The Minimalist Guide to Golf Practice

Chances are you hate to practice your golf game. I don’t blame you if you do.

It can be annoying to drag yourself to the practice fairway and hit balls. You can lose focus, get tired and ultimately forget why you went there in the first place. From what I see at my club, many of the members are getting exercise rather than practice anyway. While it’s better to be doing something over nothing there must be a better way.

So this post is about helping you to get more from your practice time. Hopefully it can make it a tad more exciting for you too.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Playing golf is practicing:[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

I still don’t get why almost everyone tries to separate play from practice. If you’re out in the fresh air, walking the course, hitting some shots, and having a good time then this is golf practice. It might just be the best kind of practice you’ll get.

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  • Actually playing the game
  • Hitting shots (fade, low, hook etc)
  • Simulating the real deal (the driving range is a horrible learning environment in my opinion)
  • Learning new shots each time you play
  • Learning the course
  • Less likely to get distracted by swing thoughts and technique
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The bottom line is playing golf is more fun. So you’re more likely to do it and the more you do the better you’ll get. Pretty simple.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Swinging in the backyard:[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

If you don’t have enough time to get to the course then a few minutes of swinging in the backyard can do wonders. You don’t even need to hit balls. The act of swinging will keep your muscles in good shape and if you do it properly you’ll learn a thing or two as well.

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  • Give each swing your full attention. Can you feel your grip, stance and swing? Can you hear the club swooshing? Can you smell the grass clippings/divot? This is the time to wake up and be aware of what is going on.
  • You only need to do this for a few minutes. Any longer and you’ll get distracted and start working on crap that probably won’t help.
  • Vary your club every other day. 7 iron is a good starting place but mix it up. Driver, 9 iron, 3iron, 7 iron, pitch shots. It’s up to you but be prepared to learn a lot. Could be the best 3 or 4 minutes you can spend.
  • Learning to feel the clubhead from start to finish will do more for your golf game then almost any new club, golf lesson or quick tip you’ll find.
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[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Putting at home:[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

While this typically can be a little boring, here’s a routine that should keep you interested long enough so you’ll see some positive results.

Successful putting has less to do with skill and talent and more to do with keeping out of your own way. When you try and steer the ball into the hole or “hit and hope” you’re going to be in trouble. If you can learn to pull the trigger with confidence, even when you’re nervous, then you’re going to see some great results. Your golfing buddies might even think you’ve got nerves of steel.

The trick is to train yourself to do it. You can’t just read about it or hope you’ll magically start putting better – you need a formula. Here’s one that really works.

Set yourself up with a straight forward putt. It doesn’t need to be too long and it doesn’t really matter if you’re putting on the carpet, rug, tiles or over the dog. The goal here is to develop a routine that’s going to work under the pump – you’re not working stroke mechanics or anything like that.

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  • When you walk to the ball you need to focus your eyes on the ball, not the target.
  • You need to get set first. Do not look at the target when you’re getting set-up over the ball
  • Once set you can take a peek at the target. Just a peek. And this is to ensure you haven’t had any alignment malfunctions.
  • Start the putt. Your awareness is on the club head (not on anything else). If you can feel the putter in your hands then you’re in great shape.
  • When you reach the end of your backswing say “back” to yourself. This is important and will require some discipline. Did you know discipline is the first level of concentration?
  • When you hit the ball say “stroke” to yourself. You need to be focused here as you may lose concentration and not feel/hear impact.
  • Repeat the “back:stroke” drill for a few minutes each week.
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Your putting should become nothing more than an exercise in “back:stroke”. This is pure automation and will unlock your full putting putting potential. It works for all putts and will definitely stop the three-putting and those awkward misses.

When you can do this for 20 putts in a row with full attention and awareness you can take this routine to the course. It gets a little harder on the course because you’ve got a scorecard in your pocket and all sorts of other distractions. But your job is to have the discipline to focus on your routine on each putt.

Feel free to add you own flair as you see fit. Practice strokes, waggles and looks at the target are variables you can mess around with. If you can learn to own this routine your putting will definitely improve. Please report back here with your findings.

Bonus tip: Repeat with your chipping game and your scores will never be the same again. I should add here that any practice you can do on your short-game is well spent. Especially chipping and short pitch shots.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Net practice:[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

What you may not know about me is I was once very close to walking away from the game. I became so fed up with golf that it got the better of me. I was frustrated and trying so hard to play well that I really did hate the game and couldn’t care less. It wasn’t a pretty time.

