Starting out, I remember how frustrating it was to hit a poor shot on the course when, only a few minutes before, I was hitting the exact same club perfectly on the golf driving range.
I mean. How could the simple act of going from the driving range to the course create such a dramatic dip in results?
So frustrating! And if I’m being perfectly honest, 15 years later, I still struggle with this.
The only difference now is, after a bit of research into better practice techniques, I have a bit more of an inkling about why this happens.
I understand now that the way I practiced did not help my game much as I would have liked.
It just increased my expectations at a faster rate than my real on-course skills – which of course just amped up my frustration. Now I practice very differently.
For starters, I don’t have the time to spend hours and hours at the golf driving range.
This is a good thing because it forces me to focus on methods of practice that give me the biggest payoff on the course in the least amount of time.
I also realised that I made two really big mistakes in the way I practiced that slowed my progress.
Mistake # 1: I spent way too much time on my full swing
My first practice mistake starting out was to spend all my time on my full swing and none practicing my putting or short game.
The result was that I could often get the ball pin high in regulation but then 3-putt or 4-putt. If I was just off the green or had a delicate 30m pitch, then I was in trouble.
Practice The Way You Play
To fix this problem, I picked up a few tips from Peter Knight’s book 30 Golf Practice Drills... In the book Peter talks about making sure your practice time matches the percentage of time on the course you will spend hitting different shots.
The Rule Of Thirds
He recommends, for example, splitting our practice time into thirds: a third of our time on our long game, third of your time on our short game and a third of our time putting.
This roughly matches the 40% of our shots being full shots, 20% greenside shots and the remaining 40% of shots hit are putts.
Because the short game requires more touch and feel than our long game we can easily see that it makes sense to dedicate a little more of our time to the short game.
You Can Vary Practice Proportions Slightly
Of course, the proportion of time you dedicate to each aspect will vary slightly depending on where you are in your journey.
If you are just starting out and you are still working on grooving your swing, the split might look more like 50% or 60% long game.
Just remember to practice your putts and your short game too!
Mistake # 2: I hit too many of the same shot in practice
My second big practice mistake early on was that I would spend hours hitting balls on the range with no real objective.
I’d buy a bucket of about 100 or so balls, hit 30 with a short Iron, hit another 30 with a mid-iron and the rest with either my driver or fairway wood. Of course, I’d only remember the great shots.
But how many times on the course do I get to hit 30 consecutive 7-irons and then choose the best of the lot? No wonder I was frustrated. How I practiced looked nothing like how I played golf.
According to Peter Knight and a range of other golf coaches, the remedy for this is to spend some practice time hitting a variety of shots that you want to make count for something… because that’s how golf is played, right?
Add to this an element of pressure, and we have a practice session that is beginning to look like the real thing.
Because we all know that sinking a four-foot putt under no pressure is easy. Making a four-foot put when the championship is on the line is a very different animal altogether.
So now we divide each area of practice further into thirds.
The first third of our practice time is spent doing batch practice to focus on honing a very specific aspect of our technique.
For example, hitting several balls with the same club while focusing on a single aspect of your stroke (grip, stance, backswing, tempo, ball striking, etc.).
If you’re like me, you might be tempted to extend this portion of practice at the expense of the other types.
Don’t. You will not perfect your swing in a single session and I find the other two types of practice are far better at translating practice effort into results on the course.
The next third of our time should be spent on a variety of shots. This is about not hitting the same shot twice.
For example, if we are practicing our putts, we should spend some time with one ball making putts of varying lengths to different holes. This helps to make our practice session mirror what happens on the course.
One of my favourite games is to play 18 holes on the putting green, and there are many variations to this game.
Another example of this on the gof driving range is trying to replicate the sequence of full shots you would take at your favourite course during 9 or 18 holes.
Note which shots you are able to pull off and which ones you are having trouble with that you might want to use your next batch practice session to focus on.
The final third is about stress testing your game to simulate what happens on the course. In this third we want the games that are difficult enough that it is a stretch to win and we want to track our performance in these games over time.
If for example, we want to stress test your short game, my favourite game is to go to the chipping green with only my wedge, my putter and one ball.
I pick a hole and see how many strokes it takes to get up and down from around the green. I do this over 5 holes and see if I can up and down for 5 holes in 12 strokes or less. If I can’t do 5 holes in 12 strokes, I start over.
One last thing
Learning this one technique of breaking my game into three distinct practice areas, and then using three practice techniques to get the most out of my sessions at the golf driving range is the single biggest reason why I have been able to improve from a 20+ to a single digit handicapper in a little over a year.
You may have already heard about the rule of thirds but you may not have given it a try yet.
Give it a go. I guarantee that this technique will help you get better results on the course in less time and with less frustration. Keep on golfing!
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