Playing your first golf tournament

Golf and Tournament Golf are two different sports – Bobby Jones once famously remarked.

If you have ever played golf competitively – not the weekend scramble variety – but the individual, all shots count variety, you will be able to relate to the aphorism by the great Bobby Jones.

In no other sport is the sheer effect of nerves so utterly disabling – as it is in golf.

The recent spectacle of Jordan Spieth – sending two consecutive shots into the water – on a fairly routine approach shot – should convey the gravity of this phenomenon. A top ranked golfer – who could easily hit that shot 10 times out 10  (with his eyes closed) –  somehow fell victim to tournament-golf-nerves.

Of course, to those of us watching, it was not a totally inexplicable phenomenon.  It was simply golf – more accurately, tournament golf – doing it’s thing.

What demons invade the head of a competitive golfer  – are known only to the golfer.  How and why they appear when they do – is still a mystery.  Jordan had been working on this particular ball flight just prior to his golf round. Perhaps that workout weighed on him – as it opened the door for doubt to creep in. And doubt is the number one enemy during a competitive round of golf.

It is better to be too sure of yourself – almost overconfident – than to be timid. The timid approach will quickly turn your nerves to Jello – to where you might  be unable to sink a 3 foot putt.

Which leads me to my first rule of playing tournament golf:

Rule # 1: Play Aggressively

A tournament is not the time or place to try out new swing thoughts. Take your most reliable swing thought to the course – and let that be the ONLY thought you take.

In my case, my go-to thought is ‘finishing my follow through’. One of the first signs of a leaking golf swing is an incomplete completion. If you can get to completing your follow through , you will have fought off this demon.

Next rule:

Rule # 2 : Don’t let ANYTHING upset you (Stay in control)

This seems like an innocuous rule – but requires a lot of practice. In reality, getting into this mindset begins at home – well before the start of your round of golf. From the time you wake up to the time you walk out to your car – to driving to the course, just don’t let anything get to you.

If you are running late for your tee time, don’t rush – don’t get upset. If you nick yourself while shaving in the morning , let it slide.

Getting into this frame of mind from the very start of the day is a great way to ensure that you maintain this mindset on the golf course.

The worst – absolute worst thing you can do – is lose your cool on the course. Not only will you lose your tournament, you will also lose any credibility or respect that you would otherwise garner.

A good way to practice this mindset is to go out and play with lots of different people. I had one guy at my club who would drive me (and everyone else) up a wall – he took an average of 3-4 minutes to setup – per shot! However, I tried to not let it affect my game – it was good practice for building my ‘stay calm’ mindset.

Rule # 3 : Remember, it’s just a game

I was reminded of a famous story from the comic genius – P.G. Wodehouse. His story Ordeal By Golf  pictures a scene with a young, hot headed golfer (Mitchell), his fiancé (Millicent) and a wisely old figure simply called The Oldest Member. The hot headed golfer (Mitchell) is up for a promotion – and everything depends on his keeping his calm for an entire round of golf.

As the three of them are discussing this situation, Millicent (Mitchell’s fiancé) suggests:

Millicent : Couldn’t you learn to just control yourself on the links, Mitchell, darling? After all, golf is only a game !

Mitchell’s eyes met the Oldest Member’s – they had the same look of horror as his. (The Oldest Member seemed to say) Women say these things without thinking. It does not mean there is a kink in their character, they simply don’t realize what they are saying.

Hush ! said Mitchell, patting her hand and overcoming his emotion with a strong effort. Hush dearest !

We tend to take golf a little too seriously.  We are hard on ourselves when we play badly.  Some people go into serious depression – others give up the sport altogether.

The seriousness, IMO, is misplaced. After all, it is not like you got maimed our injured or lost a limb.  In fact, you have a sound body, mind and are able to take out time to enjoy the great outdoors for a few hours.

That already puts you ahead of most of the world’s population.  Count your blessings and save the seriousness for real life events – not a round of golf!



For the SERIOUS tournament player – Playing a 4 day tournament

The mental approach that golf requires is a peculiar and complicated mixture of abiding confidence and patient resignation, of intense concentration and total relaxation. Arnold Palmer

Swing a Weighted Club

Just like an athlete trains with WEIGHTS tied around her legs before a big race – so can golfers train with WEIGHTED clubs. My favorites are the Momentus Weighted Driver and Iron.

I discovered that if I can swing a weighted driver prior to (2 days prior to) the tournament, I know that my actual driver will feel super-light on the day of the tournament.

This is a good feeling – since my first shot is probably going to require a driver.


  If your game has evolved to where you have a fairly high degree of confidence in the direction and distance your ball will go, you are no longer a beginner.

You are making consistent contact – you are able to chip it, putt it and also hit those long irons and fairway woods. You are ready to play competitively – against other players at your handicap level.

Remember, you do not have to compete with the scratch player in your club – you only need to compete with the X handicapper – with people who share your handicap.

Try and treat your competitive round as a game. Try and not let any errant shot (or hole) upset you –  your competitors are bound to have bad holes as well. 

You may just find yourself enjoying the round. You may also, just win !

Questions? Comments?

Recommended Reading for tournament golfers (Non Fiction)

  1. Fearless Golf (Dr. Valiente) helped me overcome a few psychological barriers – especially on the first tee.
  2. Arnold Palmer’s Classic (My Game and Yours) – is a MUST read for anyone interested in the unique temperament required for Tournament Golf.
Fearless Golf – Dr. Gio Valiante Golf is not a game of perfect – Dr. Bob Rotella My Game and Yours – Arnold Palmer

(Fiction) Recommended Reading for obsessed (with the mystery of the game)  golfers

Humor (Wodehouse) Humor, Satire, Classic  (Arnold) Adventure, Paper Tiger

Amateur golfer with no real claim to fame (unless club championships count). Sharing knowledge obtained from (far too many) golf lessons – from far too many pros.

Golf Tips – who has written posts on Anuj Varma, Technology Architect.

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