Taking Your Range Game To The Course

How To Take Your Range Game To The Golf Course

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Without a doubt the most common question I get asked by golfers is “why can’t I take my range game to the course?” In this week’s lesson, I’d like to give you my take on why and give you some ways that you can use the driving range for more effective training of your playing skills.

An “Illusion of Competence”

Even with a bad golf swing, with enough repetition you can figure out the timing to get the club-face, swing path and low point where you need them to be at impact to hit a good shot. With each shot, you are making small adjustments (consciously and subconsciously) based on the sensory (visual, kinesthetic and auditory) feedback of the previous shot, which enables to you hit the next one slightly better. By the end of the session, you’re striping every ball. But does this represent improvement in your game? Probably not. 

Essentially, you’re creating a swing/movement from your short-term memory and no skill development has taken place.  Ben Hogan called this getting into “range rhythm”, which is why he was often seen switching clubs and taking breaks in between shots, so he didn’t fall into that trap.

The problem is that there is an appeal to this way to practice because it feels good – there’s a lure to the ego. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy hitting purely struck golf shots to the target? But the reality is, it’s probably not taking you closer to better play on the course.

Instead, what’s happening is an “illusion of competence” which ends up giving the player high expectations for the upcoming round. When their game is exposed to the variable conditions of the golf course (with consequences and time between each shot) and without the benefit of range rhythm and a bucket full of balls to hit, the reality quickly hits home, leading to frustration, disappointment and a poor performance.

The Driving Range Does Not Resemble The Golf Course

The way that most golfers use the driving range doesn’t resemble the golf course at all. If the aim of practicing is to try to improve and shoot lower scores on the course, then it makes sense to create an environment like the one you’ll be playing in. In fact, golf is one of the few sports where the practice environment is not the same as where the game is played e.g. Tennis is practiced on the tennis court, soccer is practiced on the soccer field and football is practiced on the football field. Let’s make at least 50% of the time you spend on the range “playing” the game.

Effective Practice: Training To Perform

To create a practice environment which more closely resembles the conditions that you will have to master to lower your scores, do the following: 

  • Create a different shot/target/distance with each ball
  • One attempt at each shot (no do-overs)
  • Take a 1 minute break in between shots
  • Go through your full pre shot routine 
  • Be accountable for each shot (I have some ideas for this later)

Effective practice isn’t about mindless repetitions. It’s about training your brain to be adaptable to each unique challenge presented. By practicing preparing for each shot, and immersing yourself in the process, you can train your brain to create your best swing, without the benefit of hitting that same shot a few seconds earlier. After all, movement starts in the brain! 

The Mind Isn’t As Free On The Course

As you will have gathered by now, I strongly believe that practice isn’t only about honing your technical skills. It’s about training your brain in the mental skills for high performance.

One of the biggest differences between the driving range and the golf course is a player’s mental state. Because there’s nothing at stake on the driving range, a player’s mind is quiet, making athletic movement easier and freer. On the golf course, when fear of certain consequences is present, focus can shift onto what you don’t want to happen and the body can tense up.

For this reason, we need to make our training hard, so we can practice dealing with distraction, frustration and tension. Most golfers miss out on this opportunity to improve their mental skills such as deep focus during the shot routine, being present, acceptance, perseverance (GRIT), awareness and being able to calm down.

Effective practice:

        Is focused on the things that will help your game, specifically. Every session has a clear purpose

        Is challenging and interesting, to keep you motivated and engaged, so learning potential is high

        Trains you to focus under pressure

        Trains you to be adaptable

        Helps you discover what to focus on during your pre shot routine

        Simulates the scenarios that you’ll be faced with on the course

        Increases confidence

        Gives you constant feedback on your progress.

        Is about developing playing skills as much as it is improving technical skills.

Here’s a sample of a Training Session from my practice system to help you take your range game to the course. The constraints can be changed to be more suitable for your skill level, but you should make sure it’s going to be challenging and you’ll have to work for it. If you miss a shot, go back to the start of the level and see how many attempts it takes you do all 12 shots. Go through your pre shot routine each time.

Level 1:

Hit a drive down a 50 yard wide fairway

8 iron to within 10 yards of the target

Chip and run to within 6ft

Make a 4 ft putt

Level 2: 

Hit a drive down a 30 yard wide fairway

6 iron to within 15 yards of the target

Medium trajectory pitch shot to within 10ft

Make a 6 ft putt

Level 3:

Hit a 3 wood down a 20 yard wide fairway

Hit a 5 iron to within 20 yards

Hit a flop shot to within 6 ft

Make an 8 ft putt

Take Your Range Game To The Course

Write these different shots down in your performance journal or small notebook and take them with you to practice. I hope this week’s lesson has given you some ideas for practicing in a way will help you develop your playing skills, so you can finally take your range game to the course.

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David MacKenzie

is a mental golf coach and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind, a teaching program designed to help golfers condition their minds to overcome fear and play with confidence.

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