Category Archives: practice

A Day at the Range – One More Thing

In 1965, I was watching the U.S. Open on television. I remember watching Gary Player, who won the championship that year, hit a 6-iron from the fairway. What came across so clearly, to a 14 year-old kid, was that he was putting every bit of golf knowledge he had ever acquired, every practice ball had ever hit, every 6-iron he had ever hit, all that had been done so he could hit this one shot.

That is grinding. That’s how you play the game.

How do you learn to do that?

By taking every practice shot seriously. From the practice tee, to chipping, to putting, make very practice shot count. Visualize what you want to have happen, then do everything you can to make it happen.

Never touch club to ball without having that intention in mind.

This how you create a positive habit that comes out when you play.

A Day at the Range

…well, not an entire day, more like 90 minutes, but you know what I mean.

1. Swing practice. Practice hitting the ball straight. I say that because that is really all you can practice. Unless you are under the guidance of an instructor, it is very hard to practice hitting the ball farther. Most likely your attempts will take you in the opposite direction.

Missing the green to the right or left is what you want to take out of your game. If you’re always too short, solve that problem by using more club or move up a set of tees.

Start out hitting some decent 9-irons. Now use that swing with the rest of the clubs you hit to hit the ball straight. The longer shaft and lower loft will send the ball farther.

2. Practice the things that make your swing work. Practice the parts. Put them together and hit a ball. Repeat many times.

3. Save about 20 balls and practice hitting long chips/short pitches, whatever you want to call them, of 15-40 yards. This is the shot pros are insanely good at and that we are insanely bad at. And it’s not that hard to get good at it if you practice. Down in two from that distance is an attainable goal you should have for yourself.

4. Green reading. I read putts from about 30-40 feet behind the ball. That way, you can see the overall tilt of the green very easily. You can sees slopes in ground that up close looks flat. I even look at two-footers this way. You can miss two-footers if you think they all go straight in.

5. Green reading. I start by imagining where the putt would go if I hit it straight at the hole. I follow it across the green in my mind and notice how far to the left or right I think it will pass by the hole. My aim point then is that distance on the other side of the hole—if my mind’s eye sees it miss three inches to the left, I start the putt three inches to the right.

6. Watch this Phil Mickelson putting video. Was he says to do WORKS.

Practice Approach Putting at Home

Everyone can practice 4-footers at home. I hope you do.

But the other putts we need to practice, the long ones, we can’t practice unless we get to the range.

I found a way to practice them, in part, at home. You can’t practice distance control, but you can practice directional control.

First, you need a “hole” to aim at. The rubber grippers sold in grocery stores make a perfect one.

Stand about eight feet from the rubber hole, with a backstop behind it about three inches high.

Hit the ball as you would a 40-foot putt, say. Watch the ball. It should roll over the dead center of the rubber hole.

The longer stroke an approach putt requires can get your stroke out of whack directionally. This is one way to get good at not letting that happen.

Take Your Course Game to the Range

Yesterday I went out to play nine holes. That might not sound like an earth-shaking statement, but because my immune system is compromised I haven’t played, except for a few rounds on an executive course, since February of last year.

I have been practicing all along, and can hit the ball pretty well, but that is different than playing. Which is the subject today’s post.

What I have been practicing are the mechanics the swinging the golf club, chiping, and putting. But I had not been practicing the act of making a golf shot. Those are two very different things.

When we complain that we can’t play like we practice, not understanding that difference, I believe, is the likely cause.

When we hit a shot on the golf course we have to pay attention to these things:
– Focus our mind what we are about to do
– Decide where we’re going to hit the ball to
– In many cases, decide how we’re going to hit it
– Decide which club we’re going to use
– Set up: grip, aim, stance, posture, ball position
– And finally, hit the shot.

Do you practice all of that at the range? Or just the last one, hitting one ball after another?

If practice is just ball-striking, we are not preparing ourselves to play the game.

