Top 5 Practice Tips
While there are many golfers who barely know where the driving range is located, I think there are fewer who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater”, since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing. It was prompted by an email I received from Jesse H., who asked:
I have a problem when I am trying to practice either on the range or the course. On the range, I feel like I rush through shots without a goal. On the course, I get caught up in my score and feel like when I try to practice and keep a real score I get distracted.

I also can't work on my short game long, putting and chipping, without getting bored. I truly love golf and want to get better. What would be your top five tips while practicing on the range or the course from tee to green?
Well, Jesse, making practice fun and interesting – and challenging if that motivates you – is the key to getting enough of it in your golf routine. As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and find the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do always to be intriguing. So, Jesse, here are what I believe to be my “Top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.
1. Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a driving range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective . . . how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot, or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose . . . always.

2. Don’t just “do”. . . observe. There are two elements of learning something new. The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.

3. Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.

4. Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.

5. Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than 5-6 shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver”. He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.
My “bonus” tip, Jesse, addresses that comment about practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.

So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right? See you guys . . . and ladies . . . on Friday.

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[ comments ]
Scott Shields says:
I agree - I try to select to targets and visualize a fairway between them, it makes hitting that the range much more challenging. I also hit balls as if I was playing a hole. Driver, short iron, wedge ... repeat. The tip about taking your alignment and stance I feel is very important. I step out of the box, re grip, re align, and then swing. Using my 'fake fairway' ... I try my best to simulate a real golf experience. Good luck!
TravisMiller says:
Very nice tips, Very useful....I can't wait to get back out on the range.
sepfeiff says:
Great tips #1, #3 and #5. Also if you have PGA pro at your practice arena... Explain what you are there to work on (see #1) and ask them for a tip or drill. These guys do this for a living and most are pretty good at it ;) Some might even take an interest in seeing you feedback..etc. Have a conversation!
DiC says:
Totally agree with the "bonus tip".
A friend and I play a short course with 9 holes ranging from 60 to 120 yards. We play them as par 3s and had started to become obsessed with scoring that "par round". Problem is by hole 4 if we'd scored even a couple of 4s then you're looking for at least 2 birdies to get back on track. This kills the rest of the round and we have found it to be far more productive to treat our practice time there as exactly that, a practice! We now play at least a couple of balls each per hole. That way if you hit one bad shot, rather than let it annoy you, you have the other ball to try and put it right.

We still throw in the odd "proper" round to try and hit that par though! Closest I've come is +3 so far!
dottomm says:
I work nearby a muni course and I started going to their pitching and putting green during my lunch break every day for two weeks. Some days I would work on my putting other days my pitching, sometimes both. I did this everyday for two weeks (Mon-Fri) before my next 18 hole round. Yesterday I shot the my lowest score ever by 11 strokes! (I am a 25 handicap, so it wasn't THAT low) but my best yet and to say I saw an improvement would be an understatement! Practice if you want get better. You will.
wiley1st says:
I play an "up-and-down" game with myself on the practice green where I take 7 balls and toss them on the ground, anywhere from 5 to 20 yards off the green. I then see how many I can get up and down with a chip and a single putt. I like this because as I only hit 3 to 4 greens in regulation a round and this gives me realistic practice on a situation I'm in roughly 14 times per round ;). At first I was only able to get up and down 0 or 1 times per 7 balls but have since improved quite a bit with my putting and feel/touch around the greens. I'm seeing real results in my live rounds. It's not boring at all because you can aim at putting holes near/far from the green edge and practice with different clubs to see the carry/roll results, vary the lies (uphill, downhill), etc.
Agustin says:
Here's one practice tip that helps me enjoy the range. Practice as you normally would and save 50 balls for the end.

With these 50 balls play an "virtual" round in your mind... Pick a course you like and are familiar with. Then imagine that you are in the 1st tee. Play the club/shot you would actually hit off the tee. See the results and then play the 2nd shot accordingly from where you would have landed with the shot you just hit... If you're in the trees, practice a knock-down shot... If you would have been in real trouble chip back to the fairway, etc... If your approach doesn't feel like you would have reach the green, pitch or chip your next shot accordingly... So forth and so on until you've played all 18 holes. See how many ball it took you to reach all 18 greens. Keep track and try to improve each time. If at the end you have 14 balls left after reaching all the greens your are in pretty good shape ;)

I do this on Wed nights with some friends and we have a lot of fun heckling each other.
Banker85 says:
Thanks Terry, i think i might try and squeeze in an afternoon round tomorrow at one of the slower courses and try to focus on the tips you gave.
Banker85 says:
Agustin: just read your tip, sounds fun i am looking forward to trying it.
bobauten says:
I agree with dottomm, getting to the pitching green and working on distances from the hole has cut my handicap from 22 to 17 - a lot more 1 or 2 putts instead of 3's. Working a sand trap each time I practice has also enabled me to come out of a trap as effectively as a pitching wedge just off the green. I only hit about 25% of greens in regulation because I'm not a "power hitter", but I sure feel a lot better about my game because I've improved dramatically in a phase of the game that I can absolutely improve on - pitch, sand and putt.
eventHorizon says:
Analyze multiple rounds of golf (briefly) and decipher the percentage of shots in different areas you take. This will tell you where to spend your time. Most likely, 60-70% of your shots are taken from 100 yards and in (and the majority of that percentage is putting). Your tee shots will make up 20+%. Therefore, in my mind, forget pounding the 5 iron over and over and over again on the range. If you want to swing on the range, work on your long wedge shots then hit drivers. Spend 75+% of your time chipping and putting. If chipping and putting bores you, find a friend or somebody practicing and get a game going. Play for $5 or a beer or pride, each person pick 9 holes or so to play, and try to get up and down or closest to the pin, etc.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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