Some folks insist that golfers aren't true athletes, but in fact the golf swing is a highly complex series of motions, requiring precision coordination and timing of all major muscle groups.
Put another way, the swing is a series of motor skills that take time and repetition to develop. Because our ability to learn new motor skills peaks during the teenage years, that's the ideal time to take up the game. Even then, you may want to alter those skills at a later age. And what about those who start golf in their 30s, 40s or beyond?
Fortunately, there's hope for any non-teen who wants to improve an old swing or start from scratch.
The best way to do this is to break your practice into two types: blocked and random. (In fact, this is a great way to practice if you're happy with the swing you've got.) To explain:
- Blocked practice: When you work on golf drills, then hit a series of shots with specific clubs to specific targets, that's blocked practice. This helps build and ingrain the fundamental movements of the swing.
- Random practice: As the name implies, random practice involves changing clubs and targets on each swing, emulating play on the course. This is a powerful way to develop the thinking processes used during an actual round, and to translate blocked practice skills to account for the game's many variables.
Practice to Improve Your Golf Motor Skills
To improve in the game of golf, you need to practice. Is that breaking news? No – not so much. You probably know that you need to practice in order to play better golf, but do you know why? Many golfers don't understand exactly how they will benefit by spending hours on the driving range and practice putting green. As a result, those same players decide to do something else with their time. Only when you gain an understanding of just how important it is to practice your golf game on a regular basis will you be willing to put in the effort necessary to move your game forward.
In this article, we are going to explore the various ways in which you can improve your golf game through practice. Understanding why practice can make you a better player will not only serve to give you motivation, but it will also help to point you in the right direction when you arrive at the course for a practice session. Many golfers wander around the range and short game area, not quite sure what to work on. This is a waste of time – and time is not something you can afford to waste on your way toward a better golf game. Golf is extremely difficult, and you are going to have to be disciplined and focused if you wish to improve.
One thing that you should do right away if you are serious about better golf is to find a good practice facility near your home. When looking for somewhere to practice, proximity to either your home or your office is one of the top priorities. By finding somewhere close by to practice, you will be far more likely to work on your game regularly. If your preferred driving range is a 30-minute drive from your house, on the other hand, it is unlikely you will go very often. Check online for all local golf facilities and pick out one which is within a reasonable distance of your day to day routine.
In addition to proximity, you also need to find a facility which offers both a driving range and a short game practice area. It is just as important to practice your short game as your long game, which is why you need a facility that offers both opportunities. Heading to a driving range-only facility might help you to improve your swing, but your scores will not improve because your short game will be left behind. Most golf courses offer at least a putting green, and many have a chipping green as well. As an added bonus, these features are frequently free to use. Put in plenty of time on both your long game and short game in order to improve your game as a whole.
All of the instruction 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.
There are certain skills in the game of golf which are required for quality play. While every golfer goes about the game in his or her own unique way, all players need to have some basic skills in order to keep up on the course. These skills can be considered the 'building blocks' of your game. The only way to develop these skills is through practice, as you will hit far more shots during a practice session than you will ever hit on the course. The following list includes some of the building block abilities you will develop through consistent, focused practice.
- Finding the sweet spot. The ability to contact the ball with the sweet spot of your club is something that you can only develop through practice. With the club moving at a high speed, and the sweet spot being rather small, there is a tremendous amount of coordination involved in hitting the ball cleanly. In fact, even professional golfers miss the sweet spot on a great number of their shots during the average round. Simply by hitting ball after ball on the range, you can gradually improve on your gold coordination. It will slowly become easier and easier to find the sweet spot as you can experience with a club in your hands. The feeling of hitting the sweet spot is addictive, so having a little bit of success on this point is only going to motivate you to come back for more.
- Staying on balance. You need to be balanced if you are going to make good golf swings. Of course, this is not an easy task, as your body is going to be rotating quickly in order to accelerate the club into impact. Your ability to stay balanced while still making an aggressive swing should improve with experience. Specifically, you need to hit plenty of long shots on the range to work on your balance with the big clubs. Many amateur golfers struggle with balance when they start to hit clubs like the driver and three wood, so spend time working on this skill. As your balance improves, you will find that you are able to swing even harder without being pulled away from your center.
