Practice like you play
Why can’t I do this on the course?
This question comes up in almost every lesson. The easy answer is this: you can. Playing golf is different than practicing. On the range you are loose and swinging freely. On the range you usually have lower expectations and don’t always choose a target. You also hit one club repetitively. If you hit a bucket of balls with a 7 iron, you should be hitting it well. You put all of this together, however, and it doesn’t resemble the game of golf. You can certainly try to play like you practice, but I propose framing it a different way:
You should practice like you play.
Shape your practice into a time to practice the game of golf. Hitting balls repetitively with the same club helps you get into a groove, but that groove could be covering up swing faults. Furthermore, you are not practicing the game of golf. In other words, if I hit a bunch of 7 irons in a row on the course, I would be having a really bad day. Here are a few tips and drills that will help you bring your game to your practice:
Pick a different target every shot. Go ahead and hit a bunch of 7 irons, but change the target every time. Also, go through your whole pre-shot routine for every shot. You will be practicing how you play -- not just the hitting part.
Play a pretend hole. Pull out the driver and pick a target. Hit your drive and imagine it soaring down the fairway. (Yes, I said soaring. Positive mental thoughts help; see last month’s article.) Then, put the driver back in the bag. Take a breath and pull out an iron. Go through your routine and hit the iron. Imagine a hole that you love or one that gives you trouble, and play it on the range. I can’t tell you how much this will help you.
Go for the record. I like to count out 20 golf balls and hit chips to a target. I keep track of how many are within a wedge length or a flagstick of the hole. Write down this number and try to beat it next time you practice. You might start out with 1 ball within a flagstick from the bunker, but when you get 5, you will have concrete results and a great accomplishment. Better players can take it to the next level by putting it out.
Take a pro on the course. For your next lesson, make it a playing lesson. Play a couple holes with your coach. You might be doing things very differently on the course.
Practice can be a big benefit to your game if you focus it properly. There is no harm in hitting balls repetitively; this just doesn’t make the best use of your time.