When I get with a new student, one of the first questions I ask is “How do you practice?”
The response is fairly similar and it might not be too far off how you currently practice – hitting balls at the range, a few chips and putts, without any REAL purpose. The aim of this article is to at least get you thinking about how you use your valuable practice time and whether it’s actually taking you closer to scoring lower on the golf course. I’ve also got some great practice ideas that have worked very effectively for my students (all levels of player).
Why do we practice golf?
There are 4 objectives that all of us golfers should have in mind when practicing:
- Prioritizing those areas that require the greatest improvement
- Building trust in your game
- Making it more difficult than the course
- Developing your Technical skills
How well do you know your game?
Practice objective #1 is about knowing your game. Do you track your game so you know your biggest weaknesses? Most of us golfers tend to want to practice those things that we are good at, which makes us feel good. But is it actually helping us perform better on the course? Unless you keep good stats on fairways hit, greens in reg, scrambling and putts per green in reg, it will be hard to see how good your current practice plan is – whether it’s helping you or not. And how do you know how much time to spend on which area? Time is precious, so how you choose to use it when practicing is key to a better game.
Learning how to trust what you already have
Practice objective #2 is about learning to trust what you already have and increasing your ability to play sensory golf. This involves hitting as many different shots as you can (to different targets) without thinking about your swing mechanics. When you’re on the golf course, you’ll need to rely on visualization and feel to play shots successfully. I.e. seeing the trajectory and shape of a shot and trusting your ability to hit a particular shot. Become aware of how each shot feels whatever it looks like. There’s so much timing required to hit different golf shots, that it’s impossible to do it by conscious thought. By developing trust in what you have, you ingrain the feel of different golf shots in your subconscious, ready for future recall on the golf course.
Making practice harder than the game
Practice objective #3: One of the major reasons that so many golfers fail to get better is because practice is too easy. They get into “range mentality” which is knowing that there’s always “the next ball” if the one they’re about to hit is a poor shot, which means each shot has absolutely no consequence.
Effective driving range practice
I get asked the question – “how can I take my range game to the course?” all the time. 99% of golfers think they practice better than they play. The answer to this is easy and it’s the same to whomever is asking. Unless you’re making your practice as hard as the course is, proving yourself in practice will not translate into success on the course and will typically lead to frustration and disappointment. I would say this is a big reason for stagnation in handicap reduction in the past 30 years. We need to turn this on its head and make the course easier than practice.
I teach my students that each shot must have a purpose and a consequence and part of your practice session should include games to make golf harder than the actual game. The more you can practice that unsettling feeling of pressure, the less affected by it you will be on the golf course. You’ll become “more comfortable being uncomfortable”.
One game I’ll have my students play on the range is to create an imagery fairway (or green) to aim at that starts off at 30 yards wide. If the player can get 5 balls in a row down that fairway, they get to go to the next stage of the game which is a 20 yard fairway (or green). If you can successfully get 5 balls down this fairway, you move onto the final level which is a 10 yard fairway. If you can do this, any fairway you are faced with on the golf course will seem huge and give you a feeling of confidence. Only give yourself one go at this game per practice session.
Effective putting practice
The same goes for your putting practice. Spend more time putting to a smaller target and you’ll make the hole seem bigger on the course. Start with placing 2 tees at hole width just in front of the hole. Make 5 in a row from 5 ft. A golf hole is 4.25 inches wide. Place the 2 tees in front of the hole so that you make a 3 inch wide hole. Make 5 in a row. If you complete this stage you get to go to the final stage with is a 2 inch width hole. Place the tees inside the hole at 2 inches apart. If you can make 5 into this width hole from 5ft, on the golf course the hole will seem huge and you’ll feel a lot more confident from this key distance.
If you’d like me to help you put together a practice plan, you can reach me at golfstateofmind[at]gmail.com
Work on your technique
This practice objective is about working on your technique. However you do this, try not to over-complicate things and don’t let it become too big a part of your practice sessions. Learning how to play with visualization and feel can make up for any number of technical imperfections. Lastly, always be sure to work on your fundamentals, especially alignment.
Photo courtesy of Brisbane City Council