It's important to learn to practice properly when taking up golf. If you repeat mistakes early on, you're likely to develop bad habits that are hard to get rid of. If you build a strong foundation, you'll ingrain good habits that serve you well in the long run.
The driving range environment lets you focus on your game without being distracted other golfers, which often happens on the course. You can also use training aids that are against the rules on the course. There are countless training aids that promise straighter, longer shots and lower scores. While some work better than others, most can improve your swing. Simply search for “golf training aids” on the internet and you'll get millions of results.
Here's a very basic practice routine to follow, which you can tailor based on experience as you play and practice more often:
1. After stretching your body, begin by hitting 6-10 shots with the shortest, most lofted club in your bag (i.e. the sand wedge or pitching wedge).
2. Switch to a longer, less lofted club and hit 6-10 more, and continue this sequence until you reach the driver.
3. If you don't have the time or patience to hit shots with every club, skip ahead one or two clubs each time you switch.
4. If you play courses that require certain shots, then work on those so that you'll have more confidence when you face them on the course.
Whenever you're on the range, your primary goal should be to reinforce good fundamentals – alignment, grip, stance, posture, takeaway, weight shift and so forth. The key is to get it right from the start, which will produce positive results and keep you from getting discouraged – an issue which drives many beginners from the game.
Develop and stick with a proper practice routine and you'll be hitting the links in no time.
Golf Tips on Proper Practice
If you want to play better golf, you have to practice. Many golfers over the years have tried to get around that simple fact, but it remains as true today as it was the day the game was invented. You can try to 'purchase' a better game through new equipment, but those gains (if any) will be relatively small, and usually temporary as well. The only path toward lower golf scores is found on the driving range, the short game practice area, and the practice putting green. Become familiar with these spots at your local course and your scores are sure to fall.
So, there can really be no argument about whether or not you need to practice in order to improve your game. You do. But how should you be practicing? How do you divide up your time, and what do you work on during each trip to the range? Those questions are a little harder to answer. You obviously want to get the best possible return from the time you put in on the range, so you need to have a smart plan that addresses your weaknesses while maintaining your strengths at the same time.
The sad reality is that most amateur golfers waste a majority of their time during practice sessions. The typical golfer will spend the vast majority of their time working on the full swing, and a large percentage of those full swings will be made with the driver. Make no mistake, you should be practicing your driver swing – but that portion of your session should be relatively short. There are other parts of the game, such as the short game, that will have a far greater impact on your score than will the driver. In the end, you should be spending time on things that are going to be directly reflected on your score card.
Once you build a practice routine that is a good fit for your game, you can repeat that routine over and over again upon your visits to the range. It will save you time if you have a good routine in place, because you will know exactly what you are going to do when you show up at the course with the intention of putting in a solid practice session. You won't have to spend any time standing around thinking about what to do next, because you will already have a clear plan in mind.
In addition to having a plan for each practice session that you complete, you should also have a general schedule in mind for how frequently you are going to practice. There are a number of factors that will be in play here, including your schedule away from the golf course, family commitment, work, and more. However, if you can stick to a schedule that brings you to the course for at least occasional practice, you should be able to keep your game pointed in the right direction.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play the game left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions as needed.
Covering Your Bases
So what parts of the game do you need to practice on a regular basis? Well, there are quite a few, to be honest. Golf is a complicated game, and you can run into a variety of shots as you make your way around the course. You never want to be unprepared for the situations you face, so working on a complete set of golf skills is the ideal way to practice. The list below includes the points that you should be sure to hit during the average practice session.
- Full swing. Obviously, this is an important place to start. You need to have a quality golf swing that you can rely on to send the ball in a predictable direction time after time. No one has a 'perfect' golf swing, so you are always going to hit bad shots from time to time, but building consistency within your mechanics should be one of your top priorities. During each practice session, you should spend at least a portion of your time working on the execution of your full swing.
- Putting. In terms of scoring, no single area of the game has a greater impact than putting. In fact, if your goal with your upcoming practice sessions is to improve as quickly as possible, it is the putting green that should receive most of your time and attention. Making more putts is the fastest way to lower your scores, as working on your full swing is something that is going to pay off over the long run rather than the short term. Between working on the mechanics of your putting stroke and practicing your ability to control speed and more, there is a lot to improve upon when you head to the putting green for a session.
