One of the topics that comes up during my one on one mental coaching sessions is how to practice golf. What are the best things you can do during your valuable time spent practicing that are going to transfer to lower scores on the golf course?
When I speak to golfers about how they practice golf, it usually consists of spending a lot of time hitting balls from a flat lie on the driving range, working on their technique.
But here’s the deal: When you spend an hour hitting balls from a flat lie, any technique will work (eventually) to hit the ball straight. But does this transfer to lower scores on the course? Probably not. Unfortunately it gives us the “illusion of competence” and very little “skill development” was actually achieved.
Ego vs Mastery Practice
There’s no doubt about it, hitting the ball straight to the target over and over again feels good! It massages the ego nicely. But if mastery (and lower scores) is what you’re looking for, you probably need to rethink how you practice golf.
Know What You Need To Work On
The first step is knowing what area of the game to work on. What do you need to improve most to reach your scoring goals this season? For most golfers, this area is the short game and putting. But if you don’t know what your weaknesses are, you will want to look into a stat tracking system, such as shotstohole.com or golfstatlab.com where you can see your strokes gained numbers vs a Tour player and other handicap ranges.
How to Develop Playing Skills During Practice
Obviously we all need to work on technique, but let’s limit it to 20 mins out of an hour-long practice session (or ⅓ of the time you spend practicing). The rest of the session should be focused on:
- Ball Control Mastery
- Developing Competitive Skills
- Developing Routines
How To Practice Golf: Improving Ball Control Skills
After Tiger’s great performance yesterday at the Valspar Championship, he said that he’d been focusing far less on looking at his swing on video and more on the “feel” for different shots. We should all do more of this.
After your technical (or block) practice, randomize the shots you hit to develop your feel for different shots. Every shot you hit on the course is unique, so you need to be able to adapt. Hitting 20 balls to the same target doesn’t teach you this.
Random practice driving range drill:
- Hit an 8 iron your normal distance
- Then hit shots to targets that 10% shorter, 20% shorter and so on, to 50%. So if you hit your 8 iron 150 yds, that would be 135, 120, 105, 90, 75. Pay attention to the feel of the shot. Move onto another club when you’ve successfully hit each shot in the series.
Random practice for the Short Game:
- From 30-50 yards, pick a target and try to play the shot 5 different ways (you can use the same or different clubs). Vary the trajectory, landing spot and spin.
- Hit another 5 balls to different targets. Just after impact, close your eyes and guess where in relation to the target the ball finished (long/short, left/right). This is a great one for increasing feel.
How to practice golf: Improving Competitive Skills
Putting pressure on yourself to perform during practice using competitive skills drills, does a couple of things:
- Pressure exacerbates your weaknesses (as it does on the course), so it’s easier to identify the areas you need to improve most
- It develops competitive skills which is key to performing your best. You get to practice managing performance anxiety (your heart rate increasing, tension in your grip increasing etc) and executing your routines while under pressure
Pressurized practice for putting
Putting is the area of the game which is impacted most by pressure, so it’s important that you simulate this during practice. Go through your pre putt routine for each putt and give yourself a consequence for not completing the task successfully. Here’s an example of a pressurized practice putting drill:
- Place 3 tees around the hole, 2 roughly 3 ft away and 1 roughly 5 ft away.
- Putt balls from each of the 3 locations and go around 3 times (so 9 holes)
- If you make it, you score a point and if you miss, you lose a point.
- The task is completed when you score 9 points (you make all 9 putts)
How to practice golf: Developing Routines
Spending time working on your routines is another area that I help players with in my one on one mental coaching. All the players I work with have their own unique routine i.e. where they put their attention when preparing, playing and processing a shot. Building your shot routine and making it a habit for the course when you’re under pressure is key for performing your best.