Most amateur golfers don’t have the luxury of practicing multiple times a week. In fact, with busy work schedules and all of the other things that consume their time, they’re fortunate if they can fit in even one range session a week.
With golf practice time at such a premium, getting the most out of the precious practice time you do get is essential. You need to figure out how to maximize your sessions on the range by implementing a routine that makes the most efficient and effective use of your time and ensures that you’ll actually be making progress toward a better golf game.
Too many golfers go to the range with the mindset that quantity equals quality and proceed to hit as many shots as they can squeeze in with the time they have. Usually, this consists of a handful of irons to loosen up and then dozens of shots with their drivers. This will definitely make you loose, but it certainly won’t make you any better. And isn’t improvement what practice is really all about?
So how can you make better use of your practice time? That’s the purpose of this article. I want to discuss some of the ways that you can turn your current unproductive hitting sessions into more effective and higher-yielding practice sessions.
There are many ways that you can improve practice sessions, but there’s no way to cover them all here. The following are a few that I believe are essential to implement if you’re hoping to see an improvement in your game.
1. Assess Your Own Game
To design a golf practice routine that will be productive, the place to start is with an honest assessment of your own game. If you accept the premise that the ultimate goal of practice in any sport is to improve, it goes without saying that you need first to identify the things that need improvement.
Actually, this should be common sense. In the same way that no doctor would start working on patients without detailed knowledge of their vitals, no golfer can seriously start on an improvement program (i.e., their practice routine) without knowing their own “numbers.”
2. Track Your Statistics
The way to do this is to start immediately recording key data about your game in every round you play. As you write down your score on each hole, add a few simple notations on the scorecard about what happened on that hole. Obviously, you don’t want this to become a burden during the round, but it’s well worth the few seconds that it will take. The data that you’re recording on each hole will later become the input for developing an effective golf practice routine, so it’s vital that you take the time to do it.
The more detailed the tracking, the better and more accurate your analysis can be. For example, recording whether you hit the fairway on the hole you just played is good but doesn’t really give you enough data to identify where you should focus your golf practice. Adding a little additional detail, like whether you missed the fairway to the right or the left, could reveal a tendency that warrants some attention in your practice sessions.
Similarly, rather than simply recording whether or not you hit the green in regulation (GIR), note which iron you used on the approach shot. Then you can later group these stats into three categories — long-irons, mid-irons, and short-irons — and see if you have a weakness in one of these areas, which you can then address in your practice.
There’s obviously many statistics that you can track: proximity to the hole from various pitching distances, how many times you were able to get 30+ foot lag putts to within 3 feet of the hole, how close to the hole you got from greenside chip shots, etc.
I recommend tracking the following on all of your rounds:
- Fairways hit %
- Green in Regulation (GIR) %
- Putts per round
- Up and Down %
- Sand save %
This is how you learn what kinds of things you need to work on, which allows you to “practice with a purpose.” Banging countless golf balls on the range is a waste of time. Targeting your practice to the specific areas that you’ve identified through an analysis of your stats is the starting point on your path to improvement.
There are great shot tracking products out there like Arccos Caddie and Shot Scope that automatically tracks your data, including shots gained stats. I’ve been using Arccos this year to see if it helps improve my game, and so far, I really like the product.
Below is an example of the data points I got from a round I played just this week.
My driving accuracy and iron striking needs a lot of improvement, as shown. I know what my next practice session will be focused on.
3. Practice with Purpose
What golfer hasn’t asked that question at one time or another! You can sometimes get in a groove on the range and feel like a pro, but for some unknown reason, that groove comes to an end somewhere on the walk between the range and the golf course. You’re left to wonder what happened.
The main reason for this curious but fairly common phenomenon is that amateurs don’t practice as they play. The mindset of a golfer on the range is usually totally different from their mindset on the course. Here’s why that happens:
The typical driving range is as much as 50-100 yards wide. What amateurs typically do is to take one club and hit 20-30 shots without having a specific target in mind. It’s pretty easy to get into a nice rhythm when you hit that many shots in a row with the same club. As a result, you can develop a false sense of confidence. As long as you’re making solid contact, regardless of where the shots end up, you start to feel good about your swing.
Once on the course, though, with more restricted landing areas and targets, that free-flowing swing that you had on the range can subconsciously become tighter and more inhibited as you try to “steer” the ball to where you want it to go. Holding on to the reins a little tighter like this never results in your best golf, and it explains why your ball striking on the course can be far different than on the range.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.Vince Lombardi
The second thing that differentiates performance on the range from performance on the course is the total lack of pressure. There are no negative consequences for wayward shots on the range. You rake over another ball and pull the trigger again. But out on the course, a crooked shot can have real costs. With the natural pressures that come with these fears (to score well, beat an opponent, not hit it into a hazard, etc.), it can often be hard to duplicate the same carefree, unrestrained swings you were exhibiting on the range.
