by Chris Mile
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 others, 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.
In considering 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:
- If you are reading this, you are at least interested so you passed the first test.
- Can you handle failure? Even Tiger Woods, at his peak, won 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. Probably one of the biggest differences when you play competitive golf is that there are no “gimmes”.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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 won two Michigan Senior Open Championships prefers to combine playing and practice. He will often go out alone on a course and play several golf balls on each hole.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Acquire either a golf rangefinder or GPS measuring device. Most tournaments now allow these devices. If you do not have one, you are at a real disadvantage.
- Practice the gimmes. When you compete, those 3 and 4 footers you may have been conceding, all of a sudden have a new importance.
- 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 possibly 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 game a 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:
- 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 scorecard. These rules may or may not be in effect when you play. Oftentimes 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.
- 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.
- Warmup. To my thinking, the warmup starts when you wake up the day of the event and get 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 and stretching 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 speed 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.
- 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 gives 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.