If You Don’t Want to Choke, EAT MORE !

I believe nutrition is the single most important factor that most golfers fail to consider when preparing for competition. The topic isn’t talked about much, and if something isn’t talked about, it’s not a priority. Well it should be, so let’s talk about it.

When I recruit a young man I spend a long time talking to him about all aspects of his game. We talk about putting, driving, iron play, etc. We also talk about how he plays, what he thinks about while playing, what usually happens when he plays well and what goes wrong when he plays poorly. When he plays poorly many times he explains the situation like this:  The round starts out very well, then about the 14th hole everything begins to unravel. The young man doesn’t really know why, he just knows that he chokes at the end of rounds—usually in tournaments.

scorecard1The first thing I ask is, “How much do you eat out there?”  The answer I usually get is either, “Nothing”, or “I had a pack of crackers during the round.” I hope to God that I don’t hear, “I had a hot dog at the turn.” That one drives me nuts.

I then ask, Do you know how many calories your body burns during a round of golf when you walk?

At this point I get either silence or a shrug. They usually have no idea.

Well, for all of you out there, the answer is right around 2000! That’s almost a days worth of calories!  I know, right? Surprised?

The reason he finished poorly is pretty obvious to me. He simply ran out of fuel.

Almost every golfer that I’ve ever coached prior to their experience with me operated at what I call a Calorie Deficit. I have discovered that teaching a player to eat may be just as important as teaching them the swing.

PrintYoung people are calorie burning machines. I know very few moms who have sons that don’t eat constantly and in great quantities. Yet these same young men go to the course to play or compete and do so with no food in their bag and by the time they have hit balls and played, they will have gone six hours without eating, maybe more. I ask them, “Aside from sleeping do you ever go 6 hours without eating?” Of course not. Yet while doing an athletic activity they starve themselves of the fuel they need to compete at a high level! This makes no sense.

Let’s say you were going on a trip in a car. One of the first things you would ask yourself is, “Do I have enough fuel to get me where I want to go?” The same question needs to be asked prior to a round of golf or even more importantly, a round of tournament golf.

One of the biggest reasons golfers “choke” stems from a lack of food in their belly. Simple as that.

When you lack fuel it not only affects your energy level (blood sugar) but it also affects your ability to make sound decisions. The brain needs fuel just as much as the body in order to operate at an effective level.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying—don’t go and pound down 2000 calories prior to your round. That would be equally disastrous!

foodMy golfers always eat a ton of healthy snacks while on the course. This always comes as a shock to my freshman. Most aren’t used to eating at all. As I tell them, “you’re not eating because you are hungry, you are eating to maintain your optimum performance level. If you wait until you are hungry to eat, it’s too late. Chances are we’ve already lost strokes out there.”

When we compete we eat something every 2 to 3 holes, but never garbage! (hot dogs, hamburgers, candy bars, chips, sodas, etc.) Those items are loaded with fat and will cause your blood sugar to spike and then dive. Eat things that will help you perform like the athlete you are! You want to maintain a consistent blood sugar level. My team eats apples, bananas, nuts (excellent) beef jerky, any dried fruit like raisins, trail mix, and a good energy bar like a Cliff Bar or something.

A few years ago I had a golfer from England named Tom. We discovered he played his best when he ate 6 apples a round. I called him Apple Tom. He would eat an apple every 3 holes. He won a lot of college events and became an All-America.

During your round you will need to consume 2000 calories to match what your body will burn.

This is one of the most important lessons my golfers learn from me their first year. When they go home for the summer and play in their local events, state amateurs or national events I usually get a call after the tournament and hear stories about their successes not failures.

I like happy endings.

Happy 80th Dad!


  • Very interesting. Looking back that makes perfect sense. I’ll keep an eye out and continue to eat good snacks as I compete. Thanks!

  • Hadn’t thought about this. I usually have a snack, but maybe once a round, looking forward to packing a steady snack for the next round and see if I notice improvement. Thanks Coach!

  • During my first round of preseason, I got off to a good start, played solid in the middle of my round, and had a terrible finish. When I came off the course, you asked if I had eaten anything and I hadn’t. Since I began packing snacks, my rounds have been a lot more steady with pretty good finishes; especially in the two tournaments I played in. This is a great article with great advice!

