What are some ways for golfers to get the most effective practice in at the range?
Divide Your Range Session Into Smaller Segments
I teach at a public driving range facility, which means I have the opportunity to watch interesting methods of practice on a daily basis. The most common approach I witness is the “rapid fire” method, which doesn’t accomplish a whole lot other than aerobic exercise. We are all guilty of this at times, but there should be more to range practice than firing at will.
A standard large bucket is 100+ golf balls. The best approach to range practice would be to divide that bucket into three segments with about 35 balls per topic. This is true whether you are someone who practices frequently or occasionally.
Here are some examples of range topics:
1. Specific swing changes, such as following a lesson
2. Rhythm, tempo, or timing
3. Routine and setup
4. Aim and alignment/hitting to specific targets
An example of a great range session following a lesson with an instructor would be topics 1-2-5. For the first 35 golf balls, you would work on the new swing change. For the next set of golf balls you could work on rebuilding your natural tempo, which takes a hit during more technical practice. Then you would finish with measurement practice, in which you would find your new distances with that different swing.
It would even be acceptable to do a 1-1-1 practice session, but all three sections of the practice would need to be on different topics, meaning your coach gave you three distinct things to practice. The brain can only handle a certain amount of time on one topic, and after about 35 golf balls the focus level tends to drop off, making extending the practice on that same topic counterproductive.
Another example of a sound practice session under this format would be a 2-3-4, meaning working on rhythm, setup, and hitting to specific targets. This sounds like an ideal practice for someone who is preparing for a tournament.
Practice with a Purpose
The main issue I see with golfers is not having any real goals or objectives when they practice. They are basically whacking golf balls and hoping it ends up near a selected target. If it does that, they think they did well. But if not, they just try to feel something different and hope for a better result.
I want my students to have a specific plan when they go the range. Below is a sample session I will give to students:
Wedges/Warm up – 20 Balls
– Start with 20-30 yard pitches and work your way up to full swings. No real focus on target, just focused on making solid contact and developing a good temp.
Drill Swings – 20 Balls
– Based on what we work on in a lesson, this is when we would focus on those specific mechanics. This is mechanic focused and not always ball flight focused. Doing mechanics while separated from outcome often makes it easier to make the changes. There is no fear of “hitting a bad shot”
Iron Swings – 20 Balls
Now we start to focus on ball flight. I don’t like a specific target but rather a cone or grid for a landing zone. Pick two targets and draw line from your golf ball to both of those. The goal of these swings is to keep everything in between those two spots. The size of the cone will vary depending on the level of player. This cone is what I want player to use when playing. They simply center their shot cone at their target while playing.
Driver – 20 Balls
Pick a wider shot cone for the driver
For the iron and driver sessions, I would like the player to use their full routine as they would on the golf course. And with every shot, whether warming up or a drill, I want the golfer to take their time and give each ball their full attention.
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Random Practice vs. Block Practice
We often hear from students that they have it grooved at the range but it doesn’t translate to the course. Many of the golfers I encounter utilize block practice where they may hit the same club 20-30 times in a row before switching. I encourage my students to randomize their practice in a few different ways:
1) constantly change the target, both directionally and distance wise, to gain more feel and to increase your engagement in setup and shot execution
2) mimic on course play where you may play a few imaginary holes in your mind or even an entire round – Tee off with driver, then hit a 7-iron and if you miss your target even in a little chip or pitch before going to the next “hole”.
3) in a lesson standpoint, I’ll make a game out of it with my student and either get them to vary the distance by asking for a different length swing or calling out the target before the swing.
Practice with a purpose
Most people spend way too much time “practicing” on the range without getting better. And most people hit way too many balls. There is a reason classes in school are only 50 or 60 minutes long. Any longer and we stop losing interest. Or like me-maybe you fell asleep.
We need shorter, more focused practice sessions followed by playing to stimulate the new skills we just practiced. So once you get to the range – stretch, do a dynamic warmup, and hit a few golf balls with your club of choice to get a feel for things, then enter into practice mode. And practice mode really shouldn’t last for more than 20-30 minutes.
You should have a drill or a motion you are planning on working on and you will rehearse that before each shot. Once you have created a good feeling for that drill or motion, step in and hit the golf ball towards your target. The take a second to evaluate the results. Repeat that process for about 20 minutes or 20 golf balls. Whichever comes first.
Next, play a game. Go play a few holes if you’re at a course. If you’re at Topgolf, play TopPressure or TopShot. If you have a friend with you, play a game of horse. Can you hit a driver between those two flags? Can you hit a 7 iron left of that flag and curve it to the right? Go through your pre shot routine each time. Do that for 20-30 minutes and now you have a 50-60 minute practice session.
Few people have the attention span for much more. If we spend more time than that just hitting balls, we will lose focus, get tired, and probably begin to get worse. It is much more effective to practice like this 3 times a week than to spend 1 day a week practicing for 3 hours. If you’re still not satisfied with your practice, go see your PGA Professional for a lesson and get focused items to work on to improve your game.
Target specific versus fundamental specific practice
Define your session before you start:
Is it a fundamental refresher to reinforce a feeling or practice a ball flight that is challenging?
