How to make your golf practice time infinitely more effective

Shane is a local golf pro here on the Sunshine Coast. He was referred to me by another client and we’ve had a lesson and a couple of games of golf.

In fact, we played the other day and I thoroughly enjoyed it because,

  • It was only my second game of the year and it was good to get out and swing the sticks.
  • Shane is obviously a very good player and I enjoy the challenge (I have gotten as much out of these games as he has)
  • He’s making improvements and it’s good to watch.
  • He’s a good guy. Isn’t too serious and is willing to learn (the ideal client)

But like most of us Shane still has a way to go. He’s not completely happy and at times is leaving shots out there.

Shane: I’m playing OK. Hitting the ball so much better and more consistently. I’m actually performing brilliantly in practice but not always so well on the course. And it’s getting a little frustrating.

Me: This is a sure sign that you need to alter your practice regime. If you’re working hard on your game but not happy with the results, then it’s time to change things up a little.

In the rest of the article I’ll share some of my best ideas for getting the most of your practice time. More importantly, I’ll help you make sure that you’re not wasting time and you actually see improvement.

Let’s go. No more stuffing around.

Listen. The very best golf practice session will have two things going for it.

Number one is relevance. This is obviously important because if you want to say, improve your driving, your best bet is to be swinging your driving club. This might seem obvious but a lot of practice and training ideas miss the mark. Many of the training tips and drills you see in the golf magazines fall into the non-relevant category. They look all fancy pants and all, but they don’t really help with your mission to play better golf.

Number two is frequency. All things being equal, the more often you perform the motion the better you’ll become at it. This also sounds obvious but there are a few things to be aware of that I’ll discuss in more detail below.

OK. Are you with me? I now want to discuss four practice concepts, from the worst to the very best.

The Worst Way To Practice Your Golf Game: Is to sit on the couch and do nothing. I add this because the vast majority of humans are lazy and are looking for the easy option. Many industries are built on the back of a person’s reluctance to get out of first gear. So the world is full of people who watch too much TV and spend far too long checking their Facebook updates. So we’re surrounded by gimmicks and quick-fixes that promise instant success. These types of products are aimed at the lazy and misguided.

Here’s the thing. If you want to improve your golf game you’ve got to get off the couch. You have to get outside and swing the club. You’ve got to play the game. Unfortunately, and it doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read or golf instructional videos you’ve watched, doing “nothing” fails both the relevance and frequency tests by a long way.

Another point: You might learn some good things watching the pros on TV but you’ll do even better if you take this new knowledge and apply it. Thinking alone doesn’t work too well.

The Driving Range: Hitting balls at the driving range is certainly way better than doing nothing. But it comes second last as the most effective way to practice your golf game.

Why? Because, for the most part, the driving range is a horrible place. They’re sterile, fake and not really like the golf course at all. How often have you played a shot on the golf course that resembles a hitting bay from the driving range?

The good news is that the driving range gives you frequency. There’s no stopping how many balls you can hit in a short time. You can go crazy if you really want but because the relevance isn’t there, sadly, you’re only getting exercise. Not improvement.

I haven’t used a driving range for years and I can honestly say I haven’t missed them. They are good for warming up, but not so good if you’re looking for long lasting golfing success.

Playing golf: By “playing golf” I refer to when you tee up the ball and try and shoot the best score possible. And it’s not a bad option when it comes to improving your game. It is certainly relevant and in my mind it’s a long way better than the previous two.

Playing golf has one downfall. You’re not really getting enough frequency. You only get to hit one ball from the one spot and there’s lots of time between shots. If you’re the kind of golfer who is able to play 3 or 4 times per week, but still find you’re not getting any better (or maybe worse) you’re probably falling victim to the lack of frequency.

The bottom line is you’re simply not hitting enough balls to make any significant gain.

So what is the best way to practice golf?

Before I give my viewpoint I need to remind you that I’m talking about golf practice here. Don’t be fooled into thinking too much about performance (score, handicap, results etc) when you practice. Learning, exploring and having fun are most important. In fact, if you’re learning, exploring and having fun, performance usually happens quite naturally.

The best way to practice golf is to practice of the golf course. This is by far the best way because you’re getting relevance and frequency. In the good old days, before the introduction of driving ranges, this was how people improved their game. Here’s how it typically works.

You venture out onto the course by yourself. You tee the ball up and give it a good thump. And because you’re by yourself and presumably the course is quiet, you’re now able to hit another ball. In a perfect world you could hit a different club or attempt an altered ball flight e.g. a draw instead of a slice. And then you move on.

And you can repeat this process for the duration of your session. Each time you stuff up a shot or want to try something different, you can plonk another ball down and try again. There’s no limit, you’re free to let your imagination run wild as you attempt all sorts of different shots with all of your clubs.

For a long time I’ve been telling golfers they need to be brave enough to try something new. That they’ve gotta step out of first gear and get creative. And there’s no better time than when you’re out on the golf course by yourself. Now is the time to let go and play how you really want. Here are some ideas:

  • Try some different options on a shot that typically gives you a hard time
  • Hit lots of different pitch and chip shots from around the greens
  • Try all sorts of recovery shots
  • Play from the back tees
  • Play from the front tees
  • Go and retry the shot you stuffed up last week

Remember, the score isn’t the important thing here. What is important is relevance and frequency.

The golf course is where the magic lives. Get out there and start taking your game to a whole new level. The more you practice on the golf course the more comfortable you’ll be when it’s time to play and when the scorecard is in your back pocket.

Now for some homework.

I want you to think about the best players you know. And I’m talking about the guys (or girls) who have been great players for a long time. Do they practice at the driving range? Or do they play a lot and practice a little differently from the rest?

When I think back to all the golfers that have inspired me they have all spent way more time on the golf course, rather than the driving range. They have used the golf course as their learning ground and this is how it should be.

One more thing: Sometimes the driving range is easier and more convenient. Your mission then is to make these sessions as much like the golf course as you can. Keep thinking about relevance and you’ll do much much better.

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