding, all of a sudden have a new importance.
7. Help. Just about every professional golfer has a swing coach and possibly a sports psychologist. If you can find an instructor that can help with your game and possible act as your competitive mentor, you are in luck. It is great to be able to bounce questions off an experienced competitor.
Dave Kendall, the director of the Kendall Academy added these comments:
- Players should do their best to develop a highly reliable style of play. Avoid high risk exotic shots. Nurture confidence by developing an arsenal of simple low risk shots.
- Constancy with the driver is more important than distance
- Make your wedge gamea high priority
- Make your putting a high priority
Part III. The Tournament.
You have completed the preparation for the tournament and the tournament is approaching. Here are some final thoughts and ideas:
1. Practice Round. Most players want to schedule a round so that they can get familiar with the course; its routing, green speeds, type of sand in the bunkers, and trouble areas. I like to end up with a strategy for playing each hole. Prior to playing your practice round, read the local rules on the back of the score card. These rules may or may not be in effect when you play. Often times if you ask the golf professional or course staff, they will indicate the approximate location of the tees like middle, back, or forward. To illustrate that my thoughts on competition are really my thoughts and may not necessarily be yours, Doug Davis, who manages the Miles practice facility is an outstanding competitor. He was one of U of M’s best players and has won four GAM events. He rarely plays practice rounds. He prefers to compete not knowing where the problems lie because he feels it adversely influences his decision making.
2. Equipment Check. An important part of being ready to play is having your equipment ready to compete. Count the number of clubs in your bag to be sure it is 14 or less. Clean your clubs. Replace worn cleats on your golf shoes. Check your foul weather gear. Decide on the golf ball you will use and have an adequate supply because in some events you cannot switch from one model of golf ball to another during the round. Most tournaments now allow players to use range finders or GPS units. If you do not have one of these, you will be at a disadvantage. Decide if you will be riding or walking and take the appropriate golf bag and wear the right shoes. Personally, I like to have a brand spanking new golf glove for a tournament. It is important for your confidence to know that your equipment is ready for the event.
In some events, you will receive information about the specifics on how the tournament will be conducted. There are rules options that are at the discretion of the tournament that you need to know so read this document carefully.
3. Warmup. To my thinking, the warmup starts when you wake up the day of the event and gets your mind and body ready for the competition. You need to do whatever you can to stay calm and relaxed. For me, I like to go for a short easy walk or run. I also like to do a few Yoga relaxation exercises. You need to think about what will make you calm and relaxed.
When you arrive at the course and start hitting balls and putting, you want to retain a calm and relaxed state. I like to hit shots with as slow a swing as I can and with as light a grip as possible. Competition tends to speeds things up so by practicing with a slow tempo hopefully things will be just right when the competition begins.
For most players, the first shot is an intimidating one. During your warmup, hit a few shots that in your mind mimic your first shot.
4. Competitive State of Mind. These are some random thoughts about your state of mind during the competition. As you will see, some of this will get at the core of who we really are. This is one of the really compelling aspects of competitive golf and can be a great character builder.
For this to really get interesting, we need readers to offer up their ideas about the competitive state of mind for golf. There is a comments section after this article for you to add your thoughts.
Style of Play. We all have a different approach to playing the game. Some golfers are risk takers and some are more conservative. In competition, you need to play with the strategy that works best for you. What sometimes happens is that a player who is naturally conservative in his or her play will get more conservative in competition, and for example, be short on all their shots and putts. I see the opposite effect for aggressive players where they become overly risky. I think you need to stay with what makes you play your best and not deviate from this in competition.
Play the Course. This means your competition is the golf course not the other players. Don’t worry about what other players are doing; concentrate on how you can play your best on this particular golf course this particular day. Anyone who has competed has suffered the consequences of thinking that they are not doing well and not trying their best only to find out that the field did not play well. If the course is playing difficult for you, don’t be surprised that it is playing difficult for everyone.
