Ever have one of those days where you hit every shot “pure” during warm-ups, then get on the course and spray it everywhere? You're not alone.
Transferring a good practice-session swing to the actual game can be tough. The trick is to treat shots on the range just like shots on the course. Here are a few tips to help you do it consistently:
- Follow your pre-shot routine: If you've developed an on-course pre-shot routine, mimic it precisely for every shot on the range.
- Aim at specific targets: When practicing, most golfers simply beat balls toward a vaguely defined target area. Instead, choose a target – a yardage marker, for example – for each shot.
- Practice shots you'll encounter on the course: If the opening tee shot requires a fade, visualize and practice it during warm-ups. Choose the shots that you have trouble with and conquer them on the range first.
- Trust your swing: If you can do it on the range, you can do it on the course. It's the same swing, after all.
The best way to ensure your practice and course swings are in sync is to practice often between rounds. Building muscle memory is the key to a swing that repeats anytime, anyplace.
How to Take Your Good Swing from Range to Course
The driving range is the best place to work on improving your swing technique – but, of course, you probably already know that. On the range, you can hit ball after ball, refining your mechanics until you are able to produce a consistent ball flight time after time. For the beginning golfer, spending more time on the range than the course is certainly advisable, and even the experienced golfer should carve out time for regular practice sessions. There is no doubt that the driving range is a valuable tool in the quest toward better golf.
However, there is a major problem experienced by many golfers when it comes to moving from the driving range to the golf course. While they might be able to put together a quality swing on the range, it seems that those swing mechanics are lost somewhere between the range and the first tee. Countless golfers are frustrated by their inability to perform out on the golf course in the same way that they can perform on the range. Do you feel like you hit beautiful shots on the range, only to struggle on the course? You are not alone. This is a common problem, but the solution to this issue can be a bit complicated.
It only stands to reason that you should be able to play as well on the course as you do on the range. After all, you are using the same clubs, hitting the same-sized golf ball, using the same basic techniques, etc. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. When you get onto the course, there are a variety of variables that come into play which simply don't exist on the range. During an actual round of golf, you may be feeling a bit nervous about playing in front of your friends (or even strangers), or you may allow the hazards and obstacles on the course to get in your head. No matter what the root cause is, you need to find a way to get back on your game and swing up to the level of your natural ability.
This is one of the areas where professional golfers really stand out above the average amateur player. Sure, pro golfers have better swing mechanics than the average golfer anyway, but they also do a better job of taking those mechanics from the range to the course. The pros understand how to put aside all of the distractions and mind games in order to allow their talent to shine through. You might not ever be able to play up to the level of a professional golfer, but you can certainly learn from their example when it comes to taking your range performance out onto the course.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
A Problem of Perception
Before you start to work on how to improve your ability to go from the range to the course, you need to determine if there actually is a problem in the first place. Many golfers think they get worse between the range and the course, but is it actually true? In some cases, yes, players allow outside factors to damage the quality of their swing when they get into the middle of a round. However, other players simply don't evaluate their performance on the range correctly, so they think they are hitting the ball better than they actually are. If you aren't careful, the driving range can actually trick you into overestimating your own performance.
There are generally three ways in which you can be 'fooled' by the driving range. Consider the following points –
- Lack of a target. Many golfers fail to pick a specific target when they hit balls on the range. Instead of aiming carefully like they would on the course, these players simply pick a club out of the bad and swing away. If you don't have a target in mind, how do you know if you hit a good shot? At that point, anything that climbs up into the air is a good shot in your mind because you have nothing on the ground to compare it to. So, if you were to go through an entire practice session without aiming at specific targets, you could walk away feeling like you hit a whole bucket worth of good shots – even though that might not be true. Every single shot you hit on the range should have a target, so that you can accurately evaluate your own performance.
- Law of averages. If you stand on the range and unload 100 shots in a single practice session, there is a good chance that at least some of them are going to be pretty good. For that reason, you can trick yourself into thinking you are swinging well be only remembering the good shots while discounting the bad. This is a classic mistake that is made by tons of amateur golfers. Out of every five shots that they hit on the range, two may be good while the other three are poor. By remembering the two good ones while ignoring the bad swings, it will seem like the practice session is going great. If you care to evaluate yourself fairly during each range session, be sure to take note of the results of each swing that you make. More like than not, your consistency will actually closely resemble what you are doing on the course.