But I got my mojo back by recommitting to the automatic process and getting things into perspective. I stopped thinking so much about technical swing garbage (swing crack) and made a point to swing in a way that felt good to me. I started hitting the ball my way.

And I did this by hitting balls at home. My bro made a super whiz bang net and I invested in a top of the range synthetic mat. It was the perfect set-up and allowed me to hit ball after ball without distraction. Here are some guidelines that worked well for me;

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  • DO NOT THINK ABOUT YOUR TECHNIQUE. At least for not long periods of time.
  • Focus your attention on the club or your body. Really feel the swing. Go deep.
  • Short and sharp sessions work well. When I was really keen I would hit balls for a few minutes in the morning and repeat at night. There were very few loooooong sessions – nothing more than 20 minutes.
  • Don’t be shy to go where it feels good to you. If this means an open stance then go for it. I actually mastered a draw with my irons and a fade with my driver. (I have since gotten away from this and need to recommit again)
  • Rate shots on a scale on 1 – 10. Because you can’t see the ball you have to rely on your feelings. This is good and you may just surprise yourself at how quickly and how often you get 9 and 10’s.
  • Be prepared for some weird stuff to happen. Many times I got completely lost in what I was doing and had such heightened awareness of my swing it was strange. Learn to embrace this. This is deep practice and I’m sure most people have never been here.
  • Ideal to warm up before playing. Especially if you live near the golf course.
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In recent years I’ve become a huge fan of the Almost Golf Ball. This ball makes at home practice so easy. The ball is lightweight but gives you plenty of feedback just like a real ball. They are brilliant for net practice because they won’t damage or go through a net. This is good news for your neighbours and for your pocket. With a cheap net, mat and a few Almost Golf Balls, you’ve got an ideal learning environment at home. Set up the net in the backyard or garage and you’re good to go.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Walking and ball:[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

This might seem a bit strange but walking and bouncing a tennis ball is good practice. It sorta simulates what you’re doing on the golf course – after a while you’ll notice that you can bounce and catch the ball without thinking about it. This is what you want to do on the golf course. You’re walking around and just hitting the ball. The hitting part happens naturally – at least that’s the plan.

It’s good exercise too and the perfect time for contemplation. I used to do this daily for 45 minutes when I lived out in Melbourne’s east. During those walks I dreamed up all sorts of things but the big one was the concept of Automatic Golf and this website.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Summary:[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

Practice doesn’t need to be boring and it definitely doesn’t always need to involve a golf ball and the course. If you’re really brave you’ll have the courage to walk your own path and find ways that stimulate you and your golf development. There are no rules when what you do feels good and you’re having fun.

Some extra guidelines for better practice;

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  • Short and sharp sessions will work better. You’ll be better focused and less likely to get bored. Boredom results in exercise, not improvement.
  • Playing might be the best practice of all. Grab your clubs and a scorecard and go play.
  • Can you do something everyday? Even a few minutes will surprise you.
  • You’ll almost always get huge breakthroughs when you can stop thinking so much about your technique (and trying to control it) and become more aware of your movements and surroundings.
  • Make it fun. Be different. Walk your own path.
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Leave your thoughts below and I’d like to hear your favourite practice routine.

Resources:

Get some Almost Golf Balls. These really are a fantastic golf learning tool. They come with my strongest recommendation.

Get my book. Learn more about golf practice and automating your golf game.

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12 Comments

  • iain edwards

    Reply Reply August 7, 2012

    hi cameron – great a advice on practice ben hogan took 10 years hitting balls all day to get where he did !!!! what chance do we have ?

    re learning putting the automatic way

    at home
    ist drill — ignore all body positions and allow automatic swing

    1. put an upside down tea cup on the ground which will deflect the ball
    2. stand with the left foot just beyond the cup
    3. ball near the right foot
    4. look at cup / look at ball and swing softly .
    5. the ball will be deflected off the cup to a new position .
    6. realign quickly IGNORE the position of feet and swing immediately –
    7. if putt is perfect the ball bounces straight off the cup in a new position and tap it back to the cup .
    8. realign quickly and swing
    9 practice aiming so putt hits cup at the sideof cup and deflects to side

