We were all there at some point in our lives – our first experience with the game of golf. Maybe you were like me, first exposed to the game by a grandfather, or perhaps another relative. Maybe you had a club in your hand before you could walk. Maybe you didn’t pick one up until much later in life. Or maybe it was on a date, or a business outing, or a charity event, or…well ok, you get the point. We all found the game somehow.
So we start playing this great game, and most of us realize pretty quickly that it is HARD! The strokes add up in a hurry. There’s so much distance to cover. So many obstacles in the way. There’s water, and trees, and difficult lies, and tricky pin positions. Many of us play a few rounds, figure out we have a lot to learn, and decide we want to improve. Others think: No more! I’m done with this game. 4+ hours of misery!? And it costs what?! No thanks. Maybe they’re the smart ones. Learning to play golf is not quick, easy, or cheap. But for those of us who do continue on, we start practicing, often the wrong way!
What I mean by learning the wrong way is that most of us amateurs start off at the range when we are practicing the game. We grab our clubs out of the back seat or trunk and take them immediately to a range station. We hurry into the pro shop and plop down $10 or so for a large bucket of around 100 balls, and we’re off! Back to the range, where many of us pull the driver out of the bag and immediately start firing away. Let the big dog eat, right? We try to crush the ball every time. We don’t bother to check alignment, or swing path, or balance. It’s whack, whack, whack, chunk, thud, ping. But why not? It’s fun!! I am as guilty of this as anyone, even though I know better. But who cares, I’ll get to that other stuff later, right?
Well maybe not. Maybe you finish hitting a couple hundred balls and just feel like going home. You’ve got stuff to do, dinner to eat, maybe kids to feed, or perhaps you’re just tired from the workout. You’ll get to it later, you conclude, but the problem is that you fall into habit and routine, and this becomes the way you practice golf. The wrong way.
Hey, maybe this approach works for you. I tip my cap if it does. But I believe your success to be the exception, rather than the rule, and I’ve heard this opinion expressed over the years by many different pros and strong amateur players alike. I’ve heard things like “Most amateurs spend about 90% of their practice time on the range, and about 10% focusing on the short game…if that. If they flipped this and spent 90% of the time on the short game and 10% on the range, the average golfer would be a lot better”. I buy this completely, though I don’t always have the discipline to adhere to this wise advice. I want to hit driver, I stubbornly say to myself. I don’t care if it’s not helping my game as much, at least at the moment. But I’ll care on the course during my next round.
Here’s the bottom line: If you to want to shoot lower scores, learn the game from green-to-tee, instead of tee-to-green. Start on the practice greens, and make sure you use golf balls that you would use on the course – no range balls for putting practice. Get a feel for the club and for the ball coming off the club. Start developing the short game that will ultimately help you in lowering your scores a lot more than the drive will. Make a game of it. Have fun! There are plenty of drills to incorporate into your putting practice that can keep it interesting. Once you’ve spent some time on the green, work on your chipping. Try different shot types. Work short, work longer, work out of the sand. Just make sure you pay attention to where you are hitting so that you don’t ruin someone’s day with an errant shot!
Had your fill of the short game for today? No problem – you’ve put some work in that will truly pay dividends on the course. Go ahead and grab that bucket of balls. Start with the wedges and shorter irons, and work up to the driver. Then swing away to your heart’s content, and as you watch your drive travel farther and straighter than it did before, enjoy the fact that today you have practiced the right way!
Have any tips of your own? Stories to share? Drills you like? We’d love to hear your thoughts!