You step to the first tee of the US Girl's Junior. There are about 25 college coaches milling about, a woman in a blue blazer holding a clipboard, ropes, signs and a bunch of players waiting their turn. The wind is blowing hard in your face and the afternoon sun is hot. Your name is called and it's your turn to peg it. Where is your awareness?
- Have you noticed which way the wind is blowing?
- Do you feel rushed?
- Are you thinking about the coach of the school you really want to attend?
- Do you see your dad out ahead standing expectantly?
- Did the first player in your group take forever standing over the ball?
- Are you focused on your routine?
- Do you have a game plan that includes your target on the first hole?
- Can you feel your heart beating quickly?
- Do you take a deep breath and get yourself centered?
- Are you in your own bubble?
- Did you remember to grab water, sunscreen or a snack?
- Do you have your notes and hole locations?
- Are you still thinking about how you hit it during you warm up?
After all my years of standing on the first tee waiting for that player I'm going to set off after, I've seen all of these scenes played out in group after group. So much of a young player's success is based on experience, but your experience doesn't have to be the actual situation you are in at the moment. You can prepare for the first tee of the US Girl's Junior by becoming great at your process whenever you play. You can place your awareness where you choose and it can be consistent no matter the situation. Here is an outline for you to start getting ready for the 1st tee of the major you have coming up.
Be aware of:
- The time. Make sure you have time to warm up your body, go through your routine, stop in the bathroom, mark and compare your golf ball, grab a water and feel calm when your name is called.
- The conditions. Take note of the wind on the driving range and think about whether or not it's the same as it was on prior days. Is the course firm or soft? Are the greens quick on the practice green? Is the wind strong enough to affect the ball on the greens? Is the bunker sand wet? Then when you get to the first tee, make sure to take note of the conditions there, too.
- Your body. Are you loose or tight? Are you pumped up and jumpy? Are you focused? Are you feeling centered and rhythmic? Are you breathing deeply or from your chest?
- Your equipment. Have you counted your clubs? Are they clean? Do you have your umbrella? Have you marked your tournament golf balls?
- Your surroundings. Take note of the teeing ground area. Check in on the possible distractions so there are no surprises. If you are on the 10th tee, know how much time it will take to get there. Note the yardage you're playing from each round.
- People. Who should you allow in your bubble? Can you acknowledge people without losing focus? Does anyone bother you and if so, what's the plan for dealing with them?
- Your game plan. Know where you want the ball. Weigh the conditions and your feel with the path to your target.
- Your tendencies. Perhaps the most important awareness you can have. If you tend to rush when you're nervous, you can have a plan to go through your pre-shot routine slowly. If you tend to grip it tight when you're on the first tee, you can put a moment in your routine to check your grip pressure.
This is a lot to be aware of, which is precisely why you need to pick and choose how to deal with each thing on the list. You can have a routine of cleaning and counting your clubs after you hit your last shot in warm ups. You can take out your course notes when you arrive on the first tee and note the wind direction and how it compares to the days before. Everything on this list can be surprising, off putting or a distraction if you don't have a plan for it. Everything on this list can cost you shots or lower your score, depending on how you approach it.
There really isn't anything you want to be unaware of in your day. If something helps you, you want to make sure to place it in your routine. If something distracts you, you want to plan for how you'll deal with it. However, you want your awareness where it will help you most when you step up to hit your shot. This is the problem I see the most. Players are often still fidgety or rushing when they step up the ball. Their target looks are quick or even non-existent. They often seem as curious as to where the ball goes as are the spectators. In short, they hit their first ball with more hope than focus.
Where you place your awareness is based on your preparation and priorities. Pay attention to how you handle yourself on the 1st tee of your next event and what helped you. Keep a journal and keep the thoughts, actions, focus points and routines that helped you. Also pay attention to what distracted you or made you uncomfortable and plan to alleviate it or handle it differently next time. If you make your routine great, nothing will shift your awareness from the things that truly help you focus.
This blog was about one moment on the golf course, the first tee shot of the day. It was chosen because many find it to be the toughest shot they hit. However, the process used to prepare for the first tee is the same that great players use for all of their shots. They choose what they want to be aware of and allow that awareness to channel their energy in a way that helps them succeed.