Never Give Up. Playing golf when things are working is easy. Playing when things are not working is tough. Good players will figure out how to score well when things are not at their best. If you just give up when things get tough, you will never figure out how to do this. Plus, nobody likes quitters.
Play with Courage. We all have our best swings and our safe swings and usually they are not the same swing. Have the courage to attempt our best swing and shot not our safe swing.
During a good competitive round, players get uncomfortable with the prospect of a really low score and possibly feel they are not good enough to play this well. Understand that it takes courage to shoot a really good score and be courageous.
Mind Games. Here is a game I sometimes play when competing. I will break the round into 6 sets of 3 holes each. Why? This give me the ability of getting a fresh start after each three holes (instead of 9) so if I do really well or poorly after three holes I put that aside and start the next three. Somehow for me, thinking in three hole increments works better than thinking in hole by hole (one hole) or nine hole increments.
Tiger often refers to a mind game he plays on putts. He calls it “trusting the line” or “staying committed”. It is a mind game he plays to be able to aim a putt wide of the target and know that gravity really works and will bring the putt back on line.
There are tons of these mind games and other random thoughts on the competitive state of mind in golf. Let’s share them.
I play for my high school golf team. I’ve seen lots of different approaches to competition. I think there are two main things you need to do in order to stay sharp out on the course even if you never played it before. First is you must research the course if you can’t play a practice round. You should creat a written plan that you can read before each hole that tells you yardages to hazards and to and from your lay up areas. If you plan it prevents you from making stupid divisions on the course because bad decisions lead to extra strokes. Also you CANNOT add up your score during the match. Once you add your score, you start telling yourself ” i need to birdie the next hole” or ” I need to go 2 under through the next 5 holes.” which leads to extra pressure and more strokes. Thanks hope that helped
I used to play many local tournaments and did well until I had rotator cup surgery where as I just stopped playing, but after several years of not playing, I want to get back into competitive golf even though I am over 60, but where do i start now?
More thoughts on competition
You have to teach yourself to win; more precisely, you have to learn how to play with the confidence that you should win if you play pretty well, that is you don’t have to play perfectly – or even your best – to win. You can win with your “B game” or even your “C game”.
When I go out on the course by myself these days (early spring 2011, 70 years old) as I did yesterday at Huron Hills (muddy, but $8 to walk 18 holes) I play in my head against a guy who shoots double bogey on each hole, and I give him ½ a stroke/hole. Strict rules of golf, play it as it lies, hole out everything outside one foot (it is match-play, of course). So if I make bogey or better, I win the hole. Make double or worse, I lose. No ties.
That’s a match I should win, and I did. I hit zero greens in regulation, but had putts for par on 15 holes.
A major hindrance to success in competition is losing focus. It happens at all levels, even the pros. We lose focus when we start to think about the consequences of winning and losing. We all fall into this trap now and then, but the best competitors keep focus. They’re not thinking about the bet, or that they’re playing the last round at the Masters. In a real sense, they’re not thinking at all. They’re doing, and doing by sensing. Percy Boomer wrote that playing golf is about having ‘feels’, not thoughts. True when he wrote it almost 70 years ago, true today, true for me, true for Tiger, Arnie, Jack, and Doug Sanders [he made the mistake of thinking about that 20-inch putt at the British Open, and says now, 40 years later, “sometimes whole minutes go by when I don’t think about that putt”. But of course he wasn’t focused on making the putt, he was thinking, “If this goes in I’m the Open Champion”. ]
And one more thought before I sign off. You have to accept the fact that, the more you win, the more your fellow competitors dislike (maybe hate) you. Competition is like that. You may play golf with your friends, but if you beat them every time, you’ll play a lot of golf alone. That’s because nobody likes to get beaten. I have quite a few golf buddies, and we’re all friends, because 90% of the time, we play 2 on 2 team matches…which I don’t take seriously, because it’s not me, it’s me and whoever, and it’s a ‘fun’ round, where I look at a lost bet as an entertainment fee. I just don’t play hard, competitive golf. It’s like hitting balls on the range.
