Better Practice Equals Better Results
by Rob Krieger, PGA Director of Instruction
The game of golf is like any other activity in which someone aspires to get better and improve their performance – to do so, practice is required. Practice can be fun and productive, but struggling while practicing or practicing without a purpose can lead to frustrating results on the course. As you commit yourself to becoming the golfer you would like to be, there are countless drills and ways to improve your performance, and some tried and true strategies can help you reach that goal.
This is the first area that will help your game. A good pre-shot routine should be between 8-12 seconds and should always follow the same sequence of motions each time for every shot, without exception. Start by writing out everything you do in your routine before you hit the ball and then practice it repeatedly until you get the correct order down. A routine puts your body into a state of readiness and focus to execute a given shot. If the time is too long getting ready for the shot, the body can lose focus and tighten up which will negatively effect your performance. Practicing this part of your game may not seem glamorous, but it will improve your game.
If your problem is missing short putts, try these two ideas: First, try looking only at the hole while you make your stroke. How many times have you walked up to a putt and knocked it in without a lot of thought? We have all done it without thinking about it, so try it intentionally and you may be pleasantly surprised. The other drill you can use to improve your short putting woes is to set up to putt and squeeze the putter as hard as you can. Yes, as hard as you can. Make your stroke squeezing the life out of the putter, and roll the ball to the hole. This works on the premise that most short putts are missed when you have a last second fear of missing the putt. The hands change their grip pressure moving from relaxed to being tight, resulting in the putter moving off the target line or changing the angle of the clubface at impact. The key to putting is keeping consistent grip pressure regardless if it is light or tight. Make your grip pressure consistent and putts will go where you want them to go.
For distance control issues, practice putting long putts while looking at the hole too. This will help by taking your focus off mechanics and letting the body feel the putt. Another great way to practice long putts is called the S-L-I Drill. Take three balls and putt the first ball only 75% of the way to the hole (“S”hort). For the next ball, pick a spot 10 feet past the hole and hit it there (“L”ong). For the last ball, putt the ball between (“I”n between) the first two, right where the hole is located. Do this drill when warming up before playing to get a feel for the green speed. You will develop a feel for your putting stroke and great distance control ensuring fewer putts. Sometimes distance control can be more important than being accurate, so start practicing being an SLI putter.
If you can putt, you can chip. Pushing the ball along the ground (as in putting) is the same motion needed for chipping except you use a club with a ramp, otherwise known as loft. Try placing 90% of your weight on your front foot and using an iron with a good amount of loft (PW, AW or SW). Make a stroke striking the ball and brushing the turf in front of the ball.
A popular question is always, “What club should be used?” That is not an easy one to answer because it depends on so many variables. For some, using the same club for all your chips (usually a pitching wedge or sand wedge) will be fine. To practice, try chipping three balls, just like the SLI putting drill but you don’t have to use a hole. Just chip one ball short, one long, and try to place one in between them. See how many times you can do it in a row or from different distances and lies. Also, place some tees at two, three, four, and five feet around the hole and see how many balls you can get in the circles with each circle having different amount of points – one point for five feet, two for four, three for three, four for two feet, and five points for sinking it in the hole.
The biggest difference between chipping and pitching is that the ball goes farther and the club head gets above the knees in the pitching swing. This is one of the most popular drills taught by the top teachers in the world: try taking either head covers or towels and placing them under your armpits and swinging the club from waist-high going back to waist-high coming through, keeping the items under your arms and not letting them fall out. Keep your feet closer together as you do this drill so you can feel the rotation of your upper torso leading your arms. The pace of your swing should not be greater than half your normal swing speed. Try all your clubs taking the same pace swing and swing length and mark down the distances the ball goes and try using that same swing and club on the course for better results.
Making better contact with the ball will help produce a better shot. Many of the Tour players practice making good contact first before concentrating on direction and distance, so give it a try. Tee-up a ball low to the ground and concentrate on striking the ball and then taking a divot in front of the ball. If done correctly, the tee will still be in the same place after the shot. The golf ball is to be struck before the turf, not at the same time, and certainly not after. A crisp sound and feel should be noticed immediately, and distance should increase as well. Start with shorter and slower swings and work up to full swings until you are comfortable and making solid contact. Once you are making consistent contact, try to hit some draws/hooks and then some fades/slices and then something fairly straight. Mix up your shot shapes instead of just trying the same shot over and over, and never lose track of good contact. Shorten up the swing and slow down if that happens.
Drivers & Distance
Clubs today are manufactured to hit the ball farther than even five years ago. It is amazing how the new technology has helped so many improve their games as well as maintain their performance. However, the club still needs someone to swing it the right way so it can produce the desired result. Try this: tee-up a ball a little higher than normal and play the ball off the heel of the front foot. Put 90% of your weight on your back foot, and tilt your front shoulder higher than your back shoulder. Your goal is to aim at the underbelly of the ball, catching the ball on the upswing. Let your forearms rotate and wrist turn over through impact. These methods, used in combination, can produce higher launch angles to maximize your distance. Also, have some fun by trying to practice teeing the ball lower with a more normal set up and trying to hit the ball lower to get more roll. Hit shots with varying shot shapes like you did with the irons; you never know what you may learn or pick up additional yardage or straightness.
Practicing with the technology of a launch monitor can have huge benefits. It will not only provide shot data of your practice session but you can work on maintaining a consistent swing speed. A player can also learn carry and total distances for all clubs. They also help if you make an adjustment in your swing because you can see the evidence that data produces to determine the effectiveness of the change. More accurate information makes your practice time more productive, fun, and informative, and produces better results on the course.
In our area, there are many golf practice facilities. Go visit them and practice with a purpose while having some fun, and know that you will soon see improved scores.
Fairway and Greens!