“My swing feels great on the practice tee but…I just can't bring my range game to course…”
Does this sound familiar?
Have you ever wondered why you’re a single-digit handicap on the range, but really lackluster on the course?
Are you worried that your practice isn’t helping you improve at all during competitions?
You’re not alone.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned player or a high-handicap beginner, one of the biggest challenges golfers face is bringing their so-called practice game onto the course.
Most golfers do not practice effectively and do not have the right mindset.
But fear not, after reading this post, you’ll understand why most golfers’ practice is ineffectual, how you can have the right mentality for practice and be able to devise sessions which actually help you improve at golf.
Step 1. Be Prepared to Work
Effective practice is more gruelling than our usual efforts.
Often, we head to the range and rattle through a bucket of balls like it’s a race.
Finishing first doesn’t mean we’ve won. Instead, it usually means we’ve just wasted our time.
Pick up the smallest bucket of balls available, at least at first.
You’ll build up your stamina over time, but you might have to work in bursts at first.
If your practice isn’t more tiring than usual, you’re doing it wrong.
Step 2. Leave Your Ego in Your Car
This might seem a little counter-intuitive.
Surely, taking good shots must mean we’re looking good and playing well, isn’t it?
Isn’t that the whole point of practice?
Sorry to burst your bubble, pal.
Practice isn’t about looking good on the range.
We practice so we improve at golf, not to impress our fellow range-rats.
And for that to happen, we need to be challenged.
If the shots we’re taking feel too easy, if the ball is flying as we intend for it to be all the time, we’ve made it way too easy for ourselves.
If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough."
But we need to be careful.
Too much challenge can lead us to struggle to the point where we become disheartened.
There’s a fine balancing act here:
Not too easy till there’s no challenge at all, and not too hard till you’re disheartened.
Keep this in mind as you practice and change the difficulty as required.
Optimal challenge results in optimal learning.
Step 3. Remember to Warm Up
The days when golf was considered a sedentary game are long gone.
Whilst we might not be swinging with the explosive force of Tiger and his chums, we’re still making a twisting motion which involves all the major muscle groups.
Failing to stretch is asking for trouble.
Stretching not only decreases our risks of injuries, it also improves our swing speed and accuracy while decreasing muscle aches and fatigues.
It is also important to warm up our swings.
I like to assign my first 5 balls for this:
Starting with a short wedge short to help me find the correct tempo and get a little longer with each subsequent ball.
Take some time to work out the most efficient way to get your swing into gear.
A good aid for warming up is the Orange Whip Golf Swing Trainer.
Investing a little time to warm up allows us to play better for longer.
Saying you have no time for warming up is like saying you have no time to stop driving for gas; sooner or later it’ll catch up on you.
Step 4. Be Focused
Most golfers are not focused during practice:
Their minds wander as they rattle through their bucket of balls like they can’t wait to be somewhere else.
Often after a disappointing shot, they’re reaching over to bust another ball across while the first ball is still in the air.
There is no reflection on why the shot went wrong, no time spent understanding how to improve, no thought whatsoever at all.
The golfer moves to wipe that shot from his memory in a bid to pretend it never happened.
But it did happen.
To ignore a missed shot is to waste an excellent learning opportunity.
Make practice focused. Learn to listen to your body as it swings. Review the physical feedback in the context of the result.
Do you know why you got the result you did?
Focused golf is born from focused practice.
Step. 5 Practice Should Simulate Game
Golfers use the range to hit many balls with the same club to the same target.
Some do not even have a target.
But an actual golf game is very different:
We hit one ball to many targets with different clubs.
Many golfers get better at “playing the range” rather than playing golf, leading to the classic Golfer’s Lament:
“Why can’t I take my range game to the course?”
No wonder it is so frustrating.
We have a lot of time between shots on the course as we walk from one shot to the next.
This is a window of opportunity to be ambushed by unhelpful thoughts and managing this time can be the key to good golf.
Leaving plenty of time between shots on the range to simulate actual golf can teach us how to deal with these thoughts.
For the best results, make practice simulate golf.
