As the feeling of disappointment from not qualifying for the match play portion of this year’s Mid-Amateur has begun to pass, I have started to reflect on my experience and think of how I can become a better player. This year’s U.S. Mid-Am was my first foray in a USGA Championship, and I had always heard from my peers how it was a different animal from your state and local competitions. Needless to say, they were right. Everything at a USGA Championship is ramped up. The level of competition, course conditioning and penalty for poor shots are at a much higher level from what I have faced in my previous experiences. I hit a lot of great shots, but I can’t help but look back on the mistakes that I made and think about how I can improve on them to become a better player. Here are the 5 that have jumped to the top of my mind...
1. Short game is really important
The firm conditioning that you face at a USGA championship magnifies your mistakes. Fairways and greens are tougher to hit which leads to more missed greens and a lot of pressure on your short game. With thick rough, firm greens and tucked pins, you regularly face challenging shots that you need to combat with exceptional form, touch and skill. Getting up and down regularly is a huge momentum builder and necessary if you want to make match play.
2. Par is a good score
One of my buddies, a veteran in USGA events and someone who regularly makes match play, gave me a wise piece of advice during our practice round. He said, “the key to this tournament is to par the golf courses to death.” While this may seem obvious, when you get in the heat of the moment during golf tournaments, you often press and feel like you need to hit spectacular shots when a good safe shot will often suffice. I had two bad stretches of golf each day, where I went 4 holes without making a par and those stretches are what cost me moving onto the match play.
3. Course management is king
With the longer rough and firmer greens at the event, hitting the fairway was essential to score well. On the par 4’s and 5’s that I hit the fairway, I was 1-under par and on par 4’s and par 5’s that I didn’t hit the fairway, I was 11-over par. When I reflected on this, I may have pulled driver a few too many times when hitting a 3-iron and leaving a longer approach was the right play. The fairway gives you control of your approach shots distance and spin.
4. Master of speed
With the challenging greens and pin locations, I found myself with a lot of challenging two putts. As I look back on my tournament, outside of a few short putts that I missed, I gained the most strokes on the field via the greens. I did this by having spectacular pace on the greens throughout the week. I think that pace is the most important piece of putting as it keeps your lag putts close to the hole and helps you make more mid-range putts because correct speed makes the hole larger.
5. Don’t step on tee box netting
A funny moment occurred while playing my first practice round with two friends who are both USGA veterans. I made the rookie mistake of stepping on the tee-box netting on our second hole. My golf spikes got stuck in it and I had to be assisted to get unstuck. So, if you see netting on a tee box and have spikes on, don’t step on it!