Originally published April 2002
So you've got a tournament coming up and it's time to get your game in shape. Your tournament is probably not anything like what you watch on television, but the pressures and problems will be much the same. Maybe with a little thought and preparation, you can pick up the edge that you need to beat your archrival or win the club championship.
First off, le's agree that you're probably not going to be swinging like Ernie Els when the big day arrives. Now is NOT the time to start messing with your swing and make any major changes. You know your tendencies better than anyone else and chances are you're going to have to find a way to play with them. Check your basics and get your posture, grip, alignment, and ball position in the best shape they can be for YOUR game. Hitting balls is fine but don't go overboard on making changes or you'll only end up feeling lost on game day. The most effective thing you can work on is probably your swing tempo, find it and keep it, and you'll probably strike the ball pretty well.
Second, you're probably not going to hit as many greens as Tiger does, or even as many as you would like to. Practice your short game till your sick of it, and then practice it some more. Go out in the evening when the course is quiet and go from green to green hitting multiple pitch shots from all the places you don't want to be, but will probably end up when you least want to be there. You know what shots are dependable for you and which ones are not, find a way to work with what you have. Learn the new stuff later, now is the time to "dance with who brung ya".
Third, spend most of your time on the practice green working on short putts. Anyone who can make most of the 4-6 footers they face is going to end up with a pretty decent score for the day. The bottom of your flight and the top of your flight will probably be determined not by birdies, but by par saves. Good rounds are built on pars and if you can chip it to 5 feet and make the putt you going to make some extra pars.
Fourth, look at your equipment. Are your grips in good shape or do they need replaced? If you don't replace them, scrub them vigorously with a stiff brush and a solution of warm water and dishwashing soap. Choose a detergent that contains a degreaser, it will help remove the oil and dirt buildup that accumulates from your hands over a period of time. Rinse them well and pat dry with a bath towel.
Clean your irons with a brass bristled brush and detergent in warm water, the brass bristles are softer than the chrome or cast finish of your irons and won't harm them. Toothpicks are for cleaning teeth, golf clubs are made to hit through dirt and sand, forget the sissy stuff and get a brass bristled brush like you use on your barbecue grill, it's faster and more efficient. Cleaning woods is a little different; some of them have polyurethane finishes, use a stiff nylon brush and a mild solution of detergent and water.
Clean your shoes, give them a shine, and replace the cleats. Don't overload your bag if you're walking, but make sure you have rain gear if there is a chance you'll need it, a couple of extra gloves, some Band-Aids, tape, towels, and all the normal stuff you should have anyway. Throw a fresh Sharpie in your bag to mark your golf balls and have plenty or your favorite brand ready to go. Clean the shag balls out and get rid of the nine wadded up worn out gloves that you'll never use anyway.
Game day, it's time to go through your normal warm up without any changes, take your time and try to make sure your tempo is smooth before you leave the range. Hit a few pitches, and make sure before you leave the practice green you make about five two footers in a row. Seeing and hearing the ball go in the hole is a great way to leave the green.
Take your time over that first tee shot, pick a club that will get you into the fairway. Breathe deeply and make that first takeaway slow and deliberate. You're supposed to be nervous the first few holes, the secret is to not panic and start making mistakes. Now is not the time to be a hero, play the odds and work on getting settled down. If trouble arises, DON'T get in a hurry, take your time and THINK about what you are doing. Most people who make big numbers get in a big hurry after a bad shot and compound it with several more. Be conservative with your long shots and aggressive with short ones, fairways and greens yield good scores.
Patience is your friend, most people who fall apart in golf tournaments run out of it early. Be prepared, play smart, be patient, and it just might be your lucky day.
Article courtesy of Stan "Golfalot" Thomas of GolfOpinions.com