As much fun it is to tee it up for a round with your buddies, and as relaxing as a solo walking nine at sunset can be, my favorite form of golf is competitive golf – specifically, tournament golf.
Amid the buzz of the US Amateur at Pebble Beach Golf Links, back here in the mortal golf world, I’m excited to tee it up in the 35th Myrtle Beach World Amateur (known affectionately as the “World Am”) Aug. 27-30, along with 3,200 fellow golf nuts.
With the first round just days away, I’m in full tournament-prep mode. Having played dozens of tournaments at the junior, high school, college and amateur levels, I’ve had a few choice highs and a lot of disappointments. I’m in good company in that regard.
The highlight of my competitive golf career came two summers ago, when I qualified for the 2016 Florida State Open and played well enough to make the 36-hole cut. With a combination of good form and a solid plan, I beat a lot of golfers who are better than I am, including some who play the game for a living. I’m proud of that accomplishment, but I’m ready to add another rewarding performance to my resume.
Here’s what I’m doing to get ready. I’ve also got a few tips for your own next round of competitive golf, be it your own state open or a grudge-match with your friends.
Step 1: Pack accordingly
Golf is such an interesting – and maddening – game in large part because there are so many variables. Changing weather, tee setups and hole locations mean that no golf course plays the same one day to the next.
That’s why I try to keep the surprises to a minimum. Making sure you’ve got the tools to get the job done is essential, and it takes a lot more than making sure all 14 clubs are in your bag on the first tee.
I’m a little obsessive about keeping the grooves on my irons and wedges clean, so over the weekend I took delivery of a new club brush to replace the one whose bungee-type cord broke a couple weeks ago. That way, I don’t have to hope the carts we use for the World Am rounds have those club-cleaner attachments on them.
Towels are another concern. Like most golfers, I’ve accumulated a bunch of them over time, but frankly, most of them are no good. I play without a glove, and some towels, even when wet, seem to just grind the sweat into my hands rather than actually drying them.
TIP: Those cheap, somewhat rough rags that upscale courses place in carts are actually the best for keeping hands free of sweat.
For my clubs and grips, though, I do like the modern waffle-pattern microfiber towels Club Glove and other companies make. And in the warm, humid late-August Myrtle Beach weather, I’ll be getting a lot of use out of my Golf Advisor-logoed Devant Arctic Blast towel. I wet it, wring it out and snap it a few times and it actually feels significantly cooler than the surroundings.
TIP: The back of your neck is the best spot to press it to help cool yourself down between shots.
In an interview during last week’s PGA Championship, I could’ve sworn I heard Tiger Woods say during his post-round assessment, “My hydration was pretty good,” as if hydration was a formal part of his game.
I almost laughed, but then I considered that hydration is probably one of the weakest parts of my game. I have little problem drinking a good amount of water when I walk, but when I’m in a cart, like I will be at the World Am, I tend not to drink enough. I plan to work on my hydration game for the tournament.
TIP: Drink a number of ounces of water per day equivalent to half your body weight in pounds.
When it’s warm and you’re sweating a lot, though, simply water may not be enough. Electrolytes are needed to replace what you lose in sweat. Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are always great to have handy on the course, but some fitness experts don’t like how much sugar they have. I’ll try and dilute my Gatorade a bit on the course via ice and some added water, but I have also taken to buying small bottles of Mio Electrolytes Water Enhancer at the grocery store or pharmacy and storing them in my bag, where they are lightweight and take up very little room. A few drops into my water provides valuable electrolytes without a ton of sugar, and with golf course water sometimes tasting a little less-than-crisp, it adds some welcome flavor.
If my hydration game isn’t quite up to snuff, my on-course eating game is even worse. Even when I eat before playing, I usually find myself hungry around the middle of the back nine, if not sooner. I’m going to make sure I have a snack handy during each round so as not to waste shots late due to fatigue. I find salted peanuts are a good basic option, as are granola bars. Feel free to share your favorite on-course snacks (as well as other essential gear for tournament golf) in the comments.