- Controlling short game distance. One of the most important skills in the game of golf is controlling the distance of your short game shots. Whether putting or chipping, you need to be able to hit the ball the right distance time after time – and that skill is only going to come along if you practice. While you do need to have solid mechanics in the short game to hit good shots, much of your distance control comes down to feel. The feel you have for the club as it swings will determine how well you control speed, and that feel will only improve with repetition. Make sure to include a putting and chipping portion in each practice session so you can take this part of your game to a new level.
- It's all about tempo. A good tempo can take you a long way in the game of golf. This is one of those things that can't really be taught, however – you need to discover the right tempo for your game all on your own. Again here, you will be able to improve on this point through sheer repetition. Hitting ball after ball on the range is going to help you settle into a natural rhythm which works for your swing. You may not even have to think much about this point as you practice – it should start to fall into place automatically. When you head out onto the course, your swing should be far more reliable thanks to the tempo you have established on the range.
One of the nice things about practicing golf is the fact that many of your improvements will take place automatically, in the background. Things like tempo and the ability to find the sweet spot will improve whether you are working on them or not. Just like riding a bike, you are going to get better at golf just by hitting more balls, rolling more putts, and playing more rounds. Experience is impossible to replace in this game. To take big steps toward lower scores, get out there and build your experience one shot at a time!
Full Swing Practice Tips
While the simple act of hitting full shots on the range will help your golf motor skills tremendously, there are a few specific things you can do while practicing to gain an even greater benefit. If you incorporate the points below into your practice habits, your improvements in this game should be accelerated. Remember, even while you are working hard on developing your skills, you should be having fun at the same time – it is a game, after all.
- Always have a target. At its heart, golf is a target game. Every shot you hit should have a specific target, and that is true whether you are on the course or practicing on the range. When on the driving range, it is easy to fall into the habit of just swinging away without having a specific target in mind. Don't make that mistake. You should always be practicing your target-hitting skills, as you aren't really going to make progress if you don't work on your aim. From your wedges all the way up to the driver, pick out a target and make sure you are aimed correctly before starting the swing. It might take a bit longer to work through a bucket of balls this way, but your efforts will be rewarded in the end.
- Take your time. Along the same lines as the previous point, it is important to take your time between swings if you are actually going to make progress on the range. Many golfers fire through an entire bucket of practice balls in just a few minutes – which is no way to improve on your skills. Treat the shots you hit on the range the same way you would treat any shot you hit on the course. After each swing, take a step back to collect yourself before starting again. Even if this means you hit less total balls in the end, the balls you do hit will be productive in terms of sharpening your skills. Also, you will be less likely to tire out physically when you take your time, so the swings you make at the end of your practice session should be just as beneficial as those at the beginning.
- Switch clubs frequently. At no point during a round of golf are you going to hit your driver ten times in a row. So why would you during practice? You shouldn't – get into a habit of changing clubs frequently while on the practice range. It is okay to hit two or three balls in a row with the same club if you are working on a technical point of some kind, but try not to go far beyond that point. Even if you set your driver down for one wedge swing, for example, breaking up the pattern will make your practice sessions more realistic. The ability to switch between clubs back and forth is essential to playing good golf, so make sure this method is part of your practice process.
- Create shapes. Even if you think this last point is beyond your current skill level, it is still worthwhile to attempt to create a couple different shot shapes during your practice sessions. For instance, if you tend to hit a fade with your normal swing, try to draw the ball a few times with one of your longer clubs. These shots might not come off perfectly, but that isn't the point – you are simply trying to educate yourself on how the club works and how various shots are produced. The more experimenting you do on the range, the more adept you will become at creating a variety of shots on the course.
The main goal when practicing your swing on the driving range should be to have your practice sessions mimic the on-course experience to the greatest extent possible. Take some time between your swings, always pick a target, and switch back and forth between clubs frequently. If you can hit on these points, your overall level of golf skill will have nowhere to go but up.
