There are many ways to succeed in the game of golf. Since I have been in the business, I have improved my own game. Many PGA golf professionals played in college and/or professional golf. I, on the other hand, entered the golf business after a short stint in the financial world.
I have worked hard on my game since I started in the golf business. Truth be told, my game was not up to par with other PGA Professionals. I realized this early in my career, and I started practicing every day. I was single, away from family and friends, and I had the time. I lived at the golf course for the first two years of my career. If I was not working in the golf shop, I was practicing or playing golf. I can remember evenings in the summer spending up to two hours practicing on the putting green.
Needless to say, I got better just through playing and practicing more than I ever had. However, when I played in tournaments against other PGA Professionals, I had a hard time breaking 80. I remember getting frustrated when I was struggling on the range and on the golf course because I wanted so bad to be a really good player. Over the next 3-5 years, I continued to play and practice, not as much but more than most in my profession. I started having more success in casual and tournament rounds. However, the process seemed to be slow compared to the effort I was putting forth.
Over the last couple years, I have been practicing less but playing the same amount. I have a wife, kids, more responsibility at work, responsibilities that take precedent. Nevertheless, in the last couple years, I have improved at a faster rate. I am not saying I am the greatest player around, but I am finally playing up to my expectations. I am now hitting the golf shots under pressure the same way I hit when I am on the practice range. So what has changed? More mature, confidence, golf specific physical training, playing more tournament golf, and taking lessons. Yes, even the Pro needs lessons. All these things are true, but there is one thing missing from the list that has helped me the most: the quality of my practice session. When I first started practicing, I would hit 100 balls with the same club at the same target. This might help make my golf swing look better, but it did not help increase my playing ability at the rate it should.
I am sure all of us want to get better and get the most out of our practice. We must be efficient with our practice time. Let’s learn from my errors. There are four keys to practicing efficiently:
- Random practice
- Competitive practice & drills
- Practice weaknesses
- Practice in short segments
First key is the art of random practicing. It is okay to hit a 7-iron to the same target for a few shots to get a rhythm, especially if you are working on the swing. However, once the body is warm, either change clubs, change the target, or change shot shape every shot. Practice golf to play better on the course, not perfect hitting a 7-iron. So, many times I will see golfer hit 50 pitch shots from the same spot to the same hole at the practice short game area. When this type of practice goes to the course, they have not trained their body to adapt to variables each golf shot demands, such as lies, slopes, amount of green to work with, distance of shot, different shot that could be played, and the adjustment in set up it takes to hit different shots.
Even though we have a lot of time to think on the golf course, we need to make each shot reactionary. I relate this to a basketball player who just practices shooting free throws and does not practice anywhere else on the court. The more random the practice, the more we train our body and swing to react to the situation. Next time you are at the short game area, take allthe golf balls in the basket and throw them everywhere around the green. Then pick a different hole on the green to aim at with every shot. No shot will be the same, just like on the course. Before a round of golf, do more than warm up the body on the range. After the body is warm, pretend to play the first three holes before teeing off; this is true practice.
Second, make the practice competitive. Make games out of the practice session so there is pressure on each shot. Competitive practice is especially important on the putting green. Let’s face it; not many people enjoy practicing putting. It is not the most thrilling task in the world. Put yourself in a competitive mind set, and now it is bearable. There is no better way to do this than having a putting contest with your friends. To add a twist, when a player misses a putt, they have to pull the ball away from the hole a putter length. This is an example of many games that can be played with others or alone. Do not make practice easy. Make practice harder than the golf course; this will make golf seem easier on the course.
Third, practice your weaknesses. It is more fun to practice the part of the game we are good at because we get gratification from the good results. We all have weaknesses, and we need to practice our weakness a smidge more than the parts of the game we do well. I have been to a few PGA Tour events, and I find they are not that great at this concept. Brad Faxon was on the practice green, and Fred Funk was hitting golf balls on the range for hours, just to name a few. I cannot say they are not practicing there weakness more or less; I only saw them for one or two hours, but we all like gratification — no matter what level of play. Because of this, I believe this is the hardest concept to master.
Fourth is to practice in short segments. This key has to do with the amount of time we can focus at a high level. If we practice a skill for more than 25-30 minutes without a break, our mind will wonder. If we are moving on to practice another part of our game or we stay and practice, the same skill we need to take a break before resuming. Chat with people around, answer phone message, stair at the sky, whatever takes the mind away from the skill practiced.
For me, random practicing has helped my game tremendously over the last couple years. Not only am I playing better at my home course, but my game travels well. I am used to hitting different shots every swing. I am not trying to say efficient practice is easy; I am still trying to master all four concepts of how to practice. It takes a lot of discipline to practice efficiently. Prepare yourself to play. Even if you are working on your swing, practice hitting different shots with the swing fundamental you are working on. If you are not a golfer who can work the golf ball left to right and right to left, there are still many shots that you can master. Hit a 7-iron 100 percent, then 80 percent, and then low, and then high. If you do not succeed at hitting one of the shots, do not practice the same shot 50 times over and over.
Become better on the golf course by becoming better on the range. The more efficient you practice, the better the results on the course. Go see your local PGA Professional, and see what practice program is best for your game.
Todd Elliott is the PGA Head Golf Professional for Hideaway Beach. Todd is TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Certified as a golf professional. This gives him the ability to give golf specific physical screening to detect any physical limitation that might affect the golf swing. Todd is also a Coutour-certified putting fitter, a Titlteist-certified fitter and a Titliest staff member. Follow Todd on Twitter @elliottgolfpro or for any question or comments email firstname.lastname@example.org.