Swing thoughts: Effective Practice

Golf Intention

theo-bezuidenhoutThe difference between a professional and amateur golfer is often very apparent. It is easy to surmise that Jordan Spieth can putt better than your foursomes partner on a Saturday morning, or that Bubba Watson has better feel than most of the friends in your fourball. However, what does lead to a whole different and more interesting conversation is how these pros actually practice to become as good as they are.

There are of course exceptions to any rule. As I am sure many of our readers can remember, John Daly’s “practice routine” included a “cigarette, a coke and some Skittles”. However there are professionals to emulate and some you would rather not. Mr. Daly, for all his undoubted talent, is obviously not a player whose mental approach to the game I would like you to copy.

In this month’s Swing Thoughts we look at the practice routines of some of the players on tour and how by training more effectively they have actually improved their skill levels while also learning to enjoy their practice time more.

Creating an Intention

A typical scenario for any club golfer in terms of practice goes something like this: finish up at work at 16.00 or 17.00. Rush to club/driving-range/practice facility. Once there: do not bother to change; put on golf shoes; rush out to practice tee; do not warm up or stretch (you’ll regret this one later); hit as many balls as you can in the hour you have; rush home; pick up a few things at the store; try not to be too late for your spouse/kids; fall down on the couch exhausted.

Although this approach is very commonplace amongst many golfers there is a very simple way of creating a mindset before training that will make it more effective.

The Intention Exercise starts as soon as you switch the car off or you enter the clubhouse. While you are sitting in a quiet spot, close your eyes and ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. What is my goal for the session? (Eg. spending time on chipping)
  2. What do I need to do to achieve that goal? (eg. focus on drill from coach and chip random chips for an hour)
  3. Why is doing this important to me? (to make sure that I can improve on my up-and-down stats from last week)

By asking these questions before your practice session you create a mindset of focus and calm before you even step out onto the range. The questions also prevent you from just hitting balls or just putting for the sake of it as you will know what you are going to do before you start.

These questions will also help you create a focus on quality during your practice from minute one. Therefore not wasting valuable time that you do not have.

Three footers

I often see the following scenario play out on the putting green while handicap golfers are practising. A player will take out three or four balls, drop them on the green, take no practice strokes and proceed to hit the three or four balls to different holes of varying distances. I have always found this approach fascinating, as the one thing that nearly every player I work with wants to improve on, is his or her confidence with putting.

Now I put it to you ladies and gentlemen of the jury, how in heavens name can you improve your confidence with your putting if you are forever missing your first three putts of your training session or your warm-up to play?

A much better way to go about this process is to manipulate the distance of the first few putts of the day. I often encourage pros to hit their first 20-30 putts of the day from three feet on a very straight line to the hole. This helps you to not only hear the ball fall in the cup but it also strengthens the subconscious belief that you are capable of making putts. A belief that is as crucial for amateurs as it is for pros striving to win.

The Rule of Six

Together with the above approach it is also very important to limit the amount of balls you putt or chip with. It is not beneficial to effective and efficient practice to just chip ball after ball after ball. This is mind-numbing repetition without any breaks and will lead to boredom and poor technique. Rather try and chip with only 4-6 balls at a time.

The break between hitting this amount of balls and picking them up has two very important implications. Firstly, it forces you to stop and reset every 5-7 minutes, which is exactly what happens during a round of golf between shots. Secondly, it also helps you to reflect on what you have done every six shots something that rarely happens with the “machine gun” approach so many of us use when practising our chipping.

A lack of time is something that all golfers struggle with especially the ones trying to hold down a job and have a semblance of a normal life. By using the above techniques your lack of time to practice needn’t lead to a lack of quality as well.

Theo Bezuidenhout