Practice Different Golf Scenarios
“You don’t get 50 balls on the golf course to hit one shot, so don’t practice that way. Work on adjusting to different situations.” -Luke Donald, PGA Tour Player
Golf is unlike most any other sport. In sports such as football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and tennis the players play on a perfectly flat surface of a designated size. Golf however, is played in nature. Each golf course is different and every golf hole is unique. To execute a shot, the player must take into consideration such factors as the lie (is it flat, sidehill, uphill, or downhill), the target (is it uphill or sidehill), the distance from target (it’s different every time), the lie conditions of the ball (fairway, rough, sand, on a tee), the wind, the temperature (less face it a ball doesn’t typically go as far when it gets colder), the altitude (yes, when playing in the mountains the ball will travel farther than at sea level). And that is before you even start making the motion of the golf swing!
But when you watch golfers practice, what do you see the majority of them doing? Hitting a bucket of balls from the same spot on the range, with the same few clubs. Not even typically practicing with all of the clubs in the golf bag. On the putting green, players generally will drop 2 or 3 balls down and hit to the same target from the same distance.
This kind of practice is not helping you once you get onto the “real world” and ever changing conditions of the course.
How to practice more effectively:
On the driving range:
After you have hit 12-15 balls and started to stretch out your muscles (you don’t want to injure yourself) start playing an imaginary round of golf on the range. Play your favorite golf course in your head, one you play regularly. Each shot you hit on the range needs to have a very specific target. If you miss your target left or right, short or long, make sure your next shot simulates what you would face as best as possible. Here is how this would play out on the range:
1st hole of XYZ Country Club is a par 4, 380 yards.
Shot 1: Hit a driver, or fairway woods, aimed at target 250 yards away. You miss left and would be in the imaginary left rough.
Shot 2: Find a place just off the edge of the range tee that the grass is a little longer to simulate hitting from the rough. Pick your target and the approximate distance you normally would have, let’s say 140 yards. Play your shot. This shot is online, but misses short of your intended target.
Shot 3: Since you missed your imaginary green short, hit a short pitch shot of 20-30 yards, again to a very specific target.
Shot 4: You would now be on the putting green, so move on to the next hole, and repeat for all 18.
On the short game area:
This is the area that golfers should spend AT LEAST 50% of their practice time. You will take more shots from inside of 100 yards, than anywhere else on the golf course. Yet so often, I don’t ever see anyone on the short game area at the golf course near my house that I practice. But there are always 6-10 people lined up on the driving range. It’s great for me, because I have the short game area to myself, but at the same time a bit confusing.
My best advice for practicing your short game is captured in this instruction video I made for Pinchaser.
Practicing out of a greenside bunker can be a lot of fun. Once you have down the basic technique to get the ball out of the sand and onto the green, you need to start learning how to control the distance, hit the ball higher or lower, and how to play from different sand conditions as well as different lies you might face. Come on, be honest have you ever really practiced hitting from the “Fried Egg”? Start experimenting with different lengths of your swing to control the length of the shot, open and close the face of the club a little to not only control distance, but also the height the ball comes out. Bury the ball, make fried egg lies, rake the sand fluffy, pack the sand down firm. Practice from as many different situations as you can to be better prepared when you face those challenges on the golf course.
On the putting green:
Don’t be the golfer that drops down a sleeve of balls and hits to the same target making small adjustments to your aim and distance to hopefully make the 3rd putt. Unless your playing partners are VERY generous and give a lot of mulligans, you will never get to have three chances to make a putt on the golf course. If your’s are that nice, let me know, I want to play with them! Instead, take 1 ball to the putting green. When you are practicing with just one ball, you have to give all of your focus to line, speed, aim, stroke…all of the factors that must come together on the course. Make your routine on the practice green the same as it is on the golf course.
If you feel the need to putt with multiple golf balls, make sure that you are doing a drill such as “Around The World.” You’re having to make putts from all different angles and adjusting to the slope of the green differently with each putt.
Making some small changes to your practice routine will make you a more complete golfer, and better scorer. Practice with these guidelines will 1) make practice more enjoyable and focused, and 2) you will be more prepared and confident the next time you tee it up on the course. Happy golfing!