- Finding a groove. There is another reason that your performance on the driving range may seem to outshine your play on the course – the sheer volume of swings you get to make on the range. Let's say you shoot 90 during a given round of golf; that means that approximately half of those shots were short game shots, leaving you with a total of 45 full swings. Those 45 swings took place over a period of four hours or more, meaning you were making somewhere around 10-12 swings per hour. On the driving range, it only takes a few minutes (at the most) to make that many swings. Therefore, you will be able to work yourself into rhythm on the range unlike what you can do on the course. Hitting the ball over and over again will make it easier to get into a good tempo, and you will start to produce quality shots. However, you will never get the chance to make that many consecutive swings on the golf course. Instead, your swings will always be broken up by long periods of walking and other short shots. If you would like to better replicate your on-course experience while practicing, try taking longer breaks in between shots on the range. Your practice sessions will take longer as a result, but they will be more realistic.
The three points above should make it perfectly clear that your range practice sessions cannot necessarily be equated to your play on the golf course. That isn't to say that you shouldn't practice on the range – it is essential to learning the game and improving your skills. However, always keep in mind those three caveats when you are wondering why you don't play as well on the course as you do on the range.
All Shots Are Created Equal
One of the first steps you can take toward successfully playing your best on the course is to treat each and every shot with the same level of importance. Since all shots count as one stroke on your score, there is no such thing as a 'big' shot or an 'important' shot. They are all the same. Sure, you might feel more pressure when you get down toward the end of the round, but those shots you hit on the second hole count just as much as the ones you hit on the 17th and 18th. Take all of your shots seriously, and don't throw any of them away for a lack of effort.
How will this line of thinking help you perform better on the course? By taking the pressure off of certain shots, and spreading it around throughout the entire day. Many golfers think of the tee shot on a long par four, or the second shot on a short par five, as being key shots that will dictate a lot about their overall round. When you think this way, you will put too much pressure on yourself in those moments – and that is when your swing technique is likely to break down. Instead, view each shot through the same lens. The goal of every shot you hit is to execute your game plan to the best of your ability. That's it. If you can commit yourself to the process of doing your best for the full 18-hole round, you will more than likely be happy with the outcome.
In addition to helping you make better swings, working your way through a round of golf one shot at a time is the best way to successfully manage the course. It is easy to get ahead of yourself in golf, thinking about shots that you will have to hit two or three holes down the road. Thinking that way will distract you from the task at hand, and you may wind up making poor decisions on the hole you are currently playing. Good course management is all about taking each shot as it comes, one at a time, until the round is complete. When you approach golf with that mindset, making good decisions becomes a lot easier.
Lastly, one other benefit to treating all shots the same is an improved ability to maintain your tempo on each and every swing. It is natural to speed up your swing when you get nervous or excited, so you may find that you rush through the shots that you have decided are the most important ones of the day. Ideally, your swing would have the same tempo and rhythm all day long, and that is only going to happen if you place equal importance on all of your shots.
Know Your Limitations
On the driving range, it is easy to stay within yourself and only hit shots that you know you can pull off. For instance, if you are hitting your seven iron on the range, and you know you hit that club 150 yards, you will likely aim at the 150-yard marker that has been placed somewhere out on the driving range. Picking that target will enable you to make smooth and repeatable swings because you don't have to give extra effort in order to carry the distance. Unfortunately, this logical way of thinking goes out the window for many golfers when they get onto the golf course.
While on the course, you are far more likely to try pushing the limitations of what you can do with your clubs. To continue that same example, you might decide in the middle of a round that you can force your seven iron to fly 155 or even 160 yards on a particular shot, to avoid having to go down to a six iron. By forcing yourself to squeeze a few more yards out of your seven iron, you will cause your body to rush through the swing as it looks for more distance. Losing your rhythm is inevitable when you try to push beyond your limits, and the quality of your shots will degrade as a result. This isn't a problem that most people run into on the driving range, but it is a very real issue on the golf course itself. If you don't think you can hit a particular shot with a specific club by using 'normal' effort, you should strongly consider reaching for an extra club or picking a different target. Trying to go beyond your normal limits is a strategy that very rarely has a happy ending.
