All golfers dream of stepping up in a big event and playing to the absolute best of their ability. There is no easy answer to the age-old question of how to play your best when it matters most on the golf course. However, there are some important things you can do to get ready for a big tournament and there are some ways to get yourself in the best possible mindset so you stay in the moment during that tournament.
It might sound like obvious advice, but you can’t play your best in big tournaments if you aren’t prepared. Of course, this means putting in the necessary practice on all parts of your game. Golf is a game where progress comes in small steps. You must put in work on your weaknesses and your strengths. These are things that you should be tracking regularly so that you don’t have to guess what parts of your game need work as you prepare for a big event. If you are working on all parts of your game every day, you will significantly increase your chances of showing up with your best game when it matters most. However, you only have so many hours in a day and should shift focus to those areas of your game that need the most improvement as you get ready for a tournament.
Find a Scoring Mindset
Hard work on the practice range is only part of solid tournament preparation. You need to get out of the practice mindset and find time to play lots of golf leading up to a tournament. A funny thing happens when you start playing more golf and transition from long practice sessions. You start to work with what you’ve got and find ways to score with the game you brought that day. This is a tournament mindset and it’s essential for playing your best when it matters most. If you show up to a tournament with swing mechanics on your mind, you’re unlikely to play your best golf. You might see tour players working on their swing all the time, but they have refined the ability to switch to a playing mindset quickly. A simple way to ingrain this ability is to play more than you practice in the weeks leading up to a tournament and find ways to make the rounds meaningful. Maybe you find some buddies to play a match or simply treat each round like a tournament round and play out every shot. Either way, find ways to simulate tournament pressure while playing more and you’ll be more prepared for tournament time.
Find Your Go-To Shots
Every golfer wants to be able to hit high draws and fades on command. And hitting punch-long irons is always fun. The range is a great place to experiment with these new shots and that is an important part of how you become a better player. You need to accept that your best and most reliable shots are what you should be ready to play in a big tournament though. To this end, the practice leading up to a big tournament should be focused on all your go-to shots. If you have been hitting a 20-yard draw with consistency, do not try to work on a high fade as you prepare for a tournament. Accept that a big draw is your go-to shot and figure out a game plan to take advantage of that shot. This is different than simply ignoring your weaknesses. If you’ve been struggling to get up and down from bunkers, you’ll want to work on that. You just need to focus on the shots you know you can hit when the pressure is on and dial in a comfortable routine and strategy to make those shots work best for you. Be confident that your go-to shot will get the job done.
Prepare Your Bag for the Tournament
One of the final things you can do to prepare yourself to focus solely on playing great golf in a big tournament is to make sure you have everything ready to go the night before the tournament. I have a simple routine where I empty out my bag and make sure I have everything I will need for the tournament. I make sure that I have my golf balls marked, plenty of tees, an extra pen and pencil, my favorite ball marker, and a repair tool. I check all my grips and clean my clubs. I get all my supplies in order. I make sure I have plenty of tees. I check the battery on my range finder and even throw a backup battery in the bag. I put my rain gear and umbrella in the bag, even if the weather forecast is perfect. I put any snacks I might want during the round in the bag. I put in pain relievers and sunscreen. I make final notes in my yardage book and put them in my bag as well.
By the end of my routine, my bag is ready with everything I will need for the tournament and there is absolutely nothing to do the next morning. I pick out the clothes I’m going to wear and even decide exactly what I’m going to eat for breakfast the next morning. My goal is to get everything in order so that I don’t have to make any decisions in a hurry on the morning of a tournament. This simple routine has always got me in a relaxed and confident mindset for the next day. Everything has been planned out and I can wake up with a focus on playing great golf.
Slow Things Down on Game Day
The final piece of advice to play your best in a big tournament is to realize there is only so much you can do on the morning of the tournament. You will see players that typically take 30 minutes to warm up at the range hours before their tee time. These same players will be working on their swing and trying hard to find a perfect game. This is a recipe for exhaustion and disaster. You must accept that the best use of your time on tournament day is getting loose and warmed up. Make a point to slow down everything you do to stay in a focused and confident frame of mind.
Ben Hogan was famous for doing everything slower than normal on tournament days. He would dress slower, walk slower, and even drive slower. This helped get him in a mindset that was calm and focused on playing his best golf. It set the tone for having a smooth rhythm and tempo for the whole day. I’ve always used that same tip when I have an important round of golf. I get up early enough so that I don’t feel rushed in any part of my morning routine. I’m not trying to hit a certain number of shots or figure anything out in my game. I just focus on staying relaxed and getting loose for the day ahead. From there, I decide I’m going to enjoy the challenge ahead and stay focused on the things I can control.