Is it a session where you want to produce shots that will help improve scores?
A-pitches with varying hand action
B-approaches with trouble left or trouble right to a specific yardage or target
C-working the ball off the tee
Plan your practice properly and you will feel confident when faced with unnerving shots in competition!
Practice with Purpose
This is a great question that can really determine whether your practice and lessons will be worthwhile. First, you should set a goal for the session, is your goal to improve your technique or a skillset, or both? If your goal is to work on swing technique, make sure to utilize the drills and/or training aids that help you accomplish the change. Put less emphasis on results and more focus on what you are physically trying to do. I’d recommend a lot of slow-speed swings when making a technical change, don’t be too proud to hit off a tee.
If your goal is skill improvement, give yourself a challenge and try to accomplish it. I have two examples… one is if you struggle with hitting fairways make a narrow fairway on the range between two targets and set a challenge point such as 7 out of 10 drives or more must be in the “fairway” in order to move to another club or go home for dinner. My other example is one of my long-time favorites… if you hit the ground before the ball too often, try making divots forward of the normal ball position. I use two tees as a gate/line (see photo) and make 3, 4, or 5 divots in front of the tees before introducing a ball to hit. You can put the ball in the same line and see if the “no-ball” swings translate when the ball is there.
Above all else when you are practicing, make sure to be alert. Be alert of your target, be alert of your lie, be alert of your rhythm and timing, and be alert of your contact and ultimately the feel of your swing.
Effective practice happens when you have a plan
To get the most out of the time you have to practice make sure you create a plan before you arrive at your facility. Asking yourself the question, “what do I want to accomplish” is the first step in creating the plan. For example, you may want to improve on some part of your full swing at the range. The next question you need to ask yourself is “how do I practice to improve that part of my full swing at the range”. One answer could be using an exercise or drill that you learned from your instructor for half of the shots you hit during your practice. When you utilize the “how” that will keep your session focused and allow you to improve in the chosen area.
The next time you head out to your facility make sure you have created a plan on what and how you are going to practice. By following those steps you will definitely have set yourself up for a more effective practice session.
Supervised Practice and Short Game focus
We all know that scoring happens around the greens. So why do the members head to the full-swing area and bang driver after driver? Because they can!!
With supervised practice via golf professionals on staff, “walk the line” type presence, and scheduled lesson time, players can improve their games more easily.
It takes encouragement from the professionals and a willingness to spend time at the practice facility to ensure the players are dividing their time properly where it matters most to their score.
Have a plan
Most amateur golfers go to the range and just hit ball after ball without a plan for each shot/swing. From picking the target, visualizing the ball flight shape and trajectory, working on rhythm timing for each swing on the range is what is essential for “effective practice”.
It is the quality of your practice that counts, not the quantity,
Play your favorite course on the range
The best way for established golfers to practice on the range is to use about half of the bucket on BLOCK practice.(Repeat the shot over and over to work on a specific skill) Then use the second half of the bucket on DYNAMIC practice. Play your favorite course from the range tee. Imagine each shot and switch clubs every time (unless you would have hit it out of bounds!) Pick different targets. Chip. (Don’t bother putting) Be creative and imagine what you would have scored. This is more realistic than hitting 70- 7 irons in a row.
Play the Course on the Range
If your time is limited either due to lack of daylight or pending appointments, try hitting a small or medium bucket of balls and play a round a golf on the range. Start by warming up. Then play 9 holes of a course you play often or know fairly well. Hit a tee shot simulating that of the hole you are playing. Based off how you hit it, change clubs to estimate what distance and type of shot you might have next repeat until your on the green. This can be an effective way to help your range work transfer to the golf course.
Visualization and Simulation Practice
Some of the most effective practice at the range can be obtained through visualization and simulation. Mixing up the shots you hit on the range as you do on the course. You may hit 30 shots in a row on the range but that never happens on the course. Visualize the front nine at “said” course and play it on the range!
Prepare before you move the club
You need to always pick out a target and you have to have a checklist of things you do in your set up to prepare before you move the club. Preparation gives you your best chance for success !
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Motor Pattern Training
There is no improvement taking place without feedback! Thus the use of training aids & drills !
In the beginning, you may do more “dry runs” than balls, and eventually you’d be @ 50/50.
Good luck with your training !
Practice Patiently with a Purpose (PPP)
Always have one or two (no more) skills and drills in mind before arriving at the practice facility. Try and learn something from every shot and be patient. Take your time hitting balls and if you get frustrated, take a break or come back another time. Frustration can cause old habits to resurface.
Practice under pressure
Often we hear our students express that they “hit balls fantastic on the range, but just can’t take it to the course.” This is often due to the fact that the area of the range is much larger and there is less pressure to hit the target. On the golf course you only get one try for every shot and you have to perform or your score suffers! With this in mind, it is very beneficial to add pressure situations in your practice sessions (e.g. I cannot leave the putting green until I have made 20 consecutive 3 foot putts. Imagine the pressure this provides to those last few putts!) A great resource for fun games that add pressure to your practice sessions is a book called Golf Scrimmages: Realistic Practice Games Under Pressure, by Trent Wearner.