Play Better Tournament Golf

It’s a common problem for golfers everywhere. When they practice things go well, but when they tee it up in a tournament nothing goes right.

This week I played in the South Carolina Open at Belfair Plantation. The tournament did not go quite like I was hoping  – see the damage for yourself here. However, I’m going to turn that poor performance into something we can all benefit from. Here are four ways to improve your play during tournament conditions. While we go through those ways, I’ll show you how following them would have helped my score.

Put The Ball In Play

The fastest way to watch your score go up is to add penalty shots. Out-of-bounds shots are the worst offenders as you effectively add two shots to your final score with every OB shot. Next up are shots into water hazards, as these add one shot to your final score. Finally, we have the unplayable ball (a ball stuck in a bush for example). Those situations add one shot as well.

Real-life example: My back nine in Round One featured four shots into the water. Let’s pretend those four shots find land, and my 85 has turned into 81.

Avoid Three Putts

I know, this is much easier said than done sometimes. The best players in the world three putt sometimes too, but our general rule is that any three-putt adds one shot to your final score.

The speed of the lag putt is the most important aspect to avoiding three-putts. Players will misread putts, but if the speed is correct usually there is just a tap-in putt left to clean up. Difficult two-putts happen when the lag putt comes up very short or is hit well past the hole.

Real-life example: I had one three-putt green each day. Round One is now hypothetically at 80, Round Two is at 77.

Recognize Difficult Hole Locations

In tournament play, hit your approach left of this flag. Any approach in the front bunker or down the hill on the right would make par extremely difficult. (Photo via

Many tournaments will utilize hole locations that make par a great score on that hole. As the player, the key is to recognize those hole locations and play an appropriate approach shot that makes the next shot as easy as possible. Sometimes it is best to play your approach shot away from the hole to the center of the green for an easier two-putt par.

Real-life example: In Round One, I hit the ball over the green to a back hole location on #14 and to the left of a bunker guarding a left hole location on #5. Round Two was better with just one mistake here, hitting the ball at a tucked flag on #8 instead of the middle of the green. Each spot left the ball in a spot nearly impossible save par from. Hypothetical Round One is down to 78, while Round Two is at 76.

Minimize Your Mistakes

Sometimes bogey is not a bad score, especially when the golf ball is in a tough spot. Taking Justin Rose’s mentality from the 2013 US Open at Merion is a great way to think about tournament golf: When the golf course makes you take bogey, take the bogey.

When saving par looks very difficult, make sure that you leave bogey as the easy option. Players make big numbers when trying to hit foolish recovery shots. Don’t take a double bogey trying to foolishly save par.

Real-life examples: Unfortunately, Round One has many examples of this. It started after hitting my tee shot in the water on Hole #12, I tried to advance the ball too far from the rough and hit it 50 yards. An easy iron shot would have advanced the ball far enough to reach the green on the next swing.

On Hole #5, I left myself short-sided behind a bunker. Instead of simply hitting the ball on the green, I tried the hero flop shot and hit it over the green before chipping the next shot on.

Finally, on Hole #8 I hit my tee shot near the lip in a greenside bunker. Instead of playing a normal, easier shot away from the hole location, I tried to hit a sidehill lie to a skinny part of the green. You guessed correctly – I left that short of the green. Then, I compounded my mistake by being too aggressive with that chip shot trying to save par and chipped it over the green. This is how you make a triple bogey instead of an easy bogey.

To recap, that’s four mistakes and four shots in Round One. That hypothetical score is now down to 74. While Round Two stayed at 76, correcting those simple things would turn my two-day total into 150. The cut after Round Two fell at 151. Following those rules could have turned a poor week into a successful one for me, just like they can turn your next tournament into a success!

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