Step 2: Make plans
They say that failing to plan means planning to fail. It took me embarrassingly long to fully appreciate that, but better late than never. Going into a competitive round with a game plan is a great way to set a baseline for on-course focus right off the bat.
I credit a PGA pro named Jim Tennant for introducing the concept in a lesson when I was about eight years old, even if it took me a decade and a half to fully heed his advice. Tennant was the head pro at the executive-length Westwoods Golf Course, where a couple summers’ worth of fun, engaging junior golf camps got me hooked on the game. The Wall Street Journal covered his interesting career earlier this year.
Tennant stressed the importance of having a strategy for each hole, and now, in advance every competitive round, I make a plan, even (and especially) when I don’t have a yardage book.
Here’s how I do it using the free and powerful Google Earth. The Ruler tool is utterly invaluable, enabling you to draw a line between two points and measure it in yards. It’s perfect for creating an ad hoc yardage guide for any hole.
I just received my four-course rotation for the World Am: International Club, Arrowhead Country Club, Grande Dunes Resort Club and Meadowlands Golf Club. It seems these courses are toward the straightforward end of the spectrum, but, I’ll still be making plans for each of them.
For a real example of such a plan, here’s the 15th hole at Barefoot Resort’s Fazio Course, which I played in one of the rounds of the 2014 World Am. It’s a short par four at just 346 yards from the tips, making it a potential birdie hole. Three well-placed fairway bunkers force anyone wanting to gain a shot to par to play the hole confidently and with a plan.
I see two main ways to approach this hole: the conservative way and the aggressive way.
Both strategies are viable, so which should I choose? I don’t need an answer too far in advance. Perhaps I’ll be a little shaky off the tee to that point, or the hole will be into the wind, prompting me to take the safer route. Perhaps I’ll be feeling great with my driver at that point in the round, and I’ll feel up to taking a little bit of a risk.
All things being equal, though, I’ll probably take the conservative route. Competitive golf sometimes makes my already quick-tempo swing a little frenzied, so I’ve learned that hitting lots of fairway woods means a better chance of hitting lots of fairways. I’d rather play from 150 yards out of the fairway than 125 yards out of the rough. Less stress means better tournament scores, I’ve found.
TIP: Err on the side of conservative play, especially off the tee.
The other kind of planning is longer-term. With a bit more than a week until the tournament begins, I’ve laid out a practice schedule aimed at helping me get my game in tournament shape. Most golfers don’t have a ton of time to practice under normal circumstances or leading up to a tournament, so it’s important to make every minute of every practice session count.
With the tournament starting Monday, August 27, here’s how I’m looking to spend my time in the week leading up to it:
Sunday, 8/19: Play 18 holes, keeping score
Monday, 8/20: Dedicated short-game work, specifically pitching, lag putting and putting from inside 6 feet
Tuesday, 8/21: Walk 9 holes, hit some extra shots
Wednesday, 8/22: Travel day up to Myrtle Beach area. Play 18 holes along the way (course TBD), keep score
Thursday, 8/23: Moderate range work, focusing on 3-wood and 5-wood tee shots and short irons (preliminary course plans suggest driver will not be a huge factor on the courses I’ll be playing)
Friday, 8/24: Play 9 holes, hit some extra shots
Saturday, 8/25: Visit/play at least one or two tournament courses
Sunday, 8/26: Register and visit/play other tournament course(s); practice putting at first-round course
This strikes me as a pretty even mix of practice and play. I don’t love to beat balls on the range because it’s never seemed to be a great analog for the unique shots and situations I’ll have to confront on the course.
TIP: To the extent possible, try and maximize your on-course practice. Playing nine holes at twilight and hitting extra shots can often be more valuable than hitting 50 balls on the range.
Do you have any tournaments of your own coming up? What are you doing to prepare? And if you’re one of more than 3,200 people signed up for this year’s World Am, maybe I’ll see you in Myrtle Beach.