Dear GGG: Help! It’s my first golf tournament!

Your first tournament! Scramble, ladies day or stroke-play championship — PGA professional Katherine Marren’s tips help us look like we know what we’re doing.

Image of Katherine Marren teaching

Q: I’ve signed up to play in my first tournament. Can you give me some pointers to help me look like I know what I’m doing?

A: Well, you could do what we did: Turn to a PGA or LPGA professional for some sensible advice. And Katherine Marren, PGA Director of Instruction at Quail Lodge Golf Academy (in sunny Carmel, Calif.), answers that question with one of her own.

IF YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED IN YOUR FIRST GOLF TOURNAMENT YET, WHAT’S STOPPING YOU? Let us know in the comments or email us.

“What kind of tournament are we talking about?” said Marren, a contributor to the old Golf for Women magazine and a former Golf Digest “Top Teacher.” “Is it your first scramble, a charity tournament? Your first ladies day at the club? Or a local, state or regional individual championship? The answer will be a little different in each case.”

Each kind of tournament is loaded with landmines for the uninitiated. Marren said that the first ladies day at a player’s own club can deliver the most brutal of initiations.

“One of my students, on her very first hole of her very first ladies day, played the wrong ball,” she said. “The other players let her have it. She was devastated.”

Distinctly marking your own golf ball matters not one dot in the charity scramble, but marks a smart contestant in other events. Here’s a look at the special considerations of each level of tournament, with tips to go.

YOUR FIRST GOLF TOURNAMENT: A SCRAMBLE

These are more about fun than score, but turn off your cell phone out of respect for your teammates. The format can make for long days, so have a crisp pre-shot routine and take only one practice swing. If you’re the beginner in the group, step right up to take the first shot in the rotation. “If the beginner puts the ball in play, she’s done her job,” Marren said. If she doesn’t, there are three more chances. Beginners should focus on putting practice before the tournament; they can contribute the most to the team score with a few good putts.

YOUR FIRST GOLF TOURNAMENT: LADIES DAY AT YOUR CLUB

These are generally team events for such high stakes as a sleeve of golf balls. (Finish second, you probably only get two balls, no sleeve.)

Your individual score matters on any given hole, depending on the format, and you likely will be posting a score in the end, so know how to keep score. Put an identifying mark on your golf ball. Know enough about the rules to ask for help when you are uncertain how to proceed.  Great chipping is the equalizer here; perfect some low bump-and-run shots to be everyone’s favorite partner.

YOUR FIRST GOLF TOURNAMENT: INDIVIDUAL STROKE PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP

Here, you may be playing for a medal, trophy or pro shop gift certificate. You probably are familiar with the rules by this stage, but do you know how to proceed properly when you’ve hit your ball into a hazard or need relief from a cart path? You should not rely on your fellow competitors to guide you in this format, (asking for advice is against the rules) so review various scenarios. Have a fail-safe routine for spanning your ball and replacing it before you putt, because you are bound to be asked to do so in this format.

Also, see if you can get in a practice round the day before. “Don’t keep score, but note what clubs you hit into greens from different yardages,” Marren said. “Hit lots of chips and putts and look for where the holes are going to be the next day – sometimes there’s a mark.”

A FEW WORD OF ADVICE GOOD FOR ANY GOLF TOURNAMENT

Of course, the higher your level of play, the more you will want to prepare. But no matter your level of tournament, if it’s your first, nerves are bound to come into play.

Try to practice outside of your comfort zone: Tee it up with some better players, from longer tees, or with the boys. This will give you a feeling of more pressure and you will learn how you react under these new pressures.  Do you speed up your pre-shot routine, rush club selection decisions or swing faster? Nerves are good and adrenalin will help you focus and hit the ball farther, but you need to experience these feelings a few times to trust that they can help elevate your play.

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