Here’s a couple of effective ways that you can deal with this issue:
4. Pick a Target on the Range
The best strategy is to try to mimic actual playing conditions when you practice. First, you should always aim at a specific target with every shot. That means picking a flag or some other object to target when you’re hitting irons or a defined area that replicates a fairway when hitting drivers (perhaps the area between two distant range flags). It may sound funny, but if you don’t have a target to aim at, how will you know when you miss it?
Also, by forcing yourself to narrow your focus like this on the range, you are simulating the feelings and pressure that you’ll confront on the course.
5. Play Imaginary Holes on the Range
Another solution is to play imaginary holes from the course that you’re going to play next. This is a good exercise any time, but it’s particularly effective as part of your pre-round warm-up.
The way to do it is to visualize the exact holes on the course. Depending on the amount of time you have, this can range from as few as the first several holes to the entire 18 holes.
For example, if the first hole on the course is a straightaway par 4, picture yourself on that tee box looking down the fairway of that hole, and pick an area on the range that represents the fairway. Then hit your drive. Depending on where that practice drive went, imagine the next shot (from the fairway to the green). Choose the appropriate iron for that approach shot (perhaps it’s a 7-iron to the flag on the far right of the range) and execute it. You’ll then “play” the second hole and continue in that manner.
There are several benefits to this kind of practice exercise. First and foremost, this is as close to “practicing like you play” as it gets. You’re hitting real shots that you’ll face on the actual course, you’re constantly switching between different clubs with each shot (just as on the course), and you’re hitting specific targets. This is the kind of practice that will make it easier to take your range game to the golf course.
6. Don’t Forget the Short Game
Here’s an interesting stat for you. About 60% of the shots you take in a round of golf occur within 100 yards of the hole! These include full-swing short iron shots, pitch shots, chip shots, greenside bunker shots, and putting. Based on that percentage, it’s clearly not an exaggeration to say that how you perform in this part of the game is the primary determinant of how you’ll score.
And yet, despite the obvious importance of the short game, most amateur golfers spend very little dedicated time working on it, preferring instead to focus almost exclusively on the long game (drivers in particular) during their range session.
There was a groundbreaking book that came out in 2014, written by Mark Broadie. It was titled Every Shot Counts: Using the Revolutionary Strokes Gained Approach to Improve Your Golf Performance and Strategy (Link to Amazon).
In that book, Broadie commented on this very issue when he wrote, “If you’ve got two hours to practice, you probably won’t start hitting the ball longer and straighter in that time period. But you could probably get better at your putting and chipping in two hours of practice.”
This was an acknowledgment that, given limited time during the week to practice, amateurs could get “more bang for the buck” by working on their short game than they can by a repetitive, unvarying routine of hitting driver after driver.
That’s not to say that amateurs should shift their focus to only the short game, but it does strongly suggest that every practice session should include at least some time spent on pitching, chipping, and putting.
Here’s another interesting stat that amateurs should pay attention to. In research performed by Swingbyte and reported on by MyGolfSpy, they showed an inverse relationship between the handicap level of the golfer and the percentage of practice time devoted to the short game.
In other words, the lower the handicap, the more practice time the player spends on wedges and putting. And the higher the handicap, the less practice time they devote to the short game. Golfers with single-digit handicaps were found to allocate, on average, between 30-35% of their practice time to the short game, while players with 15+ handicaps apportion only half that time!
Since we’ve already established that improving your short game can impact your scores more than any other factor, shouldn’t high handicappers, in particular, spend as much practice time with their wedges and putter as the better players do?
Wrapping it up & Heading to the Clubhouse
Vince Lombardi’s famous quote about golf practice is probably familiar to everyone. “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
I’m not suggesting that your golf practice sessions need to be perfect, but if you can discipline yourself to focus your practice sessions, you will see improvement in your game. Start by recording and analyzing your own personal stats to know where to focus and how to make your routine more productive.
Your time may be limited, but that means that the time you can spend practicing needs to be more efficient. That means having a goal for every session. If your routine isn’t tailored to addressing weaknesses so that you are working on turning liabilities into assets, you’ll never get the full benefit of your time spent on the range.
Your sessions don’t need to be marathons. Remember, it’s not a matter of how long you practice, but rather how you practice.