Yesterday I hit five bad shots that turned a 40 into a 46. None of them were the fault of bad ball-striking. The fault was in not paying attention to the things that surround ball-striking, because I hadn’t practiced them enough.

I know how to do everything on that list. But I had not practiced doing those things enough, and in sequence, so they had become habits. I would forget to do one or two, or not do them correctly.

If you just want to go out and bat the ball around and have fun in a pleasant surrounding with your friends, go right ahead. There is value in that.

But if you want to shoot low scores, you need to practice in such a way that you make a habit of all of golf. Not just the hitting-the-ball part.

A Half Hour at the Range

(…or thereabouts)

I went to the range today, to work on hitting the ball on the center of the clubface. That’s not something you just do. You do a lot of things right and then you get that result.

So the two right things I made sure I did were to have my hands ahead of the clubface at impact, and swing with the right rhythm and tempo for me.

I bought a bucket of 33 balls. I had brought a 52-degree wedge and a 6-iron.

I started off with the wedge, hitting with a half swing. I made about four or five practice strokes before I hit a ball. After hitting three balls, I sat down to take a break. I figure that if you keep hitting ball after ball you fall into a groove and stop concentrating. Learning stops.

After having hit about fifteen balls, I picked up the 6-iron and went through the same thing—lots of practice swings, hands, rhythm and tempo. The first shot was fabulous, the second shot was awful because I got ahead of myself, so I reined in my mind and hit two more beauties.

That was enough so I gave the rest of the bucket to someone else. When you’ve accomplished was you set out to do, there is no point in going on.

Over to the practice green, where I was all alone as I usually am there. I hit four chips with the 52 to a target 9 yards away, which is the calibrated chipping distance for that club. Then I went out with my putter and putted them out.

Putting practice: one three-footer (dead center), one 30-footer using TAP (the ball stopped one foot past the hole), and it was time to call it a day.

It had been 117 degrees in Salem the day before, and even though it cooled down to 91 today, that’s till too hot for me.

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I’ve been coming up with some new things I have never seen before that are working out well, so I’ll be making videos to share them with you.

NOTE: A Basic Golf Swing is now available that develops the comments below in full, and more, in both words and video.


Golf Practice Needs to Be Specific

When I practice, I practice the things that make the shot work. Just a few.

Right now, my swing things are to have a wider stance at address (it was too narrow), swing the club away with my forearms (not my hands), start down at the same speed I came up (a constant struggle), turn fully (I get too arm-oriented and forget to do this), and keep my tempo under control (everybody’s weak spot).

Those are the things that if I don’t do them seem to be what fouls up the shot, so I’m working on them a lot until they become my habits.

I practice them, one at a time, adding the next one on until I am satisfied with the way that they are all functioning correctly and then I hit a ball.

Repeat 29 times.

Maybe a year from now there will be something else that is causing me problems so I will work on that.

Find yours. Work on them. Don’t just go the range to hit balls. Work on something specific.

A productive practice plan

One of the things I was told as a beginning blogger is one way to find material to post is to “re-purpose” material you have already written. In other words, plagiarize yourself.

There’s a lot of good stuff on the blog that is hard to find because there is so much on it. This then is the first of a series of reprints that feature the cream of the lot.

Today’s reprint is an item I wrote several years ago about my practice plan. I used this plan back then to maintain a very good level of golf.

The routine takes about an hour and a half. If you can do it twice a week, you will soon notice the improvement.

Hitting golf balls off mats

If for some reason your driving range provides only mats, do not hit golf balls off the mat. Hit them off a tee.

In my experience, I hit the ball much better–straighter and more accurately–off grass than off an artificial surface.

The reason, I am guessing, is that the price of a mishit on a mat is the shock of hitting it when I hit fat even a bit (and we all do that, don’t we). I don’t like that. It doesn’t feel good. So I unconsciously end up swinging not to develop my ball-striking skills, but to avoid whacking the hard mat.

