We’ve all been there.
No matter how much we beg, the world stubbornly refuses to organize itself around our golf games.
Perhaps a sudden downpour has rendered the course unplayable.
Or our regular playing partners have cancelled, leaving no-one to mark our card in the weekly medal.
Our spouse’s best friend might be in town for one night only, and we know we owe them for every Saturday they’ve watched the kids while we’ve played.
It might even be something as simple and frustrating as an overdue but eagerly awaited delivery; the kind which the dispatcher promises will arrive long before our noon tee-time, but doesn’t appear until early evening.
But an afternoon spent in the house or with our children need not be “game over”.
Work and family commitments often mean we can’t spend as much time playing as we’d like.
But did you know there are ways to improve at golf even when you’re not able to get to the course?
I’d like to share a few of them with you.
1. Do some Visualization
Most sports psychologists advocate visualization, but I hadn’t had much success with it at all.
Any attempt to “see” the ball flight felt forced and unnatural to me…but I knew visualization worked for many people.
Sports psychologist Alan Richardson’s famous experiment involving basketball players proved that visualization works.
He split them into three groups and tested their free throw abilities.
- The first group would practice 20 minutes a day.
- The second group would not practice.
- The third group would only visualize making free throws, but no real practice is allowed.
After 12 days, he measured the players’ improvements and the results were astounding:
The group that only visualized had significant improvements that were almost as good as the group that practiced daily!
In golf, Padraig Harrington famously used visualization in the run up to his second Open Championship when a wrist injury stopped his practice.
Visualization didn’t work for me until I started to feel the shots as well as trying to see them; everything suddenly fell in to place.
Visualization is great preparation, needs no equipment and can be done anywhere.
2. Put on some Hypnosis
I came to hypnosis with no preconceptions; a friend once sent me some golf hypnosis mp3s because he knows how much I love golf.
I had no great expectations when I put it on. I was certain it wouldn’t work, so it came as a huge shock to wake up 45 minutes later.
It was even more of a shock to go out and play 4 great holes straight afterward.
I now use a much more detailed series of mp3s every night before bed and my game has improved considerably.
I believe in the hypnosis…but even if it was a placebo effect, I’m OK with that.
At the end of the session, I feel relaxed, focused and ready to play a game of golf.
Give it a try before striking it off.
3. Work on your Flexibility and Core Strength
Although golfers are passionate advocates of golf as a sport and not a hobby, most recreational golfers treat it like one.
A true sportsman would always warm up, and would look to increase his range of movement with an appropriate exercise and stretching regime.
And that’s exactly what most serious golfers do.
On the other hand, the average recreational golfer’s core stability comes from his paunch, and he can barely see, let alone touch, his toes.
15 minutes of stretches and core strengthening exercises a day would make huge improvements…and yet few golfers do it.
This “downtime” is the ideal time to start, and it doesn’t take long to see the benefit.
See a physio with an interest in golf or a TPI certified trainer to get exercises specific to your level of function for the biggest benefit.
A $30 physio session and the resulting stretches improved my golf more than $300 of swing lessons would have done.
4. Improve Your Feel
I’m a great believer in feel:
Paying attention to your body as it completes the swing gives the highest quality feedback.
If you make a good swing and can accurately assess how that feels, your chance of repeating the movement is much greater.
It’s helpful (although not essential) for your feel to reflect what’s actually happening.
You can use time sitting watching TV to hone this sense.
Grab a club out of your bag, take your grip then close your eyes. Then loosen your grip and spin the club in your hands.
When you stop, say out loud where you believe the toe of the club is pointing, before assessing how close you were.
You might want to move the club around a little to help get a feel for the club head. I use a clock face for reference.
You’ll be amazed how quickly this improves your feel for the club face.
5. Learn to Control Your Putting Distance
Many coaches discourage golfers from using their carpet for putting practice, as it’s much slower than your average green.
I disagree with this.
Although we will have to adjust our speed, we can still work on our distance control.
Improving this improves our performance on the greens.
I use a drill called “putting stack” in my downstairs hall; I use three markers, 6 feet or so apart.
I putt from the first marker, aiming as close as possible to the back marker without hitting it, and then putt as close as I can to the first ball without hitting it and so on.
The game is over when a putt goes past the previous ball, or is short of the middle marker.
The aim is to squeeze in as many balls as possible. Try to beat your best score.
This game teaches fine distance control and is a great way to improve your lag putting.
6. Work on Your Putting Accuracy with a tool
Having a putting aid like the Golf Rebound Putter allows you to see if you’re pushing or pulling the ball; only a pure strike comes back along the target line.
I spend the odd 15 minutes here or there working on ingraining the feeling of a pure strike, but my most valuable practice comes much more sporadically.
When we practice a drill, there’s always a risk we’re simply practising to get better at that drill rather than at golf; that’s certainly the risk with something like the Golf Rebound Putter.
I counter this by leaving them out, and hitting a putt when I happen to walk past.
This means I’m ensuring my routine works; it gets me in the correct position when I approach an isolated putt, much like I would on the golf course.
This sporadic practice mimics golf, and is invaluable as a result.
Of course there are countless training aids that help with other range of shots. Read here for our round-up of the best golf training aids.
7. Play Crazy Golf
This one isn’t going to work if your children are tiny or if you’re stuck in the house but it’s a brilliant way to improve at golf under pressure…and be a great parent into the bargain.
Crazy golf is much more difficult than putting on the course; in addition to the obstacles, the putters are archaic and your kids won’t be quiet as you prepare.
This increased level of challenge will make putting on a proper green less intimidating.
I’d suggest taking your own balls, as the ones supplied often play like concrete gooseberries.
Generate pressure by teasing your children about your “Champion Golfer” status.
Offer to play against their best ball on every hole, and say you’ll buy ice cream if you lose.
Approach the game like you’re playing for the Masters.
Play to win…and then buy the ice cream anyway.
Great golf practice and great parenting. Everybody wins.
8. Get Strategically Curious
Take some time to explore where you want to be a year from now.
What will that feel like? What will have to be true for you to have got there?
Explore the steps back from the eventual goal to where you are just now.
What is the next action you need to take?
Has anyone at your club travelled a similar path? Is there anyone you know who’s already at the level you’d like to attain? Ever thought of asking them how they got there?
Every golf club contains a huge amount of untapped expertise.
And I’m not talking about the plethora of 20 handicap swing coaches; I’m talking about the players who have been there and done it.
They’ve bucked the trend and descended the handicap system. They don’t make a lot of noise, and they don’t tend to offer advice – they wait to be asked.
Most golfers never do, preferring the counsel of those at their own level.
Don’t be that golfer.
Use this “dead” time to work out who to approach and what you’re going to say.
Use the expertise of others to guide your practice and you’ll reap the rewards.
...And that's my list.
8 sneaky ways to improve at golf when you can’t practice in a traditional fashion.
Make use of your downtime, and you’ll get one up on the competition…or at least not lose as much ground to those pesky golfers who don’t have other commitments.