  • I will be the first person too admit that my eating habits on the course prior to this season were poor. Most of the time I would go an entire round before eating anything and only occasionally would I bring food out on the course and eat it when I was hungry. As you told us early in preseason though we are not eating out there because we are hungry we are just staying fueled. Golf is hard enough already and having one less thing to worry about out there on the course has definitely improved my game.

  • I first learned about the benefits of continuously eating throughout a round of golf when you saw the fatigue and explained to me how important fueling your body is during our preseason this year. I remember you pulling the entire team aside and supplying us with trail mix and beef jerky. I started to notice immediately that my energy level was much higher and I felt as if I could control my swing more. Thank you for the advice Coach!

  • Eating has always been a huge problem for me on the track. When I was younger I embarrassingly would go rounds without eating out of superstition of ruining a hot streak or solid play. As I’ve gotten older I’ve finally began to understand the importance of nutrition, especially while on the the grind of a tough, hot tournament round. However, even on a normal practice, eating well and consistently is key to becoming the golfer that I want to be. I am excited to use the knowledge moving forward and appreciate the lesson!

  • In the past, I had a tendency to end a round with a wild drive on 18, or a few bad scores on the last few holes that had the potential to ruin a good round. In high school I would hardly eat during a round and now this seems to connect the dots. When you started pushing the beef jerky and trail mix during rounds this year, my focus and energy levels improved dramatically. It really does help keep a round going.

  • John McCarthy (twitter @mccarthie)
    When I learned about keeping a steady blood sugar level I was not surprised. However, the patterns in which I ate on the course were too few and in large quantities. If you look closely at the picture above. You see trail mix and beef jerky. These two snacks allow me to “nibble” or eat intermediately and maintain a steady attack mode. (ever since my last 3 hole average is RED. and the stats to prove it.”

  • “If you’re hungry, it is too late.”

    Coach, I remember you saying this in one of our first meetings, and it stuck. I would think about it during tournament rounds. I would try and have a bite or two on each hole in order to maintain a steady food intake throughout the round. Eating also helped me to stay hydrated, every time I took a nibble, I would need a drink to wash it down. It definitely benefited me late in a round coming down the stretch.

  • Your stats don’t lie. Prior to this year I never really thought about my on course nutrition. Once I started paying more attention to my blood sugar levels, I have noticed a drastic improvement in my focus and energy levels down the stretch. More importantly I have less problems in the last few holes and a better overall score.

    • This really helped me finish my rounds. I actually began to turn things around in the last 6 holes. This was evident in both of my wins last season.

  • I totally agree about golfers eating for pleasure instead of performance. If you’re a tournament golfer, you’re not going out onto the golf course with your main goal being pleasure… everyone wants to perform, first, and pleasure is a byproduct. So I definitely feel like a person’s diet should mirror their psyche on the golf course. I also enjoyed the anecdote about your former player who ate six apples per round. Apples are my favorite food I eat when I’m on the course…I might have to try that one out!

  • After playing golf for so many year, I have found that taking some snack bars, a banana, maybe an apple, is great for me during a round. I found out a long time ago that I can’t eat much, say a hot dog, at the tenth hole break. It seems to bother my ability to feel comfortable during the remainder of the round.

  • I used to always have a candy bar, a hot dog and a vitamin water after 9 holes, and I would always blow up on the back 9. I never really knew what it was, but ever since I started to eat a small nutritious snack every few holes my round is more consistent then ever.

  • Mackenzie Nelson

    This is definitely a place where I need to get better. I rarely eat anything during a round of golf, and if I did it was not a healthy snack like those mentioned above. This is something I definitely want to incorporate in my golf from here on out and hopefully it should help me close out my rounds a bit better.

  • Mitchell Campbell

    Nutrition is a crucial part of a competitive golfer’s round! Maintaining a constant level of energy from the first tee through to the final green can save a golfer a ton of shots when coming down the stretch. I have really focused on this over the past year and have noticed great improvement in finishing not only my good rounds but my average/poor rounds as well.

  • I agree with the article, I would always bring a snack onto the course but I would not eat it until I was hungry. It makes sense to eat your snack every two or three holes to maintain your energy.

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