By Keely Levins
It's pretty unsettling to enter a tournament knowing you're unprepared. But after deciding it's better than not entering at all, I teed it up at the Vermont Women's Amateur Championship last week.
This summer is the first time in my life where I haven't lived within walking distance of a golf course. After playing my last round for Middlebury College at the NCAA Division III Championship in May, I graduated, started a desk job at Golf Digest, and have adopted a routine that involves far less golf than I've ever experienced. Needless to say, I had plenty of reasons to feel unprepared and a little nervous about jumping back into competition. I'm not the first to have this problem, and I certainly won't be the last, but here are a few thoughts that got me through the week. Maybe they'll help your game, too:
Put someone you trust on the bag
I've never liked playing with caddies. I didn't practice with them, so when it came to competition, I didn't want to toy with a new variable. But last week, I put my little sister, Chloe, on the bag, which actually had some benefits. Sitting in an office isn't always conducive to being extremely fit. So aside from helping me stay relaxed and comfortable, having her on the bag for three summer rounds saved me a lot of energy.
Talk it through
Thinking something and saying something are two different things. In my head, any shot is possible. But when I say out loud, "OK, I'm going to hit a knockdown, fading 4-iron under this oak, around the pine ahead, bank it off that side hill, and it'll kick down to the green," I'm suddenly aware that the shot is pretty much impossible. Sometimes all you have to do is hear yourself say it (or have your little sister -- an excellent player in her own right -- look at you funny) to figure out what's actually reasonable.
Find something positive about your lack of practice
It's easy to feel unconfident about not practicing enough -- but that's not going to help you. Try finding something positive that has come from practicing less. I've been dealing with nagging tendonitis in my hip for years that has never fully healed because I never rested it enough. My new practice regimen (or lack thereof) has given my hip a chance to heal and left me basically pain free. Putting a positive spin on not practicing as much gave me something to feel good about.
Forget your ego and play the game you have
I try and hole out every shot I stand over and try to win every tournament I enter. But when you don't practice a lot, that's a terrible way to play golf. That's where the ego check comes in. Last week, when I three-putted six greens in the first 20 holes, all I could really do was shrug and think, 'Well, I have spent a total of 28 minutes on a practice green this summer, of course I'm going to make some three putts.' That kind of thinking takes the pressure off.
Have a mental escape
The day before the tournament, my little sister and I were playing around with her camera and she took an impressively atrocious photo of me. I saw it and said "wow, bad camera angles suck." From then on, whenever something bad happened on the course, I'd turn to my little sister and say, "You know what else sucks?" and with a smile she'd respond, "Bad camera angles." It was enough to pull me out of the useless negativity I'd start to feel when I hit a smother hook off the tee, or got a fried-egg lie in a bunker. Disengaging for a moment allows you to refresh your mind and pinpoint what's actually worth focusing on -- and hopefully convert some sort of decent shot.