Golf is not an effort game. You can't simply try harder on the course in order to get better results. This is where many golfers, especially those who come from a background in other sports, go wrong. Sports like football and basketball can be put into the category of effort games. If you try harder, hustle more, play more aggressively, you can benefit in those sports. That is not the case in golf. Golf is a game about executing mechanics and holding your nerve. If you are able to hold up under pressure and execute the techniques that you have learned in practice, you will be successful. Plenty of golfers have had their games come undone on the course simply by trying too hard. Of course you want to play well, but the best way to do that is to stay within yourself and stick to the shots that you know you can hit successfully.
Knowing your limitations in golf doesn't mean you have to sell yourself short. You shouldn't look at every shot on the course and think 'I can't hit that shot', because keeping your confidence up is just as important and picking the right shots. However, knowing your limitations does mean that you need to prove to yourself in practice that you can hit certain shots before you try them on the course. This is another area where many players go wrong. If you can't hit a draw on the range, for example, you shouldn't try to hit one on the golf course.
When you start to think that you aren't swinging as well on the course as you are on the range, consider the kinds of shots you are trying to hit. Are you trying to pull off shots on the course that you have never even tried before? If so, you shouldn't be surprised that you are seeing disappointing results. You can't expect to alter your ball flight during the course of a round without any practice or preparation. Only the shots that you have been hitting on the practice range should be expected to translate into actual rounds of golf.
Staying within yourself is a fine line in golf. You want to have belief that you can hit the shots you need to produce good scores, but you also want to be realistic in your expectations. To improve your ability to walk this line, consider making a list of all of the shots that you can consistently execute on the range. For instance, you might feel comfortable with a slight fade as your main ball flight, while you can also produce a high draw and a low punch shot when necessary. If those are the only three shots you really feel like you can hit, then they will be the only three you reach for on the course. No matter what the situation is in front of you, it will be your job to find a way to use one of those shots successfully. Doing so will instantly improve your performance on the course, because you will only be trying to hit shots that have been practiced in advance.
When a football team needs to kick a field goal to win the game, why do they put the kicker in the game instead of the quarterback? Because the kicker has the skills necessary for the job. The quarterback would likely miss a field goal, and the kicker probably wouldn't throw very good passes. Playing to your strengths in important in all sports, and that definitely applies to golf. Use the shots that you know you can hit and you will start to find that your game is translating more successfully from range to course.
A Few Final Tips
The advice above should help you to do a better job of taking your driving range swing with you onto the course. Following are a few more tips that will hopefully push you even further in that direction –
- Pre-shot routine matters. Using a consistent pre-shot routine is a great way to get yourself into a rhythm that lasts throughout the round. Not only should you be using this routine on the course, you should also be putting it to use on the practice range. By doing the same routine prior to every single swing that you make, you will find it easier to execute your swing mechanics reliably.
- Play more golf. Those who hit balls on the driving range on a regular basis and only head out to the course from time to time will always have difficulty translating their skills. Try to spend more of your golf time on the course instead of on the range whenever possible. Of course practicing on the range is still important, but it should be balanced out by playing plenty of holes. When you play on the course, you learn things that just aren't learned on the range, such as how to deal with uneven lies or longer grass.
- Don't worry about impressing anyone. Some golfers are taken out of their rhythm simply because they are worried about making a good impression in front of the other players in their group. Don't allow this mindset to enter your game. It doesn't really matter what others think of your game – so go about your business and play to the best of your ability. In the end, the other people in your group probably aren't think about your game anyway, because they are too busy worrying about their own performance.
It will never be simple to take your game from the range to the course. However, with practice and the help of the advice contained in this article, you should be able to get a big step closer to the goal of swinging just as well on the course as you do on the range. Practice is only beneficial if it pays off in the way of better performance from the first tee to the last green, so work hard on making your driving range efforts carry over into the fairways of your favorite course.