How to Prepare for a Golf Tournament

How to Prepare for a Golf Tournament: Strategies from a Plus Handicap

Do you have an upcoming golf tournament but have no idea how to prepare? Or, are you someone that wants to perform better in competition and your current routine isn’t working? 

If so, I got you covered. 

Since 2017 I’ve played in more than 200 tournament golf days. This has been a combination of all types of formats including 2-man best balls, scrambles, match play, stroke play, and more. The overwhelming majority have been gross, stroke play events and want to share my tips to help you prepare more effectively. 

How to Prepare for Golf Tournaments – 7 Strategies from a Plus Handicap 

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “How do I prepare myself for a golf tournament?”

You’re in the right place… 

Key Takeaways 

  • Golf tournaments are a fantastic way to test your game and try out new formats (like match play).
  • To play your best under pressure, make sure to prepare with practice rounds, yardage books, and other research.
  • It’s a good idea to avoid making mechanical swing changes leading up to the event. 
  • Make sure to spend a lot of time on the mental side and short game heading into the event. 

Keep reading to learn more about my proven tips that will help you play better in competition. 

1. Stop Making Technical Swing Changes 

One of the biggest tips to preparing for golf tournaments is to stop making so many technical swing changes leading up to the event. To play your best golf, especially in competition, you need to get in the zone. But if you’re worried about the mechanics of your golf swing, this is nearly impossible.

Too many golfers get in the habit of trying to play golf swing vs. playing golf. As Dr. Bob Rotella said, “You have to train your swing on the range so you can trust it on the course.”

At some point, you need to accept that your swing is yours and need to own it. While it’s okay to get a lesson, buy a training aid or make fixes between events or the offseason, don’t do it right before an event.

As you know, making swing changes is a tedious process and sometimes takes weeks or months to feel comfortable. Don’t get a lesson or watch a bunch of YouTube videos before an event. 

Instead, the week of and before your event, focus on the following tournament tips. 

How to Prepare for a Golf Tournament

2. Research the Golf Course

Preparation starts even before your practice round. It begins by checking out the golf course online on their website to learn the tee boxes you’ll play and estimated distances.

Then make sure to:

  • Buy a yardage book.
  • Charge your rangefinder.
  • Download the course on your golf GPS.
  • Use Google Earth to research the course. 

3. Play a Practice Round(s)

One of the most important parts of preparing for a competition is getting in a practice round (or several rounds). It’s very challenging to play your best golf under pressure if you’ve never played the course before. Make it a priority to get in at least one practice round so you can create a game plan for each hole. 

Even if you’re familiar with the course, getting in a practice round is still a good idea to see the course conditions. During these rounds, make sure to focus on these areas of your game.

Tee Shot Strategy

The first thing you want to do is get clear about which clubs you’ll hit off the tee on every hole. Use a golf GPS and/or rangefinder to map out carry distances over bunkers and water. If there’s a certain hole that doesn’t suit your eye well, hit a few tee shots. Experiment with a few golf balls off the tee to pick the right club and line.

In a yardage book (or note in your phone) clarify your tee box strategy on each hole. Of course, sometimes you’ll need to make adjustments in competition based on tee box location and wind/weather conditions, but a game plan is key. This will help minimize overthinking the shot in competition and not make a bad decision if you’re emotional after a bad hole. 

In general, the goal is to hit it as far as you can off the tee to give yourself the shortest approach shot. Obviously, you’ll need to factor in hazards and out of bounds, but hit the driver as often as possible. 

Preparing for a Golf Tournament

Approach Shots 

The second thing to consider is your approach shots. One of the most important things to consider in competition is how the ball reacts once it hits the green. Do irons hit and stop, or do they hit and release?

Learning how firm the greens are will help you have a better approach shot strategy in competition. If possible, hit a few shots from fairway bunkers as well to test the sand conditions too. 

Short Game 

You’ll also want to spend a lot of time around the greens during a practice round. 

Hit shots from the greenside bunker to test out the sand and a lot of pitches to see how much spin you get around the greens. Plus, make sure to hit plenty of putts to get very familiar with the speed of the greens. 

Lastly, I don’t suggest taking this round too seriously in terms of trying to score your best. I’ve found it’s easy to set yourself up for unrealistic expectations. Instead, use a practice round for what it’s intended… practice! 

