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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.