8 Tips for Passing Your Playing Ability Test

by Brian Dobak
September 6, 2010

Reading this entry will not pass your P.A.T. for you, however maybe it will plant a seed and make you think about what it takes to pass it. The PGA Playing Ability Test, otherwise known as the P.A.T. Tour, comes easy to some and it comes quite difficult to others. It takes many apprentices dozens of tries to pass, it takes some just once or a few times, and some are right in the middle. For many, it is a reality check and they never end up passing as they move on to another career path. It duels as one of the first stages required to becoming a PGA Golf Professional, as well as an indirect way of weeding out those that simply cannot play the game at the level required by the PGA of America.

How do you pass it? There is no concrete answer other than having to shoot the target score. But how do you shoot the target score? By hitting your fairways and greens and two-putting as much as possible (even a couple one-putts in there as well). How do you do that? The questions can continue to be asked, but the answers become fewer and fewer. The Player Ability Test is largely a test of the wear-with-all within your head. Bobby Jones once said, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course...the space between your ears.” The P.A.T. is played within that same five-and-a-half inch course. Here are some ways to align your thought process when gearing up for a Player Ability Test.

No Easy Task

Regardless of a course being 7,400 yards or 6,500 yards, its still all about getting the ball in the hole. P.A.T.'s run anywhere from 6,300 to 6,600 yards. Middle tees with pins in the center of the greens (at least it is said they are supposed to be). Regardless of how “easy” they make it, there is still more than enough space between the tee box and the hole for you to make mistakes. No matter the yardage, there is more than enough rough to get your ball stuck in, there is more than enough sand to get caught in, and depending on the course, there is more than enough water to go for a swim in. So the first thing you need to get out of your head are any thoughts of, “I should pass, the course is set up so easy!”

Throw It Out

The second thing you need to do is throw out the game you play during your personal time, whether alone or messing around with your buddies. The confidence you are building in these conditions is a false sense of confidence. These conditions don’t even compare to the tournament conditions where every stroke counts and you play the ball down. So you need to get out of your head any thoughts of, “I just shot 74 in my practice round here the other day” or “I just shot 72 with my buddies last week.... I got this!” Playing well in these conditions are good confidence boosters, but don't get too carried away. Stay grounded.

Gear Up for 36

Gear yourself up for playing 36 holes of golf in one day. In most sections, you will be required to play 36 holes in one day with a short lunch break in between rounds. If possible, for mental and physical endurance purposes, it may be in your best interest to play 36 holes in one day once per week or every two weeks. 36 holes is a condition of play that you need to acclimate yourself to. However, if you're in a Section like the Carolinas Section, P.A.T.'s are spread out over two days. There are advantages and disadvantages to playing a two-day test, mostly mental. If you went low on your first day, there is a lot of time to think about your next round that night. You have to ask yourself what your expectations are of these conditions?

Another way to look at it is this. I tend to be a streaky golfer. Whenever I would play 36-holes in one day in preparation for my P.A.T., I couldn't help but notice that my streaks came in waves and I could break them down into 6-hole waves. There are six waves of six holes. It helps to break it down by managing your game and pacing yourself through each wave of six holes. I remember during one wave, I was 3-under, during another wave, I was 4-over, during another wave, I was even par. The most important waves are probably the first one and the last one. You've got to get off to a good start or you'll be grinding for the rest of the day. And it is important to finish well. You don't want to play well all day and then get to your last wave and shoot 6-over and fail.

In your mind, play six of these six hole courses, pace yourself, and you may be alright. It seemed to work for me. 

Gear Up for Competition

Gear yourself up by creating competitive conditions in your leisure rounds. You're not going to be able to match the authentic pressure of a P.A.T. When trying to pass, your aspirations of a career as a PGA Professional hinge on your ability to pass the test. If you can't pass it, then you can't become a PGA Professional. It’s as simple as that. Play in some Section and Chapter events to feel what it's like to be under these conditions of authentic pressure. Honestly ask yourself, is battling with my buddy for $50.00 authentic pressure? Is playing with some friends for $1.00 per hole authentic pressure?

One Shot

Play the rounds one shot at a time and think of nothing else. Bobby Jones once said, “It is nothing new or original to say that golf is played one stroke at a time. But it took me many years to realize it.” We don't expect you to realize such a concept just by reading this, but the concept is a reality that doesn't tolerate short cuts. You will have to come face-to-face with this fact, and the sooner you can stand over the shot at hand with your past shots forgotten and your future ones ignored, you will be well served.

Down & Out

Think down and out. You better get used to playing the ball down and putt everything out. During your leisure rounds, play the ball down, keep accurate score, and do not give yourself any gimmies whatsoever. If you can’t do these things and play well in a leisure round, then you will most certainly not stand up to the challenges of a Playing Ability Test. Play the ball down, putt everything out, and count penalty strokes.

Stay True

Be true to yourself. Here is what I mean. I once knew an apprentice that I was encouraging and supporting in passing his P.A.T. On the day of the test, I was curious how he did in his first round, so I called the golf course and asked what his score was. It was a 87. The next day, we were discussing how he did and he fluffed his scores, saying he shot 78-79, missing the target by 3 strokes. He was clearly embarrassed by his 87 and thought he could get away with saying other wise. Be honest. If not for being truthful with your friends and colleagues as they support you, but more importantly, be honest with yourself. It’s another way your going to pass your player ability test. If you’re struggling, wishful thinking and manipulating yourself or others to make yourself feel better about your game is not how you're going to pass this test. Embrace the struggle. Strip any layer of dishonesty and wrap yourself in truth. Be real with yourself. There is no, "I should have passed". The bottom line is you didn't do what was required. Own up to that no matter how bad you played, continue to polish your game, and smooth out any rough edges that kept you from passing.


The Playing Ability Test can be pretty nerve-wracking. It's some peoples dream to be a PGA Professional. Your career as a PGA Professional hinges on you passing the test. To have any degree of success in the golf business, particularly the green-grass sector, it is virtually a requirement to become a PGA Professional. If you can't pass the player ability test, then you can't become a PGA Professional, and if you can't do that, then you essentially have no career in the green-grass golf business. That can be hard to swallow for many, but embrace the challenge and put forth whatever effort it will take for you to pass. In the process, find it in yourself to relax. I know someone who failed the test his first two times. The night before his third attempt, he reminisced about his first two tries. He remembered being in a rush, waking up a little late, rushing a shower, eating breakfast while in the car, and rushing to check in, and rushing to practice. On his third try, he made a point to wake up with plenty of time to spare. He took his time in showering, making breakfast, he drove slow to the course, and took his time in checking in and went to the practice tee in complete relaxation. He passed.

The PGA Playing Ability Test is a grind. It's the ultimate tango between balancing positive thinking and expectations. Positive thinking is important but it is also important to not create expectations. You want to go into the test with a clear mind and a game plan but you have to be able to modify it during the rounds without flinching. As stated earlier, this article will certainly not pass the test for you but hopefully you can take a thing or two from it and give yourself a shot at standing up to the test and not becoming a mainstay on the P.A.T. Tour.