For years, a member of my regular foursome was notoriously late (or barely on time) for tee times. It got so bad that I took to lying to him about the real tee time, instead giving him a fake time that was 20 minutes earlier than the one I scheduled.
Of course, he eventually found out he was duped and started to show even later. The cherry on this sundae was when he'd join the group already on the tee and announce that he gets a Mulligan. The reason? "Y'all got to hit balls and I didn't."
Perhaps his strategy was best. Show up late, hit two off the tee and feel no pressure. More often than not, he wound up winning money from us. But what really is the best practice? How early should you show up for a tee time and what should you do in your time before you hit the first shot?
Here's a guide:
If you arrive 90 minutes before tee time
Whatever you do, don't spend an hour plus on the range trying to fix your swing. Go get some breakfast or lunch if you haven't already. Warming up isn't the same as searching for that swing you had six weeks ago on one of your magical days. Jack Nicklaus, in his classic instruction book "Golf My Way," said "Don't make the mistake of turning your warm-up practice into a full-scale swing rebuilding session that leaves you blistered, bewildered and badly demoralized." In fact, Nicklaus says you should swing your favorite clubs before a round, not the ones you struggle with, so you go out there with rhythm and confidence.
And if you’re do spend an hour to practice before a round, make sure it isn't all spent on the range. Get to your driver if you can (some ranges are irons only) but be sure to spend some time chipping, pitching and putting. That's where you get your rhythm.
If you're playing a serious tournament, arriving early can help you prepare for the shots you're going to have in your round. If you know you're going to turn some balls over from right to left, there's certainly no harm in practicing this shot. And if you know you've got a 220-yard par 3 to deal with during the round, you should be hitting that club as well. Again, though, this isn't the time to fix your swing, just to get a feel for the shots you might need for this particular course.
Just in case you're wondering, yes, the tour pros do make minor adjustments or practice a swing key before a round, but they usually don't work on their swings until after the round. That's a good practice for all of us, since right after the round, whatever swing flaws you might be experiencing are still fresh and that's the best time to correct them.
If you arrive 45 minutes to an hour before tee time
Butch Harmon in his book "Playing Lessons" says that the biggest mistake poor players make is not showing up to the course with at least a half hour to warm up. He says start out by doing some simple stretching, then hit a dozen soft wedge shots to "further loosen the muscles and get a feel for making contact with the ball." Then he says hit a few mid irons and fairway woods (or hybrids) before getting to the driver.
If you're slicing or hooking the driver, you can make a simple adjustment or two, but again, this isn't where you revamp your swing. Harmon also recommends hitting a couple of bunker shots to get a feel for the sand. Of course, nothing sets up a round better than having confidence in your driver and your chips, so be sure to practice that. And be sure to putt a few. You've also got time to get something to drink and maybe a nutritional bar out to the course.
Video: Colin Montgomerie on warming up before your round
If you arrive a half hour before tee time
You've got about 10-15 minutes to hit a few balls, but not many. Hit some wedges, a couple of mid-irons and a few drivers. Then go chip and putt. In fact, if it's one or the other, just chip and putt. Maybe you can check your email if you like or post something on social media. A half hour also gives you enough time to apply sunscreen, something I like to do before a round, not during it if I have time.
Of course, some golf courses, especially in Europe, don't even have ranges. This is where some sort of weighted club or a donut comes in handy. I really don't like to hit balls before I play (I'll usually opt to chip and putt). The reason I don't is because the range can create doubt if you're not hitting it well, and I'd rather go to the first tee feeling good about myself. So I use something called the Orange Whip before I tee off, which not only loosens the muscles, but helps create tempo and transition. Plus, I figure I'm only good for so many swings, so why waste them on the range?
15 minutes before tee time
Forget hitting balls, forget hitting bunker shots. And you can forget chipping unless they allow you to do that on the putting green near the first tee (Don't you wish more facilities allowed that?). You've barely got enough time to unload your bag, pay your green fee and get to the tee. And tee time isn't when you should be arriving at the first tee. You should be there about five minutes early.
Unless, of course, you plan on taking mulligans because you didn't get to hit any balls.