Practice Habits To Improve Your Golf Game
By Gerald Haynes - Sales Manager at Shop Indoor Golf
During the last 40 years I’ve either been playing golf competitively, teaching golf, or selling golf equipment. In that time, I’ve played at a decent level, taught some really amazing golfers that are playing professionally now, and learned a lot from other professional’s about how to best practice to play better golf. If you’ve ever been a single digit or scratch golfer you know how much work it takes, not just to get to that level but to stay there. In this article I will cover some easy practice habits that will help improve your golf game.
It seems cliché to say that a good pre-shot routine will make you better, but I can 100% assure you that it will. Every great player I’ve ever worked with, talked too, or played with did the same thing every single time they hit a shot. Even teaching indoors, the really great players will go through their pre-shot routine inside before they hit a ball. With that being said, you don’t have to sit over the ball and twitch like Jordan or Sergio, but doing the same thing every time will get your mind and body in the correct space before you hit the ball, even in my own game I play better when I do my routine consistently. This relationship between the mind and the body helps create muscle memory, so when you step up to take your swing you will be cool, calm, and consistent.
As a teacher I would rather have someone build a good routine first, then build a good golf swing. I actually believe it’s more important to work on your routine than hit golf balls, sounds crazy, but if your brain isn’t in the correct place to hit, you will not be successful.
The other thing to remember, you can practice your routine at home, at work, on the range, basically at any time you want without hitting balls.
Your pre-shot is where you will make a plan for the shot. The plan should consist of you having to figure out your lie, what club to use, what ball flight you want to hit, how the wind is blowing, elevation changes, etc…There is a lot data you need to calculate before you hit your shot, that most golfers never take into account, they just find their yardage and pick a club without thinking about anything. Get in the habit of analyzing your shot before hit, start making your plan while you’re waiting for Bob to take his swing.
Steps to follow:
- Assess your lie - is the ball above your feet, below your feet, downhill, uphill, how is the grass, what direction is the wind blowing, where are the bunkers.
- Find your yardage – whether you use a GPS, Range finder or your feet, figure out how far you are from the flag. Also, is the pin in the front, middle, back, right, left, all that will affect how far you need to hit the ball.
- Pick your shot – if you have the ability to work the ball you can figure out what kind of shot you want to hit, if you don’t have that ability know what your normal ball flight is so you can visualize that shot shape.
- Pick your club – club selection will be based on lie, distance, wind, and shot shape.
- Pull the club – Once you pull the club it’s time to get ready
- Practice swings – I do not prescribe to taking practice swings beside the ball then stepping up and hitting the shot because it messes up your visual and takes your mind off of the target. If you take a practice swing beside the ball that is ok, but make sure you step back behind the ball again before you hit the shot so you can aim.
- Visualize your shot – Standing behind your golf ball, draw a line from the ball to your target, make sure you focus on a small target to get your mind focused, a specific spot that is very small. Try to see or imagine the ball flying.
- Breath – Before you step up and hit the ball stare at your target and take in a deep breath and hold it for a second or two, when you’re ready to commit, let the breath out and step up to the ball and hit the shot.
Repeat this process over and over again both in your mind and when you practice, the more consistent it becomes the easier it is too do. My entire pre-shot routine takes about 7.6 seconds from the time I pull the club until I hit the ball, so there is a lot happening in that short period of time, and it’s the exact same every time I hit, and the assessment part of that probably takes less than 30 seconds. So, you don’t need 5 minutes to decide what to do, and hold up play, make a plan before you get to your ball, and modify that plan once you get there if need be.
When you do go to practice hitting balls, whether indoors or out, make sure that your pre-shot routine is a big part of your practice session. Anytime you start hitting balls make sure you take a few minutes to get some stretching in, it doesn’t have to be an entire yoga routine, just a few stretches to loosen up your back, hips and knees so you don’t pop something from your body being cold. The next part of warm up is short wedge shots, hit 20-30 really short wedges starting at about 25 and work your way out to about 100 yards before you ever take a full swing.
If you really want to become a good golfer, spend a lot of time with your wedges, if I hit 200 balls, 150 of them will be with my wedges and hitting different yardages, then I’ll hit 5 balls with every other club and maybe 10-15 with my drivers. If you have something you’re working on in your swing, then you can grab a 7 iron and hit a few more balls with it before you work through the bag, but even with swing changes you should never hit more than 25 balls with one club, unless it’s a wedge!
If you use a Launch Monitor or a Simulator, take full advantage of what they have to offer, i.e., bag mapping, evaluation modes and target practice. I personally recommend the Uneekor Launch Monitors (EYE XO and QED) for training and practice. If you practice with a specific target in mind, it will greatly improve your chances of becoming a better golfer.
When practicing outdoors, I recommend using alignment sticks on every shot you hit. Line them up like train tracks with the one by the ball pointed at your target and the other one lined up parallel with that, so when you’re lined up correctly it will look like your target is out to the right/left depending on which side of the ball you hit on.
Last but not least, play golf! I’ve seen so many people in my career that want to spend all day on the range practicing and hitting balls that never get better because they don’t play enough golf. Even if you only have time to play 9 holes, do that! If you can get out for 9 holes of twilight golf and hit more than one ball, even kicking balls into bad lies and hitting shots more than once, that can be more valuable than a range session. My rule of thumb is practice swing changes on the range, hit a lot of wedges on the range for distance control, then practice on the course before you play a real round.
“Drive for show and Putt for dough,” is an old adage commonly used in golf, I’m not sure how much it applies to today’s game with all the bombers out there, but good putters do have nice careers on the PGA Tour. When it comes to practicing your putting, the most important thing is getting the ball started on the correct line. Being able to read a green is impressive but it is useless if you can’t start your putt on the correct line.
I grew up in Wyoming and worked in both Colorado and Arizona, all of which have golf seasons, in the off season I would practice my putting indoors every day, just working on my line. These cheap putting mats have a lot of value, even the old ball return contraptions are great for your putting.
If you have a putting mat at home, I recommend using a chalk line or alignment sticks to create a line to practice 4–6-foot putts on. Hit at least 100 putts a day in the off season, the more putts you hit, the more natural your stroke becomes and the easier it is to be consistent when you play.
During the season I recommend still hitting putts at home, but practice much more outside.
Some outdoor putting drills that I like and recommend are:
- Long Putts (to learn pace)
- Ladder Drills (work your way up to 20 feet from the flag)
- Circle Drills (start 1 foot from the flag and work your way out to 10 feet)
These drills will help you learn pace and how to hit different lines. Don’t stop until you can make every putt in your drill!
Getting better at golf is a long process, you won’t go from a 25 to a 5 handicap overnight, your score might even get worse for the first couple months. I don’t even keep score when I’m working on my game, and if I do keep score, I don’t look at it until the round is over.
Perfecting your golf game is going to take a lot of work but if you build a good pre-shot routine and practice consistently indoors and out, then that will make the biggest difference. If you ever get stuck, I recommend finding a coach in your area! The best coaches will be more interested in how you practice rather than your swing. In closing, practice something every day, make a plan, stay consistent, and hit ‘em straight.