- Chipping/Pitching/Bunker Play. If the fastest way to improve your scores is to improve on your putting performance, sharpening up your play from around the greens is second on that list. By working on your chipping, pitching, and bunker play, you can leave yourself with shorter putts as you try to get the ball up and down. A good chip can quickly make up for a poor approach shot and may allow you to walk off with your par. The average golfer doesn't spend nearly enough time working on this area of the game, and it shows on the course. Dedicate yourself to learning how to chip and pitch the ball consistently and your scores are going to move in the right direction almost immediately.
- 'Manufactured' swings. Another area of the game that is frequently overlooked is the 'manufactured' shots that often need to be played in order to get around the course. A 'manufactured' shot is one that is hit with a swing that has been altered in order to produce a specific ball flight. For instance, punch shots, big draws and fades, and more would be placed into this category. Rather than spending all of your time on the range hitting stock shots with your normal full swing, set aside at least a few balls to hit some other kinds of shots that may come in handy on the course. Try hitting the ball higher or lower than normal, and try turning it in the opposite direction of your usual pattern. By testing your ability to come up with unique shot shapes, you will have more options at your disposal on the course when you wind up in a tough spot.
- Pre-shot routine. In addition to working on the mechanics that are required to hit various shots, you should also be practicing the pre-shot routine you are going to use during your rounds. A good pre-shot routine is important, yet this is something that is overlooked by the majority of players. During your practice sessions, force yourself to go through your routine just as you will on the course. Once this part of your game becomes ingrained in your habits, it will be easy to take it with you anywhere you happen to play.
If you are able to manage to fit all five of the points above into each of your practice sessions, you will be on the right track toward a better game. Realistically, you may not be able to fit each of these areas into all of your practice sessions due to time or facilities constraints. However, do your best to work on all of them as often as possible, and make a conscious effort to touch on all parts of the game when you do have the opportunity to practice.
Dividing Your Time
Now that you know what it is that you need to work on during your practice sessions, the next topic to consider is how you are going to divide up your time. This is where most golfers start to go wrong. While the average player will stop at the putting green to roll a few putts, and they may hit the chipping green to hit a few there as well, the time that is spend in those short game areas usual pales in comparison to how much time is spent on the driving range. If you are going to get the most possible benefit from your practice time, you are going to need to even out the way you distribute your efforts.
To help you construct a quality practice routine that will address all of the areas in your game that need attention, consider the outline below. This outline has been created based on a one-hour practice session, which is about right for the average amateur player.
- When you arrive at the course, head directly for the putting green. Practice putting is the best way to get started, as it will serve as a gentle warm up to get your body out of the car and moving once again. For this first putting session, try to spend about ten minutes working on a combination of short and long putts. You don't need to get into any specific drills or technical thoughts at this point – just work on the consistency of your stroke and do your best to make as many putts as possible.
- After you complete ten minutes of putting, the next step is to move on to the chipping area for some additional short game work. This part of the practice session is going to take up 15 minutes of your time. These 15 minutes can be spent hitting chips, pitches, and even bunker shots (if there is a practice bunker available). It would be wise during this part of the practice session to work on parts of the short game that specifically give you trouble. One mistake that many golfers make is to frequently practice the things that they are good at anyway. This is largely a waste of time. So, if you already consider yourself to be a good bunker player, don't spend the whole time hitting one bunker shot after the next. Sure, you can hit a few to stay sharp, but the time should mostly be spent working on parts of the short game that are currently costing you shots.
- Now that you are 25 minutes (or so) into your practice session, it is time to head over to the range to hit some balls. Since you have been chipping and pitching the ball for 15 minutes, your body should be nicely warmed up and ready to swing. The next 20 minutes or so are going to be dedicated to the full swing. You might be thinking that this doesn't sound like very much time, but it is actually more than enough to work on your technique without swinging to the point of fatigue. Many golfers stand on the range for hours hitting shot after shot, and their technique falls apart in that time because they get tired and lose track of their fundamentals. In 20 minutes, you will be able to go through all of your clubs, hitting a few shots with each while checking on your mechanics and making any adjustments/corrections that may be necessary.
