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The 6 Deadly Sins of Playing in Golf Tournament Qualifiers

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The time is here: longer days, practicing after work, playing an extra nine late, and for competitive golfers, summer tournaments. As you probably know, the more prestigious the tournament, the more difficult it is to get a spot in the field. And because of this, we have the dreaded qualifying rounds… you know, the one-day, typically one-round qualifiers to get into that big junior golf tournament or your State Amateur or State Open. Personally, the sting of these qualifications hits close to home.

When I was in high school, they were holding my State Open at The Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which was the closest thing to Augusta I was ever going to play. So I signed up for the qualifying event. The qualifier was at my home course, which was also home to a Tour event and the longest course on the PGA Tour at the time at 7,600+ yards (at sea-level). It was going to be a great test of my game. I would make the turn at 1-under par, but by the time I got to No. 17 I had shot about 500 on the water-filled back nine. I was not going to Chattanooga.

Sadly, this memory would persist every time I teed it up in a qualifier going forward. Sometimes I performed OK, but other times I did not. So today I’d like to help you not make the same mistakes I did back in the day with my round of 35-500.

Not Picking The Right Course For Your Game

The most important thing to ensure (if you have options) is to pick the course that best fits your game. It may sound obvious, but golfers make this mistake all the time. If you don’t hit your driver straight, don’t go to the tree-lined place down the street. You must always play to your strengths and work around your weaknesses, because under pressure your weaknesses will be exacerbated.

Traveling Too Far

Just because there’s a qualifier in Hawaii does not mean you should fly there! Unless you are planning a longer stay than an in-and-out trip, I would not suggest flying somewhere to qualify. Travel is a grind, not to mention expensive, and the time crunch necessary to get in practice, a practice round, and the event itself is often too much to expect a top performance. Stay close to home where you will be fresh, comfortable, and more likely to qualify.

Changing Equipment

Just because Felix Clubworks fit you with a new super-hot driver last week does not mean you’re ready to try it out under the gun. Yes, you do need equipment that works for your game, but you also need ample time to test it and see how it reacts under pressure and in different conditions. Personally, I know what my tendencies with my old equipment are, and sometimes that is good enough to get me past the qualifier until I really have time to hone in that new driver.

Thinking You Have To Go Low

People think you need to shoot 68 in every qualifier to make it, when in fact that’s rarely the case at the local/regional level. Qualifying usually only takes a steady round. You don’t need to play lights out; hit the fairways, aim for the center of the green and don’t be a hero around the greens. A hot putter is a bonus, but qualifying is more about making the putts you’re supposed to make and not three-putting than rolling it like Jordan Spieth.

Remember, in many cases, the lights-out golfers already have exemptions into the big tournament, so you’re not competing against the absolute best. Think about being Nick Faldo when you qualify: steady and calm. Par is a good score and a bogey is not the end of the world.

Changing Your Method

Now that you have a tee time for your qualifier, don’t go changing your pre-round routine. If you usually show up 45 minutes before your tee time and hit a few balls, it’s no smart to show up 2 hours before and hit a huge bucket of range balls. Changing your routine will only add stress and get you out of your comfort zone. Simply do whatever you normally do and go from there. Also, if you’re hitting a cut on the range when you normally play a draw, don’t try to make a quick swing change before the round. Dance with the girl you brought; that’s to say, it might be best to play the cut instead of fighting it all day.

Giving Up Too Soon

Too often I see players “quit” after making a double on hole No. 3, feeling like they have blown their chance to qualify. Remember, a 2-over round of 74 has a pretty good chance locally, so don’t fret. You never know how the other players on the course are playing, and there’s no reason to assume the worst. Just keep playing your game.

When things begin going poorly, also try to remember that you’re playing golf! Enjoy not being at work and learning more about what you can improve in your game.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 60 people in the world.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. The Dude

    May 16, 2017 at 9:16 am

    most play the qualifiers because the course is really good……. they know they have zero chance of “qualifying”…..there are soooo many pretenders @ qualifiers it’s scary…

  2. Dave R

    May 15, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    Hey Jim that’s what you get for having to qualify a whole bunch of us hackers, if not for for the hacks your tour would not exist so get a life buddy.

