5 Quick Steps to Practice Golf More Effective
You can make your golf practice more effective by following these 5 simple rules. Control the time and pace you’re hitting balls. Be specific about what you’re learning. Include a pre-shot routine before every swing. Add pressure to your practice. And finally stay hydrated.
Yet if it was that easy to practice more effectively, wouldn’t we have done it already? In today’s article I’m going to give you my 5 best ways to make your golf practice more effective.
I think we all have a desire to perform as well on the golf course as we do on the driving range. Yet many of us haven’t thought about making our practice sessions feel as close to our playing conditions as possible. If you have read my article how to build a golf practice station, then you will know the importance of setting yourself up for success.
Step 1: Be Specific about How to Practice Using Time & Pace
Setting aside specific time to practice may sound stupid. After all isn’t that what you already do, go down to the driving range and hit some golf balls? Yet grabbing half an hour, or an hour, here or there, and hitting 100 balls one after the other, is not great for your game.
You need to ensure that you are replicating not only the pressure of playing on the course, but also the time between each shot.
And here’s why.
100 range balls should take you nearly 3 hours to hit
The average round of golf takes roughly 2.5 hours for a single player. Whilst a reasonable 4 ball will take 4.25 hours. But for the purposes of this article, let’s say that you play by yourself and take 2.5 hours for 18 holes.
The average player in the USGA database, has a 16 handicap (as of 2019 season). So on a par 72 golf course, they will take 87 strokes to complete the round. If we include the putting strokes, on a 2.5 hour round we get an average of 1.7 minutes per stroke.
So with this in mind. If you take the same time between shots on the range, as you do on the golf course. Then hitting 100 balls should take you 2 hours 50 minutes. However, more often than not, the average time to destroy a basket of balls is less than an hour.
Why hitting endless balls without stopping isn’t helping you?
The reason we hit balls better on the range than on the course is because you are hitting balls more often. You’re standing there on the range matt and after each shot, making tiny adjustments to your swing to enable you to hit the next ball better. It’s repetitive and what’s called ‘block practice’. (See my article article here where I explain the benefit of random vs block practice.) The same principle is evident when you play a provisional ball. It’s always a better shot, both in strike and direction, because it’s a tiny improvement on what you did with your first tee shot.
The other reason why hitting endless amounts of balls on the range, is that you’re not really putting yourself under pressure to perform. I mean, so what if you missed the flag on the range by 10 yards, there’s no bunker there so you have no penalty.
Now can you begin to see that there is a huge difference in how the average player practices on the range, and how they play on the golf course?
So how do we begin to address it?
The ball timing exercise is the basis for training college golfers.
I’ve been lucky enough to review a training program for college golfers in the USA. And what I found was very interesting. You see, at the beginning of their season, each player is assessed over 12 rounds of golf. This highlights their strengths and weaknesses on the course. But they are also assessed during their practice sessions on the driving range too.
In one particular exercise conducted at the very start. Each player is given a couple of baskets of range balls, and asked to time how long it takes them to hit 20 balls with each club. They aren’t coached prior to this. They are simply asked to record their time on the range, and asked that each shot should include the shot visualisation, their practice swings and their normal pre-shot routine.
This average time is then used as a benchmark for setting their practice regime.It ensures that they are aware how long they need to allow for each of their sessions. It makes sure that they don’t rush through training and subsequently. They actually achieve better results.
So the next time you go to the driving range, I suggest that you do the same and here’s how.
Starting with your pitching wedge, pick out two specific targets each side of the range. Now seperate 10 balls and, using your normal pre-shot routine and shot visualisation, hit a ball to each target, alternating from one to the other whilst timing how long this takes to clear the 10 balls.
Next move to your 9 iron. Pick out two targets and perform the same exercise. Carrying on until you have finished 10 balls with all the way through your golf bag until you’ve reached your driver. Each time recording the time it took you to play each set of 10 balls.
For myself, I can do this exercise in a little over 30 seconds a ball. That’s just 50 minutes. So I walk back from the matt after each shot. And before I take another one, I decide where my target is, what shot I want to play and then begin my pre-shot routine.
Be specific with your practice pace.
To be better on the golf course, we need to replicate on the driving range, the time between each stroke during normal play. So be mindful that you are not rushing. Having a quick range session is not learning quickly. The two are very different.
Step 2: Know What you want to Practice, and How to do it Properly
The driving range is called a ‘Practice Ground’ for a reason. It’s where you practice golf. You don’t need to practice hitting balls, that’s easy. What you need to practice is hitting that draw, or that 100 yard pitch shot, or working on a better strike to stop those awful ‘fat’ shots.