- With 15 minutes left, you are going to head back to the putting green to finish things up. The first ten minutes of this final portion of the practice session should be spent focusing carefully on the technique that you are using to swing the putter. Make sure your stance, grip, and stroke are all working together nicely to roll the ball toward the hole. When that ten minutes has expired, use the last five minutes of your time to simply roll a few more putts without any specific thoughts in your head. This is the 'wind down' portion of your session. At the very end – the last minute or two – you should hit a collection of short putts so that you can see the ball go in the hole repeatedly before you leave.
Of course, you are free to tweak the outline above as necessary to make it work for your own game and your own situation. However, that general framework is going to be an effective way for most players to get on a track toward better golf. As you likely noticed, of the 60 available minutes for practice, 40 are going to be spent on the short game while only 20 are spent on the full swing. That is about right. Generally speaking, you should spend around two thirds of your practice time on the short game, as that is where your score is largely going to be decided.
Getting into the Right Frame of Mind
You probably already know that you need to have a good attitude on the golf course in order to play your best. If you go out onto the course in a bad mood, or if you head to the first tee expecting to play poorly, you aren't going to live up to your potential. In much the same way, you have to have the right mindset during your practice sessions if you would like to improve as quickly as possible.
During practice, there are a number of different qualities that need to be present in your overall attitude. Those include the following –
- Optimism. If you don't think that you can get better at this difficult game, you will be proven right in the end. You need to head into each practice session with an optimistic feeling that you are going to take steps in the right direction. Are you going to be able to put in an hour on the range and suddenly start hitting the ball like a tour pro? Of course not. Golf is extremely hard, and your improvements are going to be subtle. However, even subtle improvements can add up to major changes over the long run.
- Focus. It can be hard to focus when you head to your local course to work on your game. There is a chance you will run into someone you know, or you might be distracted by the swings of other players on the range, or you will keep checking your cell phone for messages. Whatever it is, there is no lack of potential distractions waiting to take your mind off the task at hand. Do your best to keep these distractions to the side as you work hard to get better. Many golfers find that they are better able to focus when they practice with headphones on, so that it one trick that you may want to try.
- Willingness to be uncomfortable. This is perhaps the most difficult part of the attitude that you need to have in order to practice properly – and it is the piece that holds most golfers back from reaching their goals. If you are going to actually get better, you need to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone in order to try new techniques. Everything feels 'weird' at first, so you can't go running back to your old habits as soon as you don't feel quite right about a technique. Most amateur golfers are unwilling to feel uncomfortable, so they don't ever end up changing any of their techniques – instead, they just keep rehearsing the same bad habits over and over again. In order to make real improvements, you have to be patient enough to hit some bad shots while you are trying to get used to a new position or technique that you are attempting. No real improvements are going to come immediately, and they will always make you feel a bit awkward at first. Embrace this part of the process and you will be a step in front of your competition on the course.
If you aren't going to bring a good attitude to your practice session, you might as well find something else to do. That might sound harsh, but it is the truth. You aren't going to walk away from your practice session as a better golfer unless you bring focus, positivity, and patience to the process.
Finding a Good Facility
Part of the golf practice equation is finding a facility that allows you to work on all facets of your game. Some golf courses don't have a driving range for you to hit balls, while others may not have a chipping green, a practice bunker, or some other essential piece of the puzzle. If you are serious about improving your game, one of the best things you can do is track down a good practice facility that is within a reasonable drive of your home or office. Even if the facility that you decide to use isn't the one that is closest to where you live, it might be worth the extra travel to be able to practice all of the areas of your game that need attention.
Of course, the cost of practicing has to play a part of this equation as well. While many golf courses will allow you to use their short game practice areas for free, some charge a fee. Also, the price of a bucket of range balls will vary from place to place, so take this into account as well. Some facilities offer you the opportunity to purchase bulk passes which will bring down the cost of each session, so look for this kind of deal if you are going to be practicing regularly.
There is no doubt that practice is going to be required if you are to reach your goals on the course. Golf has a reputation as being one of the most difficult games in the world – and that reputation is well-deserved. This is an incredibly hard sport, and only consistent practice is going to allow you to take the next step forward with your game. Use the advice contained above to get your practice sessions moving in the right direction – good luck and have fun out there!