Are you ready to compete in tournaments? Some thoughts on preparing for your first competitive golf

By Rick Sessinghaus, Psy.D, PGA, Special Contributor

What is so great about the game of golf is that anyone can compete against other golfers of different ability because of the handicap system. However, just because a golfer has a handicap doesn't mean he or she is ready for competition.

World Series of Golf - Paiute
When a golf round is labeled as a tournament it often creates anxiety and tension for the golfer.
World Series of Golf - Paiute

Working with all level golfers I have found that learning the mechanics is the first step to playing the game, yet there is a game within the game. When a golf round is labeled as a tournament it often creates anxiety and tension for the golfer. As a mental game coach I am often asked about when a golfer should start competing. My answer rarely has anything to do with their ability to play. It has more to do with how they handle themselves on the golf course when the going gets tough.

Competition tends to bring out the worst in golfers. A tournament round means no gimmies, mulligans, or winter rules. This is truly the game of golf and some never play like this in a normal social round. They are in for a rude awakening come time for a tournament round. The setting of a tournament can also be intimidating. There have been times I have been paired with players who didn't say two words to me and treated the round like the most serious event in their life. This can negatively affect a golfer with an outgoing personality.

Here are a few keys to make your first competitive golf experience a positive one:

• Have realistic expectations of what you will shoot. Shift your focus from outcome of score to the goal of enjoying the round.
• Prepare for a tournament with more "serious" rounds with your normal foursome. Play by the rules, no gimmies, keep score.
• Just because others may get serious on the golf course doesn't mean you have to be serious. Remember this is a game that is to be enjoyed. Most players will get angrier on the course. Keep your emotions under control throughout the round.
• Realize there will be many more opportunities to compete. The first tournament is not a career.
• Know the rules and etiquette of the game. The most embarrassing part of competitive golf is not hitting poor shots; it is not knowing basic rules and etiquette.
• After the round evaluate your experience so you can be better prepared next time.

Golf is a game that always creates a challenge, so when you add the competition side you will experience a different game. I encourage all my students to feel that side of the game. Just remember to prepare for how a tournament is different.

In my mental game schools for VIP Golf Academy, I help players of every level become mentally ready to play great in tournament rounds.

Preparing to play in competition is more than just about the swing. Start today to improve your mental skills and you will thrive under tournament pressure.

Rick Sessinghaus, Psy.D, PGARick Sessinghaus, Psy.D, PGA, Special Contributor

Known as "Golf's Mental Coach," Rick Sessinghaus, is the expert on the mindset principles that make or break performance. He is an instructional editor for Golf Tips magazine and can be seen on Fox Sports. His book "Golf: The Ultimate Mind Game" has been featured in national golf magazines and used by leading instructors across the country. For more, see

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