by Robert Bicknell
I watch people at the driving range almost every week and am constantly surprised at the amount of them who really have no idea how to actually practice. Let me give you a tip – hitting balls endlessly with a 7-iron isn’t how you get better on the golf course.
Even worse, most of them don’t spend any time at all at the practice green working on putting, chipping and pitching. Or bunker practice.
Then they have the nerve to look surprised when they get on the course and don’t see any improvement.
First of all, you need to understand how the brain works…
As the brain is amazingly complicated, it gets bored very quickly. You might think that hitting 50 balls in a row with a 7-iron will help groove your swing, it’s not really doing much for your overall game. After the first 10 balls, the brain has pretty much checked out and is not paying attention anymore. It’s bored.
Oh, and by the way, there is no such thing as “muscle memory.” Muscles don’t have memories. That is your brain working.
So, to keep the brain involved, you need to change your club and target every few shots. Otherwise, enter sandman, brain goes beddie bye.
Secondly, you need to create a sense of importance with every shot. At the driving range, if you miss a shot you simply pull another ball out of the tray and whack it. There are no consequences for a miss. This doesn’t help you when you’re on the course and have to hit that shot under pressure.
There are many drills we do for the short game which force a player to deal with pressure. Phil Mickelson, for example, forces himself to make 100 3-foot putts in a row. Miss one and he has to start again. So, imagine you’re really hungry and you’ve made 90 putts in a row. Those last 10 will make you sweat because if you miss one, back to the beginning.
When young and practicing golf, I never left the practice bunker until I holed a shot. When chipping, I didn’t leave until I holed one from each of the three different distances.
The same applies when hitting full shots at the range. I would “play” holes from memories of my favorite and least favorite courses. For example, on one hole, I knew it was usually a left-to-right fade driver, then a high draw 8-iron to the green, so I would hit those two shots according to the flight pattern I wanted and would estimate how close to the actual result I wanted. If I missed my targets by more than three yards, I had to “play” it again.
There are always good choices of targets at the driving range to help you do this.
If I missed the flagstick target with the 8-iron by more than 1-2 yards, I considered it a failure and hit another shot as a pitch to a short 10 or 25 yard green. I considered it either a par or a bogey depending on how close to the flag I was.
There are many different ways to practice which will not bore you. But I can tell you that the shots you mindlessly hit at the driving range don’t come anywhere close to what you will do on the course for the exact reasons I mentioned…
There’s pressure on the range, but when on the golf course you know you have one shot at it and if you miss par goes out the window.
A friend of mine used to penalize himself one dollar for every three-foot putt he missed on the practice green. The difference was he put his own money on the line and whatever he lost to himself went into the charity box in the clubhouse.
Trust me when I say this really forces you to focus and treat each putt seriously.
The difference between practicing to improve and practicing just for the sake of practice comes down to dedication and how bad you want it. There is no doubt that stroking putts for an hour or two under pressure will wear you out, but this is the price you pay to reach your goals.
There is no substitute for hard work. — VNS