Friday, December 14, 2012

Turn Exercise Into Practice

                There’s an old adage in the golf world that says, “Hitting golf balls with a focused goal to a target is practice, hitting golf balls in any other way is just exercise.”  And if you’ve ever been to the driving range you’ve seen a whole lot of people exercising and very few practicing.  It isn’t difficult to change exercise into practice  and I’m going to offer 5 useful tips for making your driving range ventures more profitable for your golf game.

1.            Practice How You Play
                The simplest way to do this is to get out of “rapid-fire” mode.  Set your bucket of balls at least a step away from your reach and force yourself to set up to each and every shot.  Go through your normal routine, pick a target and try and hit the shot you would on the golf course.  Make sure to take your time and reset after both good and bad swings.

DRILL:  If you have trouble turning a driving range into a course in your mind, try the following range game.  Even though all ranges have different markers, all have landmarks that you can use to define your “course.”  Define your “fairway” and two “greens” to hit to.  One “green” should be a pitching wedge to 8-iron and the other should be a 7-iron-5-iron.  Then play the “hole” like this:  If you hit the fairway, hit to the short green.  If you hit the green it’s a birdie, if you miss it’s a bogey.  If you miss the fairway then hit to the long green.  If you hit the green it’s a par, if you miss it’s a double bogey.  Play that game for as many holes as you like using your range time to focus like you would on the golf course.

2.            Alignment
                With the exception of the range game described above, there is no reason you should be hitting balls at the range without some sort of alignment guide.  It can be specific alignment rods, broken shafts or two parallel clubs, just make sure something is at your feet to help you line up properly.  This forces you to have a specific target in mind before hitting your shot.  There are different ways to use alignment guides, but the most common is the “railroad” method.  Set one rod down parallel on the outside of your target line and one rod parallel inside your target line.  An invisible parallel line directly in the middle of the two should aim directly at your target.  That’s where the ball goes.  Line your feet, hips and shoulders parallel to the inside rod.

DRILL:  Hit 10-15 range balls with your alignment rods in place.  Place a golf ball down and remove the rods but keep them within reach.  Then, set up to the golf ball aiming at the same target.  Once you feel set, take one of the alignment rods and set it parallel to your feet.  Step back and see if you’ve maintained proper alignment.

3.            Clean Stall
                One of the rudest things I see on a driving range is a stall of random divots taken in every direction with no continuity.  Have any of you EVER seen a professional take divots like that?  Make sure the first spot you hit from is slightly forward, and place each successive ball immediately behind the previous shot’s divot.  With each swing you will only remove a small bit of turf, leaving plenty of room for the next person.  Not only is this good range etiquette but it also helps with your timing.  It forces you to place the ball in a slightly different location and makes you take the time to place it there with each swing.  It will slow your tempo and keep you from “rapid-fire” territory.

DRILL:  Using the method above, take divots in a straight line all to the same target.  Once your divot line has reached about 2-3 feet in length, see if it lines up to your target.  If not, it is likely you are taking divots with a slightly awry swing path.

4.            Rotate Clubs and Ease Up on the Driver
                When most amateurs go to the driving range they work quickly through the bag and spend a good portion of the time with the driver.  When the professional goes to the range, they spend most of the time with mid-irons in hand.  It is important to rotate through the bag and practice with all types of clubs, woods, irons and wedges alike.  When warming up for a round the average tour pro will only hit their driver 4-5 times, the average amateur may hit it 10-20. 

DRILL:  Work your way through the bag hitting 3 shots with every other club.  Once you reach driver, work your way back down hitting all the clubs you missed.  Finish out the drill by switching off between driver and wedge for 6 shots.  This drill is intended to help you keep a similar tempo and rhythm with every club in the bag and acclimate you to following a driver with a short club.

5.            Bubba Time
                Even for high handicappers the range is the perfect place to try new things.  Spend a portion of your time practicing trying to hit different kinds of shots.  If you predominately hit fades, try hitting some draws.  If you have a high ball flight, try hitting punch shots.  For lower handicap players this is a good way to feel different ball flights and how to create them.  When trying to work the ball don’t focus on alignment as much, but set yourself up so that you can create the desired ball flight.  This shouldn’t be a large portion of your practice time, but you can’t get Bubba Watson’s creativity without first trying it out.

LOW-HANDICAP DRILL:  If you’re a scratch player or tournament player then working the ball is very important to scoring well.  Not only do many golf courses call for particular ball flights on command, but you can save yourself from sticky situations by working the ball both directions.  When you’re at the range with a friend set up neutrally for a straight shot.  At the top of your backswing, have your friend call out “draw,” “fade” or “straight.”  Then it’s your job to hit the shot on command.  This drill will help you control the club face at impact, because the only way for you to work the ball in this drill is to use your hands to open or close the club face.

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