4. Spend More Time on Short Game 

If you’re spending less time on mechanical swing changes, spend more time on your short game. After playing this beautiful but oftentimes frustrating game for more than 25 years, I’m convinced you can’t practice short game enough. Especially when leading up to a competitive event.

Why?

A few reasons… 

First, sometimes your swing might disappear at times due to excessive nerves. This means you need a good short game to save shots and keep momentum during the round. Second, the course conditions in a tournament tend to be more difficult, which means you’ll need good touch around the greens. 

Before or after your practice round, spend a lot of time at the short game area testing out different chips, pitches, and greenside bunker shots. The more dialed your short game, the lower scores you’ll likely post in competition. 

Preparing for a Golf Tournament

5. Dial in Your Pre-Shot Routine 

Another great way to spend your practice time before a tournament is dialing in your pre-shot routine

A good routine will help you play better in competition by keeping you comfortable and relaxed. A lack of a routine will make it easy to overthink shots and worry about your swing mechanics and let nerves get the best of you. 

6. Plan Your Pre-Round Warm Up Routine 

Also, make sure you map out your pre-round warm up routine so you show up prepared and not rushing the morning of the competition. Here’s how I might reverse engineer a 9am tee time.

  • 9 am tee time (check if you’re on hole #1 or hole #10).
  • 850 am – get to the tee box to avoid being late and getting any penalties.
  • 840 am – putt with one ball, going through your full pre-shot putting routine for ten minutes.
  • 810-840 am – driving range warm up (wedges, irons, woods, driver, ending with the club you’ll hit on the first tee). 
  • 750-810 am – putting green feeling out the speed of the greens with an emphasis on short putts.
  • 740am  – get to the golf course and check in at the pro shop, pay for skins (if they’re a part of the event), grab my cart.
  • 710 am – leave for the golf course. 
  • 655 am – prepare a cooler and snacks for competition. 
  • 620-640 am – light workout, stretching, or foam rolling to loosen the body up. 

7. Get Plenty of Rest 

Finally, make sure you get plenty of rest so you’re mentally and physically recharged for the event. When I first got started in tournaments, I would try to cram for them like I did for an exam in college. But it rarely worked and oftentimes led to more exhaustion and burning out in the event.

A few days before your competition, make sure to:

  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Hydrate with plenty of water and electrolytes, especially if you’re playing in warm weather conditions. 
  • Stay active in the gym doing lightweight exercises, mobility movements, improving your flexibility, and lots of stretching. Avoid long distance runs or heavy workouts that might make you sore before the event. 

FAQs About Golf Tournaments

Do you have more questions about getting ready for golf tournaments? If so, keep reading through the frequently asked questions and answers now.

How do I prepare for my first golf competition?

If you’re playing in your first golf tournament, I suggest following the steps above. 

Then, resetting your expectations and not setting a score goal – instead, make it a goal to be committed to every shot. Setting score goals is a terrible idea and typically leads to playing overly aggressive and leads to some blow up holes.

Make it a goal to commit to your shot, trust yourself, and have fun. The more fun you have, the more likely you are to play again. Think of it as a big learning opportunity to enjoy the moment. 

Competition Golf 1

How do I get better at golf tournaments?

Tournament golf is very different from a normal round with friends or family. The easiest way to score lower in competitive events is to simply increase your frequency. 

Since nerves play such a big role along with playing with new people, you want to get yourself in competition more often so it’s less scary and more familiar.  Over time, a competitive round will feel a lot more like a normal round and you’ll get comfortable in a tournament setting.   

My Experience

As mentioned throughout this article, I’ve played a lot of tournaments and made every mistake possible. So hopefully you can avoid my mistakes and show up prepared.

But my biggest tip is to play your game (and swing your swing). It’s easy to worry about your playing partners, compare your swing/game to others, and get in your head.

Instead, lean into playing your game so score better and have more fun. 

Final Thoughts 

If you haven’t played in a tournament before, I can’t recommend it enough. Start with a scramble, 2-man best ball, member-member, or a men’s club. Then, keep finding events that push you out of your comfort zone as you get more comfortable with competition. 

What’s your biggest tip to prepare for golf tournaments?

Let us know in the comments below. Next, make sure to read:

Picture of Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard

Michael is an avid golfer of 25 years who played in high school, college, and now competes in Arizona amateur events. He is a full-time writer, podcast host of Wicked Smart Golf, and mental golf coach.