Play every shot as if it’s on the course.
Use your full routine for every shot.
Play to a different target, with a different club.
Simulate golf to help take practice from the range to the first tee…and beyond.
Step 6. Cover a Range of Shots
When we reach the course, things aren’t always as straightforward.
Even if we’re playing the same course week in and week out, we often end up with a shot we’ve never faced before.
High handicappers are particularly afflicted, but it happens to professional golfers too.
One way to get around this is to visualize playing the course, using flags and other markers to represent fairways and greens.
These should be tighter and smaller than they are on the course.
If the practice green is nearby, use it to play every hole to its conclusion.
Another way is to have random practice style (as opposed to block practice style).
You do this by hitting a set of golf shots to different targets in varying distances and orientations, in a bid to improve your shot-making adaptability.
An example routine would be when you hit a 7 iron to one target green, then you hit a driver to another distance target then a sand shot to a tight pin and so on.
You can read more about random practice style here.
Varying your shot types to cover a range of shots helps develop your playing skills and ability.
Step 7. Master Your Short Game
Most of us avoid short shots at the range – we seem to think it’s a waste of time to use the range for a shot that flies less than a hundred yards.
And yet nothing could be further from the truth.
Do you know that 40% of your golf shots are made on the putting green?
The short game is so important it’s a good idea to keep some balls in the bucket to practice pitching to near targets at the end of the session.
And don’t think you can skip the routine on these shots just because they’re shorter.
As we near the hole there’s nowhere to hide – a poor shot here is more likely to cost us a stroke.
A poor drive can be saved by a good approach shot, and a poor approach can be salvaged by a great chip.
But there’s very little chance of recovery from a poor chip or putt.
Hitting balls to short targets might not seem glamorous, but it’s time (and money) well spent.
Step 8. No More “Scrape and Hit”
It’s so important I’m covering it again.
We’ve all seen it time and again:
Golfer hits ball towards vague, unfocused target (or worse, “center of the range”), observes the result, smiles or frowns as appropriate, then scrapes another ball over with the same club before hitting towards the same target.
This is repeated until all the balls are gone.
Usually he’s scraping the next ball over before the last one even hits the ground.
Yet another golfer who thinks he’s working hard when in reality, he’s hardly working.
Most of us have done it. And more than once.
It’s fair to say this lies at the core of why most golf practice is a waste of time.
On the course, we only ever hit two shots to the same target when we’ve lost a ball, so why on earth do we practice like this?
Leave the balls in the bucket so you can’t scrape another one over.
Step 9. Dare to Be Different
There is very little difference to how most golfers practice.
The average handicap hasn’t changed in the last 20 years.
If we desire different results, if we truly want to improve at golf, we need to change how we practice.
We need to look at what everyone else is doing…and do something different.
Other golfers might not “get it”.
They might be dismissive, they might even be scornful, but we must keep faith.
We need to be different to get better results.
To be successful, one has to be one of three bees - the queen bee, the hardest working bee, or the bee that does not fit in. One success is inherited, and the the next one is earned. While the last one is self-sought, self-served, and happens on its own terms.”
Step 10. Quit While You’re Ahead
In order to improve at golf, we need to improve our procedural (or “muscle”) memory.
And that memory is at its most fragile when it’s just been laid down.
So if we get tired and sloppiness creeps in, we run the risk of corrupting all of the “memory” we’ve just worked so hard to acquire.
Effective learning requires a focused and attentive golfer, and when we’re tired, we’re just not capable of being that golfer.
It will take time to build up the stamina required for a long session of effective practice; I’m not sure we recreational golfers even need to do this.
Practice short but often to get maximum benefit from your session.
And there you go: a 10 point plan for a structured practice session which simulates golf.
It’s very different from what most golfers are doing, and that’s the whole point.
With the average handicap unchanged in the last 20 years, doing what every other golfer is doing isn’t the smart option.
Follow these instructions, and you’ll be well on your way to a range game you can take to the course.
You’ll never say “My swing feels great on the practice tee but…I just can't bring my range game to course…” ever again.