    9. SWING SOFTLY so ball is not deflected more than 2 ft .. repeat as fast as you can – count how many hits you can do -without missing the cup

    in about 10 mins you will be hitting 40- 50 hits in a row untill you get tired .
    then you will notice you dont even seem to be looking at the ball !!

    drill 2.
    repeat with ball 3 feet from cup- but left foot will be short of cup as ball is further from cup .

    drill 3. back to target
    reset the ball 2 ft from cup
    1. stand with both feet parallel with ball next to left foot and back to the target !!!
    2. look at the ball at target an swing- you will be amazed that you hit the cup .
    3. realign quickly and swing again
    4. repeat a many as you can without missing as quickly as possible

    drill 4.
    move ball 3 ft from cup and repeat back to the target swing.

    practice for 10 mins / day do each drill for 1 minute

    very quickly the hand eye coordination will improve to the point you hardly miss the cup within 4 ft untill you get tired

    if aliment is so important how do you hit the target with the back to the ball ,and feet not aligned

    on course – assess where you want to hit the ball
    align and swing as per cameron – you will be amazed.
    do the drill for 10 mins before a game to warm up and get in the automatic mode .

    iain edwards

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply August 7, 2012

      Thanks Iain for sharing your thoughts.

  • allan kenny

    Reply Reply August 7, 2012

    Cam the penny has dropped i never liked swining without ball as you dont see result,its not seeing but feeling is this correct Allan

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply August 7, 2012

      Allan: Yes, you can give the eyes and brain a rest and feel the swing. This will take some practice but will ultimately give you some great results.

  • Rourkus

    Reply Reply August 7, 2012

    I try and have a short spell in the garage morning and night although I cannot seem to shut my thoughts down, I have tried singing, counting and swearing at the ball I just struggle to shut off mentally, any thoughts??

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply August 7, 2012

      Rourkus: It will take some discipline. Don’t fight the thoughts, let them come and then go. Don’t give them too much meaning or attention. In time you’ll find them slowly down. If you struggle in the garage with your thoughts then it’s gunna be tough on the golf course 🙂 Let me know how you get on.

      Cam

  • Jeff Reuter

    Reply Reply August 7, 2012

    Great advice, Cameron
    I used to rock up to the course approx 45 minutes before tee time and wear myself out trying to hit too many balls in the nets — couldn’t see what the ball was doing and it became just a task to do rather than something to enjoy. I now get to the course about the same time but just get through a few swings and a chat with my mates while getting comfortable with myself and loosening up some of the muscles that do the work. I now get on the 1st tee feeling pretty calm and ready to play. My scores are improving as a result!!

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply August 7, 2012

      Great stuff Jeff. This is more in line with what I do. Sometimes I hit balls sometimes not. I rarely hit the putting green and my favourite is a few swings in the net to warm up. By the time I get to the tee I’m ready to play. Whatever I do I really just focus on playing the game and not worrying too much about what happened on the fairway – it’s not relevant. Thanks for posting.

  • Grayden Provis

    Reply Reply August 7, 2012

    Cam: can you explain some more about why you like the “back/stroke” routine? It seems to be the complete opposite of what I understand to be the rules of “automatic” …ie it puts the attention back on stroke when I thought we were always trying to get AWAY from stroke (?) [you’re always miles ahead of me so I know this will just be my lack of understanding as usual but hey, I’ve gotta ask :-)]

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply August 8, 2012

      GP: To do the drill properly you need fantastic awareness on the clubhead. When you can feel the clubhead you can do anything. You are not trying to manipulate the stroke or do something different – simply feeling what is going on. This is key.

      The words are sort of irrelevant – you could say anything. The awareness is not negotiable. With so many golfers blind/asleep it helps to wake you up and get your attention where it should be.

      Tim Gallwey first introduced this idea in his awesome book, the Inner Game of Golf. Worth a read if you haven’t seen it.

  • Ronnie Kirkman

    Reply Reply August 8, 2012

    Cameron

    WOW! The putting stroke…..Back/stroke works great….tried it on the practice green and took it to the course…Five one putts…3 birdies…NNNO 3 putts…What a Great tip

    Thanks!

    Ronnie

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply August 8, 2012

      Thanks Ronnie. The only thing I’ll add is that it’s not really a “tip”. A lot more powerful than that – it’s all about helping you with concentration and staying in the moment. To me, a tip is more a trick and has a short lifespan. Thanks for sharing.

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