This one is simple. It’s not scientific. It’s not biological. It’s not even philosophical. It’s really just logical.
Think of the most recent competition you played in. Big-time amateur event, high school match, weekend club event. Put yourself there again. Let’s think about some details. What were you wearing? What was in your pockets? What shoes did you have on? These are seemingly small details, so let’s go a little deeper. How were you thinking? Were you nervous? Did you take stats? Did you play it down in the fairway?
“Why does it matter what shoes I was wearing and what was in my pockets?” you may ask.
So often I’ve seen players get to a tournament and put on their best golf shoes, have a yardage book in their back pocket, and diligently take stats. Or because there are rules they can’t listen to music, can’t move the ball in the fairway, can’t ask people for advice. They think different simply for the fact that they’re in a tournament. Basically every part of the game is different once they show up to a competition. And they wonder why they feel so different mentally than they do in a casual round of golf.
It’s hard to completely remove the differences in importance between a tournament round and a round of golf with your buddies. That difference in pressure is a given. So why introduce even more differences? Why practice one way and play a different way?
Changing the way you do things just because it’s a competition raises its importance. The more important you view something, the more pressure you’re going to feel. And the more pressure you feel, the more nervous you’re going to feel. And the more nervous you feel, the more you will default to a lower level of play (remember unconscious competence?).
Take a personal inventory. Do you raise the importance of your practice up to the level of a competition? Do you simulate the feeling you have in the midst of a tournament? Or on the flip side do you just kind of mosey around during practice, listening to music, not caring where the ball goes?
Some good examples of practical ways to raise your practice up to the level of a competition: Wear the same shoes you will in a tournament. Put your same tees and ball marker and glove and yardage book in your pockets as you would before teeing off in a competition. On the driving range, short game area, and putting green, go through your entire routine before every shot. Hit that 168 yard shot in practice as if it was the only shot you were going to hit all day. Clean off your club between every shot. If you take stats in a tournament, take stats in practice. Force yourself out of your comfort zone and stretch your attention span by practicing without music playing.
The goal is to get to a tournament and feel like you’ve been having this same elevated feeling in all of your practices for months ahead of time. A rule of thumb for this type of practice is: if you do it in a tournament, do it in practice.
So next time you play a casual round or have a practice session, take note of how you carry yourself, how you’re thinking differently depending on the importance. And then look at the small details. It’s essential to keep practice and play and tournament play as similar to each other in importance as possible.