The Month Before
Step 1: Get back in the game. If your work schedule or motivation has limited your time at the course, get back out there. You cant treat a golf tournament as if you're cramming for a college final; all-nighters and caffeine fixes just wont cut it. If you are going to approach a big event with an I deserve to play well attitude, you must be prepared in advance.
Step 2 ' Earn the home course advantage. In preparing for majors, Phil Mickelson regularly plays practice rounds accompanied by his short-game teacher, Dave Pelz. They walk the course debating strategy, taking notes, and practicing shots that Phil is likely to encounter during the tournament. Why? To earn the home course advantage! Familiarity breeds comfort and confidence. The more familiar you are with your competitive environment, the less energy you must spend coping with the mental demands associated with a lack of familiarity (e.g., green reading, club selection, course management). If you will be competing this summer on an unfamiliar course, try and play it in advance. Pre-determine your course strategy, and spend a lot of time becoming familiar with the greens. Lastly, in the weeks prior to your event, practice under the conditions that you know will exist (e.g., fast greens, thick rough, narrow fairways).
The Week Before
Step 3 - Commit to your most familiar technique. To maximize your sense of ownership of your game, cease any attempts to improve your technique the week before a big competition. Last minute mechanical fixes can lead to disaster as you do not have time to own the change. You will benefit much more from focusing your practice time on: 1) repetition of familiar movements, 2) ball-flight control, and 3) short-game feel.
Step 4 - Shift from a practice to a playing mindset. As you near the week of your big event, gradually replace practice time with playing time. Even more importantly, incorporate pressure into your playing time ' a bet with a friend, a consequence for shooting above a certain score, or a pairing with an intimidating playing partner.
The Day Before
Step 5 ' Dont try to be someone youre not. Stick with your daily and nightly routines. Dont pick the night before a big event to become a caffeine-free vegetarian who sleeps 10 hours per night. Eat, sleep, and relax in ways common to your day-to-day life.
Step 6 ' Get your ducks in a row. Take care of all loose ends in your personal and professional life. Strive to bring closure to (or put on hold) those tasks on your to-do list that may grab your attention during the tournament. Create the opportunity for all of your mental energy to be focused on one thing ' playing good golf.
The Day Of
Step 7 ' Stretch and warm up. Arrive at the course in plenty of time to warm up for the day's round. Take 10 to 15 minutes to conduct some pre-round stretching exercises and then another 30 minutes to loosen up on the range and get a feel for the speed of the greens. Remember, while warming up, do not try to perfect your swing mechanics; instead, hit shots to a variety of targets on the range. Accept whatever ball-flight pattern you are producing that day and play with it.
Step 8 ' Keep your tank full of high-octane fuel. Stay well-nourished and rested throughout the tournament. Postpone the late-night socials until after the final round. Bring energy foods (bananas, apples, health bars) and consume plenty of water throughout the round.
Although no longer a student, Tiger continues to demonstrate his ability to gear up for tournament play. Let this summer be the one when you will do the same. Incorporate this eight-step plan into your pre-competition routine, and you, like Tiger, will experience what it feels like to play up to your potential in big events.
Rick Jensen, Ph.D., is a nationally recognized sport psychologist and author of Drive to the Top: 5 Timeless Business Lessons Learned from Golfs Greatest Champions. Dr. Jensens clients include more than 50 touring pros on the PGA, LPGA and Champions tours. For additional information, go to www.drrickjensen.com.