By David Louys-Moroney, BGGA Senior Coach
Please note that this article is most relevant to golfers who already have acquired a reasonable level of skill for the game and play on a regular basis. A beginner or novice would certainly have to practice in a different fashion than what is expressed in this article.
The biggest fault I observe in golfers, is that they head to the practice facility without any real plan of what they want to achieve, and they do not practice how they play. They have the mindset that by spending time hitting balls either on the range or on the short game area, their skills will improve, and this will translate to being more consistent during their weekend round. To determine if you have had a successful practice session is NOT if you hit 70% of those consecutive fifty 7-irons straight at the flag, but can you transfer your practice session into when you play on the course by shooting better scores?
One of the best sayings in regard to practice is that “you get good at what you practice, and you don’t get good at what you don’t practice”. There is a big disconnect with golf in regard to the environment where one practices, compared to the real game situation out on the golf course. The driving range is usually a wide-open expanse of ground with a few flags dotted around. The player hits those fifty 7-irons consecutively at one flag (blocked practice) and then another thirty drivers into the abyss of the wide-open driving range. They leave the practice session feeling great that they have grooved their swing as they hit so many good shots.
Then they play on Saturday and don’t understand how their tee shots are all over the place and the 7-iron they hit on the par 3 was nothing like the 70% they hit at the range. The reason they cannot perform on the course is because they have practiced in a completely different fashion than what they experience out on the golf course. The experience the player has during his Saturday round is that they get to the tee box of the par 3 and it could have been five minutes since they last made a full swing from the previous hole. This is very different than the 20 second time frame they were using during their Wednesday practice session. Remember that you get good at what you practice. If you take 20 seconds between each ball on the driving range, then you are less likely to be engaged with the mental processes you need to focus on to hit a successful shot. The player will be utilizing their short-term memory of the previous 20 shots they have already hit within the last six minutes. This form of practice gives the person a false sense of competency and does not relate to the real game of golf.
So how can we improve the retention of our practice session so that it has a positive impact on our shots and score out on the golf course? The best way to practice is to practice in a random fashion rather than the blocked practice fashion which I have explained above. Let’s explain what a random style practice session looks like. First you will save money as you only need to purchase a medium bucket of balls rather than a large bucket, simply because you will not hit as many balls within the same time period. You will get to your spot on the range and do a stretching routine and then hit a few wedges to continue to warm the muscles that you have activated in the stretching. Then you will hit three to four mid irons, then three to four long irons, a couple of hybrids and 3 woods and then three drivers. Once you are fully warmed up then you will go into your random practice mode. This means you will NOT hit two consecutive shots with the same club or at the same target. You will go through a full pre shot routine for every shot.
- You will choose a target. Make sure each target you choose is in a different direction from the previous one.
- Gather information about the shot, distance, wind direction, and then consider at least a couple of different options of how to play the shot (draw, fade, high, low, etc.).
- Select the club and shot shape with which you feel confident you can execute the shot successfully 60%-70% of the time.
- Visualize the shot standing behind the ball looking directly down your target line. Either see the shot like you do on TV with the red shot tracer line or see the ball flying through a cloud in the sky. There are many forms of visualization – I have just explained a couple.
- Then have a practice swing while still being intimate with the shot you visualized. The practice swing should be a rehearsal of what you are going to execute over the ball.
- Stand back behind the ball once again looking down your target line and visualize once again the starting line of the ball, the shape, the height and the landing zone. At this stage I would also recommend choosing an intermediate target within one yard (in front of your ball) which is on your starting line to help you align the club face to your target line when you address the ball.
- Engage with the target as you stand over the ball and waggle the club to relieve tension. Then put your focus into one thought as you swing the club. That thought could be singing a song in your mind, thinking about maintaining a constant grip pressure or counting one – two as you swing the club to improve tempo. Don’t try to over complicate the swing by thinking internally about technical moves you want to make during the swing. This usually leads to increased tension and you trying to control the swing rather than letting it flow.
- Learn from the result by watching the ball flight and the sensation of the contact. If you did not get the desired outcome have another swing without the ball and see the shot you visualized. That way you finish the shot with a positive sensation.
Then you put that club back in the bag (even if it was a bad shot) and repeat the entire process for the next shot. The next shot should also not be a club close to the previous club. If you hit a driver for the first shot, the next club should be a short iron like an 8-iron for example. The reason for this is because once again it simulates the game as you would experience it when you play on the course. Do this for about five shots and then go to the short game area to get a ball up and down, and then head back to the range to repeat the process.
This form of practice requires some discipline and commitment to the process. You may also lose that sense of competency you had when you practiced in the blocked fashion, but trust that if you practice this way you will improve your ability to play better where it counts – on the course.
There are also many other ways to have an effective practice session as long as you understand what your intention is for this particular practice session.
- Is your intention to make technical changes? Then the practice session would be different than what I have explained above. (blocked but with speed variability training)
- Is your intention to get a particular ball flight? (mix of blocked and random practice)
- Is your intention to improve your ability to grove your pre and post shot routines? (random practice)
- Is your intention to test your skills with a performance challenge? (random practice with a challenging game to complete)
Once you are very clear on your intention for the practice session, then your time spent can be a lot more effectively.