  3. Joey

    May 15, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Thank you to whoever posted this i saw it right on time because this weekend I have a Qualifier and this really helps.

  4. Nick

    May 15, 2017 at 9:49 am

    7) Being terrible.

    I caddied for one of my clients (Web.com Tour player) in the US Open local last week where the guy shot 127. He was in the group behind us. We had a lost ball and a ruling in our group on the first three holes and still couldn’t see them behind us by the time we got to the 4th green. That’s not fair on the guys you’re playing with.

  5. Bert

    May 13, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Great advice, seen these mistakes made many times.

    One additional thought is to stay away from meaningless conversations before play. Such wasteful time talking and perhaps upsetting yourself should be guarded against. Stay focused on why you’re there, not what Joe Blow had to say.

  6. BIG STU

    May 13, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Pretty solid advice especially 3. 5 and 6

  7. C.S. Anderson

    May 13, 2017 at 10:12 am

    I agree with what Tom is saying. Good info. To nit pick: Who edits these articles? The old theory that after you write the article it should be printed as a hard copy and read by one or two people besides the writer would have served the credibility of this article. The way this article looks right now is “AMETURISH”.

  8. Alex

    May 13, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Great article. I you play tournament golf you’ve been through them all. Sound advice, especially 4, 5 and 6.

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Instruction

Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve

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Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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Instruction

Jumping for Distance (Part 2): The One-Foot Jump

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In Part 1, I wrote about how I think this concept of jumping up with both feet for more power may have come about in part due to misinterpretation of still photography and force plate data, self-propagation, and a possible case of correlation vs causation. I also covered reasoning why these players are often airborne, and that can be from flawed setups that include overly wide stances and/or lead foot positions that are too closed at setup or a re-planted lead foot that ends up too closed during the downswing.

In Part 2, let’s look at what I feel is a better alternative, the one foot jump. To me, it’s safer, it doesn’t complicate ball striking as much, and it can still generate huge amounts of vertical ground force.

First, set up with an appropriate stance width. I like to determine how wide to stand based on the length of your lower legs. If you go to your finish position and stand on your lead leg and let your trail leg dangle down so your knees are parallel, your lower trail leg should extend only as far back as it will go while being up on the tip of your trail toe. If you roll that trail foot back down to the ground, viola, you’ll have a stance width that’s wide enough to be “athletic” and stable but not so wide you lose balance when swinging. You can go a little wider than this, but not much.

To contrast, the stance below would be too wide.

Jumping off the ground can be caused by too wide of a stance and lead foot position that is too closed at setup

Second, make sure your lead foot is open sufficiently at address. I’ve previously outlined how to do both these first two points in this article.

Third, whether you shift your weight to your trail foot or keep a more centered weight type feeling in the backswing, when you shift your weight to your lead foot, be careful of the Bubba replant, and then push up with that lead leg to push your lead shoulder up. This is the one-foot “jump” and it will take advantage of parametric acceleration (read more about that here).

But also at the same time, shift your lower spine towards the target.

From a face-on viewpoint, this can look like back bend, but in 3D space it’s side bend. It kind of feels like you are crunching the trail side of your mid-section, or maybe just bending over to the side to pick up a suitcase, for example. This move helps lower your trail shoulder, which brings down the club (whereas this is more difficult to do if you try to two-foot jump with your trail leg). It also helps you to keep from getting airborne off your lead foot. Further it doesn’t change your low point (by not changing the relative position of the C7 vertebrae in its general orb in space) and complicate ball striking like a two-foot jump does.

At this point, the club releases and you can stand up out of the shot (you don’t need to transition in to any sort of dangerous back bend) in balance on your lead foot having generates tons of vertical ground force without having jumped off the ground or putting yourself at risk for injury.

“Movember” mustache… not required!

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Instruction

Move Your Legs Like the Legends: The Key to the Snead Squat

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It’s important not to overdo the “Sam Snead squat.” Understanding the subtle leg movements of the game’s greats is key to making your practice purposeful and making real improvement.

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