My point is, that you need to first understand the ‘Why’ before you can practice the ‘How’. Unfortunately this part of golf is really boring. I mean, who wants to spend hours working on transferring weight with the right lower body movement, when your neanderthal brain just wants to hit the bloody ball?
But to get better, this is exactly what we have to do. We have to work on the right movements and get these movements in the right sequence.We need to ‘Practice’.
Take a Lesson
The first step in the process is to understand what you are doing wrong, and then how you can practice to put it right. And this step should involve a lesson from a professional.
During the lesson the coach will identify what the main issue is and provide a practice drill or ‘feeling’ that needs to be worked on and replicated to address the problem.
Rarely does this drill mean hitting 100 balls, one after the other until you have gone through a full basket in under 30 minutes! More often than not, the drill is to be practiced at half speed or less.
Despite the saying, our muscles don’t have memory. What we are using is called ‘procedural memory’ and it is this that we are teaching when we perform new exercises or drills. Our procedural memory is very powerful. For example, I haven’t ridden a motorcycle for about 4 years, yet I can quite easily jump on one right now, and take it for a ride without wobbling or falling off. That’s because all the movements needed are stored in my procedural memory.
Now there was a time that i used to race sidecars. And on a racing sidecar, the brake and the gear change are opposite to road bikes. So in order to ride the bike I had to retrain my procedural memory to remember the different movements.Try braking with your left foot and see how different that feels as opposed to using your usual, right foot. You’ll be surprised.
It’s this awkwardness that makes changing your golf swing so hard, unless you approach it properly. You see in the golf swing, you are not simulating braking with your left foot. It’s like trying to brake with a different pressure using your right foot.
The change is so small that your procedural memory can easily take over. That’s why we need to create BIG feelings to make SMALL changes. And the practice range is where we spend the time and effort, making these necessary changes.
Step 3: Include a Pre-Shot Routine with Every Shot
When playing a round of golf and especially in a competition. There are many thoughts that can come into your mind:
Such as, “I cannot believe I scored a double on the last hole”; “People are going to laugh at my score”; “Why can’t I play better?”, or “Don’t slice it into the trees” for example.
Unfortunately, this thought process of focusing on what you don’t want, rather than what you do want, is a common flaw.
Golf is a unique sport where you are not reacting to a moving object like other sports. And whilst having a stationary target to hit may sound great. The downside is that this gives us so much more time to over-think the shot. Which ultimately ends up hindering your performance rather than letting it flow.
Having a pre-shot routine is so important to allow us to perform the best we can. It allows you the control over the ONLY elements possible, in the game of golf; your thoughts, your decision making and how you conduct yourself on the golf course.
Having a pre-shot routine ensures that no matter what is happening around you. As you approach the ball, your inner self is focused, confident and completely committed on the shot ahead.
Only when this happens can you truly accept the results from each and every stroke taken.
A pre-shot routine is not just for the golf course
Having a pre-shot routine is not just important on the golf course, it is also just as crucial to use it on the driving range.
The Ultimate goal is to have our ‘pre-shot’ routine become the doorway to our swing. So any new feelings that promote the change we are trying to make. Can be reinforced by our pre-shot routine.
For example, if you’re attempting to encourage better connection with your right elbow as you transition to your downswing. As part of your pre-shot routine on the range, you may want to emphasize the movement you want.
As you take the time to work the change on the practice ground, you can also take the same pre-shot routine to the course, so your swing changes ‘stick’.
The other benefit of ensuring you have a pre-shot routine on the course, will be to slow down the practice pace. Ultimately increasing the effectiveness of re-training your procedural memory.
Step 4: Create Methods of Pressure Practice.
One of the biggest differences between the driving range and the golf course, is the sense of pressure.
Most of us are very comfortable on the range as we have no real expectation on our performance. There are no holes to play, to bunkers to miss. The fairway is none existent and so what if we miss the green by 10 yards?
If you’re a golfer who values their time and wants to see real improvements. Your practice sessions will include a combination of block, random and pressure practice drills.
By block practice, I mean consciously thinking how you want to move your body more efficiently during your swing, while you’re hitting shots. By random, I mean adapting to different targets and lies, using more visualization and feel. By pressure practice drills, I mean creating pressure and making practice challenging, to build your resilience and mental toughness ahead of playing on the course.