Short Game Practice Tips
Just as was the case above with your full swing, you need to make sure you are being efficient with your short game practice. It is easy to drop a few balls onto the putting green randomly for a bit of putting practice, but that strategy might not help you get to the next level. It would be a shame to waste the time you put in on short game practice, so use the tips below to make sure you are being productive.
- Sharpen you distance control. As was mentioned earlier in the article, the ability to control your distance in the short game is one of the essential skills for shooting low scores. It only follows, then, that you should spend a fair amount of your practice time working on the skill of controlling the distance of your ball. One way to do this is to work on long putts across the length of the putting green. Find a path across the green which isn't going to interfere with anyone else's practice putting and roll a few balls from one end to the other. If you can do this back and forth for a few minutes, your feel will naturally begin to improve. Make a habit of hitting some long putts toward the start of every practice session to improve your lag putting skill in future rounds.
- Close your eyes. That's right – close your eyes. One of the best ways to enhance your feel on and around the greens is to take your vision out of the equation. After setting up for a short practice putt, close your eyes and then stroke the ball toward the hole. You will gain a much better feel for the putter without the ability to look down at the ball while you make the stroke. This is not a technique that you are likely to take with you out onto the course, but it can do wonders for your feel overall. Hit a few putts with your eyes closed before opening them back up to continue your practice session.
- Chip from bad lies. When you decide to work on the chipping portion of your short game, don't give yourself a great lie for every shot. It isn't that hard to develop your chipping skill from a clean fairway lie – the challenge is found in the rough. Drop several balls into tough lies around the chipping green and learn how to get out of these tough situations. You never quite know what kind of lie you are going to find on the course, so simulate as many different situations as possible in practice. Your skill for moving the ball out of the rough and onto the green will improve with each repetition you complete.
- Engage in friendly competition. One of the often-overlooked skills you need to play good golf is the ability to hold up under pressure. If you are unable to perform at a high level when you feel nervous, you will never be able to finish off your rounds successfully. To learn how to play under pressure, try to setup some friendly competitions on the practice putting green. Ask a friend to engage in a putting competition of some type – it doesn't particularly matter what kind of rules you set up for the game. Once your competitive drive kicks in, you will feel the pressure as you attempt to win the match. This experience might not seem like a big deal, but it will help you play your best the next time you get nervous during a round.
The short game is just as important as the long game, so you need to divide your practice time evenly if you are going to be successful. Your motor skills related to the short game will progress quickly as long as you focus during practice sessions. Armed with a well-rounded short game, lower scores are likely to be in your future.
Like any skill you develop in life, your golf game will deteriorate if left alone for a long period of time. You need to practice regularly if you wish to maintain or improve your performance going forward. While you probably can't dedicate time each day to practice like the pros, you should be able to carve out enough time to stay on track toward a brighter golf future.
Depending on where you happen to live, it may or may not be possible to play golf throughout the year. However, even if you live in a cold winter location, you should still be able to hit some balls at a year-round practice facility. Most areas have either outdoor heated ranges, or an indoor range at the very least. Either way, try to schedule a weekly trip to your local range during the off-season to avoid losing the skills you have worked so hard to develop. While you might not make much progress toward improvement by only practicing once per week, you should be able to avoid a decline. When the season rolls back around, your swing will be in good shape and you can hit the ground running.
Fitness is an important part of keeping your golf game sharp as well, as there are specific physical demands placed by the golf swing which are hard to replicate any other way. Do your best to keep yourself in adequate physical condition throughout the year, as this is good for both your golf game and your overall health. Of course, you should always check with a doctor before starting in on any new fitness routine.
Even if you can't get out to physically work on your golf game, you can make progress simply by sitting down at your desk to think about how you are going to play when the season rolls back around. The brain is an important muscle to have on your side in the game of golf, and it needs exercise just like the rest of your muscles. Write down a game plan for your favorite course and think about ways you could improve on the way you attack each hole. Professional golfers frequently do this kind of planning, and you should think the same way.
There is no doubt that golf is an extremely difficult game. It is hard to learn, and it is hard to improve as you go. However, it is possible to get better, especially if you are dedicated to the process. Use the advice contained in this article to improve your golf motor skills and you should be able to find lower scores waiting just around the corner. Good luck!