Playing for practice
I know what you’re saying: “But Nick, playing IS practicing, right?”. Well, somewhat. Playing golf gets you more comfortable in situational golf, which is important to how well you play. First tee jitters, hitting out of the woods, or getting up & down from an awkward position are all examples of this, and can improve your score. Playing a round can also improve your decision making skills, as you have to think your way around the golf course to achieve a good score. Playing helps you become comfortable with golfing in less-than-perfect weather conditions, such as rain or high winds. This “situational” practice is great, but it may not drastically improve your score over time. There will be good days and bad days, but you will continue to hover around your average and not see a fundamental change. Once we’ve reached that plateau in golf, the only way to see this change is to practice deliberately, and with purpose.
Drive for show
It’s time to hit the range. You take your practice balls, hit ‘em in about 10 minutes, and hit 90% of them with your driver. Does that seem like a good way to practice? Instead, start small with a sand wedge and hit 20 balls of varying distance to specific targets. Visualize what you’re trying to do with each swing. Focus. Try to take note of what needs to happen in each swing in order to hit a good shot. How full do you need to swing to get the ball to go X yards? How do you need to swing to get the ball to go lower or higher? Practice these things through repetition. Have a goal with each swing. After the first 20 balls, move up a few clubs. I usually go sand wedge – 9 iron – 7 iron – 5 iron – 3 iron – 3 wood – Driver. Maybe one day all you want to hit is 7 iron? That’s fine too, and can be good practice to get used to certain clubs, but just make sure to hit with purpose. Get comfortable hitting golf shots, and develop consistency. Spending an hour per week on the driving range will go a long way towards gaining more confidence with your swing during a round.
Putt for doughIt’s odd to think that improving the short game will knock the most shots off your game, and yet the average player spends almost no time on the putting green. As a general rule, spend twice the amount of time on the putting green as you do on the driving range. Use this time to focus on developing a consistent stroke, and get comfortable over short putts. A great drill is to take 5 balls, and hit five 3 foot putts. If you make 4/5, move back a foot and repeat the drill. Continue this until you can no longer make any progress. This is great for developing consistency, and solidifying your putting stroke. Do this drill once or twice a week, and you’ll have nothing but confidence standing over those 5 footers. For chipping, focus on practicing from different lies. Toss balls into the air and play them as they lie. When hitting, focus on where you want the ball to land on the green to get it to finish rolling near the hole. Figure out how each lie affects the spin on the ball. Over time, you’ll be able to better determine what shot to hit from difficult green side lies. Always make sure to putt and chip for a few minutes before your round as well, so you get a good feel for the speed of the greens that day.
So playing, driving range work, and putting green practice all play a role in improving your score. Playing can help improve your score by testing your decision making skills on the golf course. Should I try to hit this through the 20 trees in front of me, or chip out into the fairway? Chipping out is probably the best bet, and that can only be learned through trial & error, and playing golf. The main goal behind practicing is consistency, and the only goal in golf is to get the ball in the hole. The golfer that knows where the ball is going to go has a distinct advantage in reaching that goal. Maybe you generally hit your driver about 220 yards, with a 15 yard slice / fade. It may not be the prettiest shot in the world, but if you can do that every time, you really don’t have a whole lot to worry about sitting in the fairway all day, do you? Practicing with repetition to develop consistency will drastically improve your golf score. Whether you can practice a few hours a week, or a half hour, focus on what you’re trying to accomplish with each shot / putt, and reap the rewards.