Practice is important for all golfers who want to develop their skills and play better golf. However many golfers become frustrated after they hit the ball well on the driving range and then are unable to take their swing to the course.
Are you a golfer who performs better on the range than on the course?
If so don’t feel bad because you are not alone. Even PGA Tour players have practice sessions where they stripe ball after ball without missing a shot and then suddenly hit errant shots on the course. There are a few good reasons why this phenomenon occurs. The subtle changes between the driving range and the course can lead to significant changes in the way you play. Let’s look at a few of these differences now:
> Range: Hitting balls from flat and perfect lies
> Course: You play shots from slopes and less than perfect lies that require adjustments to your swing and setup
> Range: The range is generally an open field with no hazards in sight
> Course: On the course there are often visually intimidating course features that affect the way you think and swing
> Range: Range rhythm develops when you hit balls every 10 seconds, which allows the body to make adjustments and swing more consistently
> Course: On the course where you might hit one type of shot every several minutes or more
> Range: There are no consequences on the range for poor shots and you feel more relaxed before you swing
> Course: On the course you are aware that a poor shot could cost you a few strokes. This creates pressure and can add tension to your swing.
As can see there are a variety of physical and mental changes that make it more challenging for you to execute well on the course. However by improving your preparation and your approach to practice you can begin to experience greater rewards for your efforts.
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The Purpose of Practice
The purpose of practice is to develop your skills and to strengthen neural pathways so that you are able to execute your swing without conscious thought. When this occurs the part of the brain that is best at performing complex movements can takeover and work on autopilot. This improves your concentration by eliminating thoughts that interfere with the flow of your swing.
A good example to illustrate how your mind and body learns new skills is when you learnt how to drive a car. Learning to drive can be a stressful experience because it is new and overwhelming. You had to consciously think about what you needed to do with your feet, hands and eyes in order to drive the car safely. However, soon driving was not an issue and you could effortlessly drive a car even with numerous distractions. The repetitive practice strengthens and develops neural pathways so that you can operate on autopilot while performing the task. Once this occurs your conscious mind becomes free to do other things since you no longer have to ‘think’ about the movement.
The goal is get your swing to the state where you no longer have to consciously think about swinging the club before a shot
This improves your concentration abilities so that you can focus more on your target and what you want to achieve. However this becomes difficult to do when you continuously make new swing changes and practice in a way that does not simulate the course experience. The next step is to learn how to make subtle adjustments to your set up and swing so that you can handle the varied terrains and surfaces on the course.
Driving Range Tips
To get the most out of your practice sessions, apply these driving range tips to your game:
Practice on grass whenever possible to replicate the course experience. Ensure that you are warm and begin hitting balls with half swings or small punch shots. This is a simple shot that you should try to master. It teaches good fundamentals and is useful when you are playing out from the trees.
Progress to full swings starting with your wedges until you reach your driver. The purpose of this stage of practice is to reinforce neural pathways with the technique you are trying to replicate.
If you are working on swing changes try not to focus on multiple swing keys. Instead ensure your setup is correct and focus one swing key only to prevent mental interference
Dedicate the second half of your practice session to course simulation. Try to re-create the course experience. For example:
- Use your pre-shot routine. See the shot, feel the shot and then hit it.
- Define obstacles such as hazards and precise targets. Or visualize your favorite driving hole to build up confidence with your driver
- Step away after each shot and change clubs. You only get one chance!
- Vary your shot shape and lies to develop your ball striking skills
- Create pressure situations and play a few imaginary holes. For example imagine you have the lead in a tournament and need to close out the last few holes.
Going to the driving range to beat a few balls is good fun. However if lower scores are important to you then make sure you have an effective practice routine that simulates the course experience
There are some significant differences between the range and the course that need to be considered to help you get rewarded for your time and effort. Your understanding of these differences will also help you feel more relaxed and understand why it can be harder to play the way you practice. Try to apply these driving range tips to your next practice session and let us know how you went by leaving a comment below.