I received an email from a reader who was asking about the “right” way to approach a practice session. I don’t know that there is a single “right” way, but I have developed my own regimen, based on conversations and observation of several top teachers and tour players, tossed around with my own notions of how best to work improvements into your swing.
I’m not talking about the pre-round warm-up routine, as that is really not practice. Your goal in this 15-30 minutes is to loosen up all your muscles, get them golf-ready and go through the variety of shots, from short chips/pitches to drivers and back. When I talk about “practice”, I’m referring to those trips to the range with the goal of refining your swing technique and making those refinements permanent. And if you want to really get better at this game, those kinds of sessions should be a regular part of your golf experience.
The first thing is, you should go to the range for one of these sessions with a single mission and purpose. And make it S-I-M-P-L-E. It is quite easy to get into sensory overload in a practice session if you take on too much. Narrow down your range session to a single part of the swing. Maybe it’s your tempo and rhythm, your weight shift, or your left arm position, the rotation of the hands, the backswing plane . . . . But make your range time a time to learn and perfect a single part of the swing.
Since this is a learning session, don’t be so quick to hit all your balls. Focus on the single move you are trying to learn or refine and practice it in slow motion for a number of swings, until you get the feel of where you want to be – those golf balls will wait. As it becomes familiar, increase the tempo of the swing slightly to feel it work in a little more realistic pace, but not more than about 50-60% speed. When it gets feeling more natural, roll a ball over and try it out on the real thing – but again at 50-60% speed.
In fact, I’m a big fan of trying out any new swing movement on pitch shots of about 50 yards. There is no urge to hit it hard that way, so you can focus on the thing you are trying to learn. A ¾ pitch shot with a gap or pitching wedge is a “mini-swing” in reality. You take the club almost all the way back, your body core turn and weight shift are almost identical to a full swing . . .but most importantly it’s all happening much slower than a full swing with a middle iron or wood. The learning process – try, correct, try again – happens much easier this way. We don’t see the driver’s education classes start on the freeway, right?
As you begin to make solid contact and see the result you are seeking with the pitch shots, move into soft short irons, then middle irons and even hybrids. But keep all your shots well under what you consider “full swing” power.
Harvey Penick was a big believer that you never hit more than 10-15 shots in a row with the same club in a practice session. I watched him work with Tom Kite one day and he’d have Tom switch clubs every few shots as he tried to cure an overcooked draw that he’d developed. That sure made good sense to me.
Finally, when you move up to actually hitting balls with this “new thing” you are working on, don’t overlook the value of practice swings, even on the range. Take a few swings before each real shot, and allow yourself at least an hour to hit 40-50 balls. I see too many players on the range just beating balls like there’s no tomorrow. Take your time and enjoy the process. It will work better that way.
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