A few years ago when I began to resurrect my dormant (or is that door mat?) golf game and swing, the teacher asked me how I practiced. I recall looking at him quizzically then giving him what I hoped would sound like a good answer: I worked my way through my wedges, irons and finished with my driver. He laughed, looked back me with an equally quizzically look and said, “Really?” Sigh. Clearly the wrong answer. He then proceeded to go over a few ways I could practice better (two of which I’ll cover here). Since then, I’ve observed some really, well, not-so smart ways golfers (even the good ones) practice since my humble dressing down by the golf instructor.
Bucket ‘o Balls Misuse
Mistake: For the sake of this example, let’s assume you’re a 15 handicap (avg. 87 on a par 72 course.) Now divide out those shots. You’ll hit approximately 14 shots with the driver, 10 approach shots with irons, 4 woods/hybrids on par 5s, 4 par-3 iron shots and, say, 34 putts. The typical bucket of large balls contains roughly 90-100 balls (100 for easy math), or about a bad round for you. So, like I used to do, you start off hitting a few wedges, quickly move up to the irons then start pounding away at the driver for roughly half a bucket. Stop. What are you doing? Did you forget about the 21 unaccounted for shots in your round? And what about those 10 approach shots? Not all of them will be with irons; some will be wedges. In fact, a lot of them will be pitches from inside 100 yards, under bushes and trees and over bunkers. You’re ignoring 25% of the shots in your round. Tsk, tsk.
A Better Way (per the golf instructor): You’re at the range, so throw out the 34 putts. Divide out the bucket by the percentage of time you’ll be hitting X club then roughly double it. For example, 25% of your shots are wedges, so at least 25% of your bucket should dedicated to wedges and pitches of varying yardages; then nearly double it and make it 40. 15% of your bucket to the driver (20-25); 20% to irons (30-35). Yeah, that doesn’t equal 100, but you get the idea: unless you’re working on something specific with your driver, get a feel for the toughest shots in the game: any pitch inside 100 yards.
Hanging Yourself By The Collar
Mistake: Why do people drop balls down on the collar and practice chipping to pins that are 20 feet away? Unless you’re practicing bump ‘n run or chip and check (yeah, you’re a 15, who are you kidding) techniques, this is the most pointless shot to practice. You’ll almost never need it, and even when you encounter this scenario, you should almost never, ever use a wedge.
A Better Way: Put. The. Wedge. Away. Use the putter, almost exclusively. To paraphrase Hank Haney and others, your worst putt is almost always better than your best chip.
Getting Your Groove On
Mistake: You’ve seen this player. Carrying his wedge, he goes to a far corner of the practice green, places a tee down in an open area (or commandeers a hole), then dumps out 10-15 balls from his little green bag and proceeds to practice the 40-foot chip shot to that spot. And my, does the hole look pretty, surrounded by 10-15 balls within 3 feet of the cup! Then he goes back and does it again. And again. Each time the shot pattern gets tighter and tighter. Congratulations, pal, you just mastered the 40 foot chip! Now what about the 23 footer, 65 footer; and the downhill, sidehill and uphill chip? Oops, forgot about those, didn’t ya? There are players who do the same thing with the putter.
A Better Way: When practicing chip shots, I use no more than 3 balls to any one pin position then I move on to another position and lie. This gives me a feel for distances and how to execute a shot. Doing this allows you to learn and remember more from your bad chips than you will from mentally brushing them aside and moving on to next ball.
Putting Green? What’s That?
Mistake: Remember those 34 putts? They account for almost 40% of the shots we make in a round—almost half. So why is it hard to find a stall at the range on Saturday but the putting green is a ghost town? Reason? Driving the ball is sex; feeling confident over 5 footers, not so much.
A Better Way: Spend at least 60% of your practice time on and around the green. You’ll drop strokes like Jerrod from Subway drops pant sizes. As proof, some of my Dear 2.5 Readers may recall my putting has haunted my short game the last 2 years. Not so much these days. Thanks to practicing the techniques outlined in that post, I’ve been pretty much lights out with the new blade and short game so far this year, gaining confidence over those 5-7 footers and long lag putts.
Lacking Creativity in Practice
Mistake: This one is a close relative of the Misuse of The Bucket ‘O Balls, and I saw it recently on the practice chipping and putting green. A guy who appeared to be a pretty golfer was aimlessly swatting chip shots to and fro. Every shot had the same trajectory; he took about a second between each ball and he cared not a whit about his lie. No flops, no chip and checks, no chunk and runs, etc. And it all showed in a lousy shot pattern—of which he didn’t seem to care about either.
A Better Way: Flop it. Run it. Chip and check it. Stick the ball between two clumps of grass. Bury it. Fluff it up. Play from a matted down lie. And so on. Oh, and try to get them all within that magical 3-foot circle. At the range, “play” some holes. I like to play the first 4-5 holes of my course on the range. And yup, if I snap hook my driver as I “play” the first, I’m hitting a punch shot under the trees and up the fairway. I go through my little routine before I hit, too. The point is to mimic real-round scenarios.
So, will any of this help? Even though I fired a miserable 88 and only hit 3 greens in regulation in my last round (gee, guess what I’ll be working on during my next range visit), I believe so. By avoiding the poor practice methods I’ve become a smarter, more creative player and better player.