The only price I pay for hitting a bit fat on grass is being somewhat chagrined.

The rubber tees at driving ranges are all tall ones designed for hitting your 460cc driver. Get a short one, maybe 1½ inches, and bring it with you. It will poke its little head through the mat just enough to lift the ball off the ground but not so much that you’ll hit the ball too high on the clubface.

The most difficult challenge this game presents to us is the ground. If you take the ground out of play, you can concentrate on what you’re there for–improving your swing–and not to avoid uncomfortable contact with a hard mat.

Speaking to that point, I would suggest using a tee even if you do hit off grass at the range.

But maybe all this is just me.

Please don’t avoid trying this idea because you think it’s cheating, though. Nick Price wrote a book on how he developed his golf swing. In it he said he hit a lot of 7-irons when he did it. Off a tee. That encourages you to swing through the ball and not worry about picking it off the ground.

How to Build a Golf Game

You spend so much of your precious leisure time playing golf, there’s no reason why you should not become as good as you can.

The way not to do it is every time you go to the range to practice hitting balls for a bit, chipping for a bit, putting for a bit, then going home.

That’s taking on the whole game at once, which easily leads to frustration.

Do this instead. Choose one part of the game and concentrate on it. Take chipping, for instance. That’s the easiest shot to get good at.

Get a lesson on how to chip, practice what you learned, and concentrate on it until you are good at chipping.

Then knock off the rest of golf, it can be pitching, putting, driving, irons, sand, one part at a time. Get good at each part before you move on to another one.

The confidence you build up by getting by being good at one thing will carry over to the next thing and eventually to your entire game.

how to get good

Golf is a vast game. There are more different kinds of shots to be hit than anyone can master, much less a recreational golfer for whom golf is a part-time hobby.

Yet, when we practice, we hit a bucket or two of balls, spend a little time chipping around the practice green (if you can find one that allows chipping!) and spend a few minutes putting.

And wonder why we don’t get better at it.

To explain why, I would like to refer you to this interview with Bill Evans, a legendary jazz pianist, talking about this very problem in regard to learning his craft.

Listen.

That’s it, isn’t it? We try to take on all of golf all at once and as Evans said, that only leaves us confused and with nothing to build on.

If you’re reading this post, odds are you aren’t a beginner. You have been playing golf for a while and have your own ideas of how to hit the various shots that are necessary.

But if sometimes they work and other times (most times?) they don’t, there’s work to be done that won’t get done by going to the range one more time and doing what I described above, one more time.

Or however many more times.

You have to pick one thing and work on it until know what you are doing and are really good at it, before you move on to something else.

Let’s start with greenside chipping. This is the easiest shot in golf to get good at.

Get a lesson. If you taught yourself to chip, you really don’t know how to chip. I had been playing golf for over fifty years before I had my first chipping lesson. Nothing the pro taught me was what I had been doing, and what he taught me worked.

Next, prepare to spend fifty hours practicing what you learned. If you have a full-time job, it might take you three or more months to get to the range for that much practice.

And when you get to the range, practice chipping only. Don’t worry, your swing won’t go away. It’s just that if you hit a bucket of balls first you will use up some your concentration on that and that’s not why you came to the range.

Keep going, not until you reach being good, but have settled into being good. You know what you are doing and you know you can chip close from anywhere. Then you can move on to something else.

Choose from pitching, bunker play, putting, short irons, medium irons, fairway woods or hybrids, driver (save the driver for last–it’s a distraction, and you don’t need a driver to play golf, anyway.)

Take these skills one at a time. Spend the time it takes to learn how to do each one the right way so you’re good at it. As Evans said, make your practice real and true.

I promise you be playing a different game than before.

After you have these basics down, then you can move on to working the ball with your swing, learning a variety of short shots, and so forth, and all of it will work because you are building them on a solid foundation.