After several years on Tour, and many years as a golf instructor, I have played in my fair share of competitive tournaments. Most recently, I participated in the Champions Tour Qualifying School. I'd like to share with you my preparation routine before I enter into competition. It starts long before you arrive on the course, and doesn't end with your first tee shot. The following can be helpful whether you're playing in a match with friends or a club championship.
A good night's sleep is very important, but it's not the night before that matters most--it's two nights before. Sleep tends to have a lag time of about 36 hours. That doesn't mean you should skip sleeping the night before all together, but if you do have a restless evening, don't let it faze you as much. It's that sleep from two nights before that will carry you through.
When the day arrives, start your day with a good breakfast. Eggs are a great source for protein, and eat something like oatmeal and some fruit for energy. Also, don't forget to drink lots and lots of water.
The first thing you should do when you arrive at the course is stretch. Make sure to loosen up the muscles in your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, lower back (especially if you have back problems), shoulders and neck.
As your warm-up continues, leave at least an hour of preparation, so you have time to hit full shots with several different clubs. I would suggest starting with a short iron, work your way through the bag, and then wind up again with the shorter iron to finish with a good tempo and rhythm.
Next, hit some chips. Don't just stay in one spot and aim for different holes - throw some balls in the rough and see how they come out. How do they land on the green? How much do they roll? Then hit some bunker shots and get a good feel for the kind of sand the course has. Again, how does the ball react when it hits the green?
Also, work on your putting. The most important thing is getting a feel for the distance putts. Take putts with some uphill, downhill and side-hill breaks. Really get a feel for speed of those putts. Right before you finish, take a few two or three footers to build your confidence right before you hit the course.
Be sure to keep your energy level high during the round. Keep some snacks in your bag: a snack bar, almonds or raisins. I highly recommend that every two or three holes you eat something. And even more importantly, drink lots of water - preferably on every hole. Research has shown that the body loses a lot of energy when it is not properly hydrated.
Remember: Every round has its ups and downs. You're going to hit your good shots and your bad shots. The most important thing is to stay in the present. You can't control what happened on the last hole, whether it was a bogey or an eagle; you have to focus on the next shot.
Stay committed and focused on the shot you're playing. Commit to your shot selection, and you focus specifically on your target. Make your focus as narrow as possible. Don't just aim for the fairway, pick a specific spot. If you're not aiming for the flagstick, and playing more conservative, choose a specific spot on the green. Keep your focus as narrow as possible.
My last piece of advice: if the tournament is lasting for more than one day, determine what your weakness was during the round and spend some time working on that area of your game before heading home. You don't need to spend four hours, but spend some time working on your weak spot to try to gain some confidence for the next day. Then go home and get some rest!
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Paul Trittler teaches at the Kostis/McCord Learning Center in Scottsdale, Ariz.