COMPETITION IN GOLF – ANOTHER VIEW
My qualifications for writing this are as follows:
• Earned a Ph.D. in psychology (learning and performance) at age 23
• Competed at an organized level (school and/or college) in tennis, baseball, football and futbol (aka soccer)
• Coached golf at U of M/Flint for two years
• Entered many golf tournaments, and just like Jack, Ben, and Tiger, lost more often than I won. But have finished first. And last.
When I was collaborating with Jeff Goble on the book we co-wrote, “Signature Golf” (available for $.99 on Kindle from Amazon.com) I asked him if he’d rather shoot 68 and lose to a 66 or shoot 78 and beat the field. He said he’d rather shoot 68. I’d rather win, no matter the score. Which is why he teaches.
I would rather win than lose. The score is only a measure of how I did versus the competition.
Last weekend, Martin Laird shot a closing round of 75 and won the Bay Hill Invitational. His name goes on the trophy, he gets the ceremonial sword, and the first place check that exceeds my lifetime earnings. I think if you had asked him before if he’d rather shoot 75 on the last round and win or do what Marino did – shoot 72 and lose by one shot – he’d have said, “Are you nuts?” as would 100% of the players on Tour. Including Steve Marino, and Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods.
So first, being a competitor instead of what Hogan called a ‘jolly golfer’ is a matter of mindset. We competitors all compete for our own reasons which are individual to us.
I practice a lot. Probably five to ten hours per week during the winter. Why? So I can win. Every time I play a round in competition, I’m trying to win. I’m not trying to be a grandpa, or husband, or a researcher, or a nice guy or a dick. I’m trying to shoot a better score than my opposition. If I’m on a team, I want the team to win, but the only thing I can control is how well I play.
Getting past mindset, what most golfers fail to realize is that a round of golf is 18 different games. On each one, you get a score. Low score wins. Second low loses. If I give my opponent a stroke on a particular hole, and we both shoot the same score – could be a 3, could be a 7 – he wins. At the end of the round, the wins and losses are totaled, and one guy goes home with more cash in his pocket than he started the round with.
One final point, maybe the most important (I could write a lot more, but I have work to do this morning).
YOU CANNOT SIMULATE COMPETITION. The only way to become a winner is to keep competing and learn what it is you need to do to be a winner. No one can tell you what that is. You have to figure it out for yourself. You can take lessons, but you profit from lessons if and only if you come to the lessons with a purpose. When I started a series of lessons with Jeff, I told him what I wanted to accomplish, he gave me things to work on. I practiced them diligently. They didn’t help me. That was a very, very valuable experience. During the winter, I compete against everyone else who signs up to play 18/18 on Trackman. Some months I win, some I don’t. But at least I’m competing.
To compete is to live. The rest is just waiting.
When I am just “playing for fun” the distractions don’t seem to be an issue but when I am playing for competition there are more of them and they seem to play a larger role. To combat this I have adopted a pre-shot routine that begins with a deep breath and a conscious thought to stop, block it out, and concentrate on the shot at hand. Learn to find that unshakeable zone prior to every shot and concentrate. Then after the shot let it go and relax until the next one. This has made fun golf with the boys for a buck a skin far more profitable too!
mind games work…
One of my biggest problemswhile putting was trying to steer the putter as it got close to impact. So i started telling myself to trust my line, no matter what!. If i did allmy reads, and I line up the face of my putter to the target ( 1 inch outside right, etc) then I’d set my body up to that target and swing true ALL the time. I built so much confidence because I knew that I had given the putt the best possible chance to go in. OH, and not to mention those important words by Hank Haney resounding in my head…
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN PUTTING, IS SPEED!
I like to play fast and the guys I play with play fast. One of the biggest obstacles I had to deal with when I began to play competetive golf was the pace of play. Playing slow really took me out of my game and I head to learn to focus on other things while waiting to play my shot. Then I had to learn how to refocus on my next shot. It took several rounds of “bad shot making” before I learned to adjust.