Pressure practice will increase your skill levels by providing consequences to your shots. Here are a couple of examples;
The Driver Drill
- With a driver, create a 40 yard wide fairway using markers on the driving range.
- Now try and hit 3 balls down this imaginary fairway. WIth each drive, imagine that you are on the first tee of a big club tournament. Try and visualise the course ahead of you and feel the pressure, just as if you were there. Now go through your pre-shot routine as described above. Be sure to include all those new movements and feelings that you’re working on. You can only move onto the next stage after hitting 3 consecutive balls down the 40 yard fairway.
- Now pick an imaginary fairway 30 yards wide and in a different place on the driving range. Somewhere so you’re dealing with a slightly different wind direction perhaps. Or an area that has a tree obstruction that requires negotiating. Attempt to hit 3 balls (consecutively) down this fairway. Once you have achieved this move onto the next stage by choosing a 20 yard wide fairway.
- If you can hit all 9 balls down the 3 fairways, not only are you a very good driver of the golf ball, but you can then move onto the next exercise.
The Bombing Run
- Divide the driving range into 9 sections. Three across the width of the range, we’ll call A, B and C. Whilst the three sections along the length being 1,2 and 3. I simply do this by thirds wide and long. The closest three sections will be A1, B1 and C1.
- In each section pick one target. This will give you 9 targets in all with each of the closest ones, A1, B1 and C1 being roughly 1-2 clubs difference in distance from A3, B3 and C3.
- Now Starting with A1, try to drop a ball (Bomb) onto the target. If its a green, then your aim is to have the ball land on it and stay there. If it’s a tree your aim is to have the ball land on the base of it’s trunk.
- Then move to C2 and do the same, followed by B3.
- Next start at B1, then A2 and finish on C3. In fact you can do these in any order as long as each shot requires you to change your alignment and club up by at least one if not 2 clubs.
- You can only move to the next set of three targets, after you have successfully ‘bombed’ the first three.
- To add extra pressure to this game, you can give yourself 3 lives. If you miss your target you lose a life. When all three are spent, you’re dead.You can either record how many of the 9 targets you bombed, or record how many attempts you took to complete the entire 9 targets. Trust me, by the time you’re on your last life, you are feeling the pressure and relying on your pre-shot routine to calm your mind.
Step 5: Take along Drink and a Snack
Considering that you are looking at spending 2 hours or so at the range. And that this time is going to be filled with good quality practice that is going to make you concentrate. You need to make sure that you are kept well hydrated. Plus if you take a snack with you, not only will you keep hunger at bay, but you also have a ‘treat’ for yourself, ready for when you complete your training.
It’s important that you treat your practice sessions like any other training. You’re swinging clubs around so golf is physical. And then there is the mental side too, all of which can easily tire you out.
By taking fluids and snacks along, not only will you be more aware and focused throughout the session. But you will also be less inclined to cut things short because you missed lunch or dinners waiting on the table.
My 5 Step Guide on How to Practice Golf More Effectively – Breakdown
Step 1: Set aside at least 2 hours for each driving range session – This will help you to relax and remove any feelings you may have of having to rush to get back home or anywhere else you feel you need to be.
Start to divide your basket into several piles of balls. You may need to work on your wedge play within 100 yards rather than your driver. So be sure to opportion more balls to use with your wedges. That way you won’t lose track and waste time hitting a club that you really don’t need to practice with.
Step 2: Have a practice plan – Driving range time is important. Not only is it the only time that you truly get to concentrate on your swing. But it is also expensive. Whatever you do, you can’t really afford to keep throwing away £10 for a basket of balls, and yield no result at the end of it.
Work with your coach and draw up a practice plan. Include drills and be clear on the new feelings you should be having so you can monitor changes as they happen.
Step 3: Incorporate a pre-shot routine – You have heard the expression, “What you feel and what is real are two different things”. Well that’s because All changes in a golf swing come with exaggerated feelings of what is happening.
Step 4: Create competition using ‘pressure practice’ or friends – Finding ways to create consequences and rewards within your practice sessions will help you improve your skill levels quickly, whilst making training fun.
If the suggested games are not for you, then by all means create your own, or simply challenge friends to nearest the target competitions, straightest drives or chipping contests. Anything that recreates pressure through consequences will do the trick.
Step 5: Take along drinks and snacks – It’s important to stay hydrated whilst you are at the range. Plus as you relax between shots, you can have a chew on a snack, or sip of water to keep yourself engaged within the practice drills.