Preparing for My First Round of Tournament Golf

Eric Benzenberg Opinion Leave a Comment

I am competitive.  So it was only natural that I needed a new outlet after I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to go pro after my brief stint of D-III college baseball.

While golf (see: beer rounds) had always been something I’d occasionally dabbled with, I was more interested in crushing the driver than scoring well.  But all that has drastically changed.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve gone from being “casually interested” to being “very invested” in my golf game (I mean, I’m writing for a golf website).  However, the last 2 years I’ve been particularly dedicated—reading books, educating myself on “reading” ball flight and what’s causing certain patterns, taking lessons, and even getting custom fit for irons, wedges, and my putter (with a woods fitting scheduled next month).

And given the fact that my interest has only grown during this time (instead of being discouraged or crushed by a few less than stellar rounds), the next step was predictable: my first round of tournament golf.

So maybe the U.S. Open is a little aggressive to start with, but the idea is the same: I’ve decided to test my golf game in a competition setting, where the rules will be observed and enforced and prizes (along with my ego and bragging rights) are on the line.

Fortunately, one of the members in The Golf Podcast Facebook Group recently played in a competition organized by Jaime—the Tournament Director for the NJ Region of the World Amateur Golfers Championship (WAGC)—and had nothing but great things to say: being announced on the first tee, a mobile app that let you track everyone’s scores in real time, and the trophy presentation.  This immediately caught my attention and piqued my interest, so after quickly reviewing the list of tournaments that are currently scheduled and being held at some incredible (and private) golf courses, I registered for The Palmer Classic, which is being held at the very beautiful Galloway National Golf Club on September 16, 2018.

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But now there’s no turning back.  So what am I doing to make sure I’m ready?

First, Logistics.  I have a little over 100 days to do whatever I can to make sure I’m as ready as I can get.  So the very first step is identifying what I need to do.  Ironically, the very first thing I needed to do was get a GHIN and official Handicap Index.  Big surprise, I’m an avid golfer and don’t carry an official handicap.  Instead, I’ve always played off the unofficial handicap that I’ve accumulated through Arccos 360.

Ironically, I’m not alone because most amateur golfers don’t keep an official Handicap Index.   In fact, of the estimated 26 million golfers in the U.S., the National Golf Foundation estimates that less than 20 percent have an official Handicap.  Fortunately, this is an easy fix.  Simply locate your regional GHIN Association, decide whether you’d like to affiliate with a Member Club or an online E-Club (what I opted for), and complete your registration (which includes your annual dues).  Once you fill everything out, you’ll be assigned a GHIN No. and can start posting scores and compiling your official Handicap.

Second, Understand the Rules.  In order to participate in any competition, it’s important to know the rules.  But golf is unique because understanding the rules can be a huge advantage when facing a potential penalty.  As a result, I’ve decided to spend some time reviewing the USGA’s Rules Education section.

The most practical example might be the difference between a Regular Water Hazard (yellow stakes) and a Lateral Water Hazard (red stakes).  When dealing with a Regular Hazard, you only have 2 options: (1) play along the straight line between the pin and the ball’s point of entry (as far back as you want along the line); or (2) take the same shot over (a.k.a., “Stroke and Distance).

In contrast, you have 4 options when you’re faced with a Lateral Hazard: (1) play along the straight line between the pin and ball’s point of entry; (2) Stroke and Distance; (3) 2 club-lengths from the ball’s point of entry; and (4) 2 club-lengths from the same distance on the opposite side of the lateral hazard.  Although both hazards come with a 1 stroke penalty, knowing what options are available can make a huge difference in strategy and what shot you decide to play next.

Finally, Play Golf.  This might be most obvious, but underestimated part of preparing for a golf competition.  While it’s great to take lessons and spend hours on the range, you will never be able to replicate playing golf in either of those environments.  As a result, I’m going to try and play as many rounds of golf as I can at a variety of different courses under tournament conditions (i.e., no gimmes and observing penalties).

Playing this style of golf is going to force me to (1) be conscious of every shot and (2) get comfortable with competition pressure.  This is probably where I’ll have the most difficulty preparing because I need to keep my cool when things don’t go right and quickly right the ship.

In addition to simulating tournament conditions, playing lots of golf will help me identify my playing tendencies and report the most accurate Handicap for the Tournament.  With respect to playing tendencies, the most important takeaways will be learning each club’s carry vs. total distance and knowing my misses.  This information is vital when trying to put together a strategy for how to attack each hole and shot.  Like Will Robins (The Scoring Method) discussed in Podcast Episode 190, the best thing I can do for my score is keep the ball in play.

In sum, I’m very excited that I’ve decided to take this next step with my game.  While I don’t expect to win, I’d certainly like to leave with my ego intact and, hopefully, be competitive.  Regardless, this will be a great opportunity for me to gauge where my game is really at since I’ll have the opportunity to play plenty of golf over the next few months.


About Eric Benzenberg

Ever since golf became a competitive outlet, nothing brings Eric more joy than a well struck 4 iron. And despite living in NYC, Eric makes it a priority to work on his game and fitness during the week, along with a round or two over the weekend. Fortunately, he’s got a very understanding fiancé who (for the time being) accepts him and his obsession. Follow Eric on IG @hozel_rocket.

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