The end of summer is tournament season for many weekend players—whether it’s a club championship, member-guest or match-play event at your local muny. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been playing three times a week, or you’re trying to ramp up your activity ahead of the big event: You’re probably tempted to grind on your swing with some extra range sessions to make sure it’s ready and all your “feels” are there.
That might not be the best use of your time.
“I tell my club golfers the same thing I tell my guys who play the tour—when you’re getting ready for a big event, the one thing you don’t want to be doing is changing your swing or doing a lot of intensive work on it,” says top Alabama teacher Tony Ruggiero, who works with Lucas Glover, Sepp Straka, Luke Guthrie and Tom Lovelady, among other players. “You need to be playing holes and focusing on how to make a score, not how to make a swing.”
We asked four top teachers for their 30-day prescription for the lead-in to tournament season, and they all struck on many of the same themes—playing holes, defusing your biggest problem shots and getting used to unfamiliar pressure.
Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Stan Utley has worked with dozens of PGA Tour stars on short game, and he suggested adapting a technique tour players use with their coaches early in the week. Get a coach to come out and walk nine holes with you to offer practical and strategic advice and troubleshoot. “That kind of playing lesson can really help you focus on things a lot of players don’t always manage well, like alignment,” says Utley. “For example, tee box and mower cut lines don’t always point you in the direction you want to go on a hole, and a second set of eyes can get you lining up better. Another place you can make a ton of progress in a couple of hours is getting a true on-course sense for how far your clubs really go. That’s really big in the wedge game in particular. Knowledge helps take away indecision and tension.”
Ruggiero says that on-course and practice tee work should be focused on the same thing—playing shots. “Instead of thinking about how to fix your slice or hit it farther, really dial in what club you know you can hit off the tee when you need it,” says Ruggiero, who is based at the Country Club of Mobile (Ala.) and Frederica Golf Club on St. Simons Island in Georgia. “It doesn’t even need to be driver. Maybe you have a 5-wood you like to hit with a little cut, and you know it’s going to go 185 yards and in the fairway. Being able to go that kind of shot when you need it is a ton of comfort.”
Top Louisiana teacher Shaun Webb says dedicating four hours a week for a month is plenty for a weekend player to be ready—provided you’re doing productive work and not just beating balls. “You need to be spending 70 percent of your time on short game and 30 percent on simple full swing stuff like seeing one shot shape,” says Webb, who runs David Toms’ teaching facility in Shreveport. “And most importantly, you need to be doing things that replicate what you’re about to experience. When you play, putt everything out so you get used to having to do it. And play for some slightly uncomfortable stakes with your buddies so you can increase the pressure. The only way to get better at dealing with that is to experience it a few times.”
Even when you’ve done the right kind of prep work, it’s still easy to freak out when the tournament gets close. Top Michigan teacher Jason Guss says he gets the same calls on tournament week from his KornFerry Tour students as come from the 15-handicappers. “They’ll call in a panic a day or two before the event and ask me about a funny shot they just hit,” says Guss, who is based at Hawk Hollow Golf Club in Bath Township, Mich. “But you can’t overreact to those. If it happened any other week, you wouldn’t even notice it. It’d be just another shot. And guess what, it still is.”
Guss’ favorite preparation prescription for his club players is to assign them a specific competitive task. “Go find the best player in your club that you haven’t played with before, and ask to go out and play a friendly match,” says Guss. “Playing with a good player you don’t know puts you under a different kind of pressure than going out in a cart with one of your buddies and raking away all your three-footers. It’ll also help you identify the ‘easy’ touch shots around the green that get harder when you have more tension—like a soft pitch or a 40-foot lag putt. Then you can spend the rest of your time getting better at those, because you’re going to use them a lot.”