On Tournament Preparation
With this week being Open week, it is a great time to highlight the significance of tournament preparation. The players are competing on courses that are very different from what they play week to week on the PGA tour so we tend to hear more about what they are doing to prepare to play well. There is a lot to learn from the way they are thinking and practicing in an effort to have their game in peak condition for this major championship.
I think it is helpful to think about tournament preparation in 2 Phases :
-Phase 1: What you do in the 1-2 weeks before the tournament &
-Phase 2: What you do in the practice round(s) when you arrive at the tournament
In the 1-2 weeks prior to the tournament you are focused on getting your game you are trying to get both your mechanics and mind into great positions
In terms of mechanics…
I. You want to get your mechanics into a position you are happy with before you arrive at the tournament. Once you arrive at the event the ideal scenario is for you to be on mechanical autopilot—meaning that you keep the same swing thoughts (if any) throughout the whole event. You’re not making changes at the tournament.
[My swing coach in Dallas, Mark Maness, tells me that when he goes out to the Byron Nelson and watches the players on the range in the practice days he can pretty well predict who is going to play well. You can observe which players are working on something in their technique and which are comfortable with where they are and only doing maintenance work.]
II. Secondly, you want to have prepared for the shots you are going to need for the tournament. If you are going to need a draw tee shot off several the holes you want to have practice that and be comfortable with that prior to arrival at the tournament. Or if you are going to need to play a number of soft shots out of greenside rough you want to have practice and decided how you are going to play those shots in advance.
In terms of the mind…
You want to be able to go in to the tournament with as much peace of mind as possible. A lot of things that impact our psychology are out of our control. But this means you want to make sure you are getting necessary mental and physical rest prior to the tournament. In an ideal world that means in the 2-3 days prior to the event that you are getting around 8 hrs. of sleep a night and that you’ve taken care of any school work or work work in advance so that you are not having to think about those things or deal with them during the tournament.
Now to discuss Phase 2, when you arrive at the tournament course there are 3 main things you need to accomplish. In order of importance, I think they are:
I. Figuring out where to hit the ball off the tee.
As you do this you need to be aware that during the tournament you will almost certainly be playing in different winds, different firmness of fairways, and different weather conditions. This means you can’t just hit a tee shot in the practice round that ends up in great position and assume the same shot will produce the same result in the tournament. This is where your extra time and energy should go during the practice round. Your approach shots require less focus in your preparation because you have more control of the spin of the ball and how it is going to land. Though you do, of course, want to take note of what is around the greens and what you need to be prepared for there.
II. Learn the speed of the greens
In the practice round it is essential to get comfortable with the speed of the greens. You want to hit a good number of lag putts, you want to hit putts up and over ridges, breaking putts, and all sorts of different putts to get a feel for the greens. As a general rule, you face more long putts in a tournament than you anticipate that you will.
III. Firmness of the bunkers
This is another part of the golf course that is the most variable from course to course. So, anytime you get to a new course you need to get some bunker work in to see how much sand is in the bunkers, how much spin the ball tends to come out with, and how quickly the ball tends to come out.
Finally, I want to note a few specific examples from the interviews prior to this years Open. You’ll see that a lot of what players do is unique. Most of players have learned what kind of preparation they need to produce their best results. As you compete you want to pay attention to correlations between what you do in preparation for a tournament and how you play.
Here are a few things players have done in preparation for Carnoustie…
-Many have changed clubs, adjusted the bounce on their wedges, or added 2 iron or driving iron (https://www.golfdigest.com/story/british-open-2018-how-a-pair-of-instructors-are-preparing-their-tour-pros-for-the-challenge-of-carnoustie)
-In anticipation of windy conditions, some are practicing more less than full shots and more severely shaped shots (ibid)
-Rory is trying to take a more carefree attitude into the tournament, and has been reflecting on the pressure that he has been playing under. (https://www.golfchannel.com/article/ryan-lavner/rory-looking-carefree-inner-child/)
-Spieth felt like he has been too technical this season so he took some time off and is trying to use the style of golf required at Carnoustie to help him play more imaginatively
-Many others travel overseas early to play in the Scottish Open the week before the British Open (https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/golf/2018/07/16/jordan-spieth-refreshed-ready-use-imagination-british-open/788309002/)
-And of course, Tiger has new putter in the bag. He feels that the putter change will help him navigate the slower greens which he feels has always been a weakness of his (https://golfweek.com/2018/07/17/british-open-tiger-woods-admits-the-open-is-best-chance-to-win-major/)