The biggest issues for most amateur golfers when it comes to practice are that they either don’t have enough time or it’s boring and doesn’t improve your game, so why bother? I sincerely empathize with both of these situations, particularly the second one as I’ve experienced it at various times in my life.
When it comes to the lack of time I think that people would be surprised how little time you actually need to make improvements in your game.
If you are seriously constrained by your time limitations or location and cannot get to a physical golf practice facility, then there are still options for you to work on your game in the comfort of your own home!
As for the lack of improvement from your training, well…you’re doing it wrong, so I’ll be telling you how you can use that time to create better habits and improve your game.
What might be of particular interest is that most of your opponents won’t be practicing properly either, so if you nail this skill then you’ll be able to take those bragging rights consistently from now on!
What if I just don’t have the time?
I’ve played golf with many players, usually in pro-arms, who take the first chance they get to tell me that they have to go to work everyday and never get the chance to play or practice. I get it, trying to practice after a long day of work is not fun and it’s a lot easier to not bother.
So in these cases I try to give some advice on how to keep their game in good shape when they can’t play for weeks (or even months) on end. Whether they take this on board is another question, but the advice will help you too if you implement it correctly.
There are basically three things that I ask those players to do; write down some keys, find some indoor drills, and read some golf mentality books.
Write down some keys
You can take this as far as you want. I know a lot of people will roll their eyes at the prospect of writing things down like a journal, and it is not for everyone, but everyone can write down a few bullet points which remind them of what works for them. If you’re only playing golf once a month or so, then let’s not pretend you’ll remember what you were thinking about the last time that you were on the course!
I would generally like to see anything up to five keys, with two to three of those being ‘feels’, such as “slow on the takeaway”, or “finish your backswing”. These ‘feels’ are the ones which work for you on the golf course and should be your only true thoughts when making swings that count.
The other keys might be about your mentality (positive thinking, stay focused) or something technical that you are working on (stronger clubface, weaker grip).
Keep these keys somewhere convenient, most people will have it on their phone, or you can write it on an actual piece of paper and have it in your golf bag as well. The point of this is to use it as a refresher tool which will keep you on a similar path each time that you play.
Trying to improve is almost impossible if you change what you do each time that you play, so this at least provides you with a framework that you can refer to.
If you want to change these keys over time, then by all means do! I wish I could tell you that once you find a key it will work forever, but sadly that is not the case at all! The keys which have worked best for me are certainly within the same area, but I have had to tweak them every few months or so.
Find some indoor drills
This is one that I will vouch for eternally. Some of my best practice has been carried out using indoor drills thanks to the ability to truly focus on what you want to impact, rather than getting caught up in what the ball does.
Importantly, it can be one of the more effective ways to change our movement patterns because if you put a ball in the way, our previous habits tend to take over and stop us from ingraining something different.
As an example, you might want to work on something like improving your balance throughout the swing, as this can often lead to greater consistency. In this case doing slow-motion drills with a club, ideally without shoes on, can give you a much greater appreciation for where your weight is and where the mistakes are occurring during your swing.
When we swing full speed, things are happening very quickly and it can be difficult to diagnose exactly where the issue is. By doing a few indoor swings without a ball, you should get a more accurate feel for the moment in your swing where you are losing that balance, then you can start working out how to fix this problem.
I won’t go into too much detail about which drills will work and how to fix specific issues, but it is worth having a play around with a few options and seeing if moving slowly and improving your awareness of your movement (and the club’s movement) will help you to understand your own swing a lot more, it certainly did for me.
You can also invest in a few at home training aids, like a putting mat or posture trainer. These things can be easily stored away and brought out for a quick 15-minute session to keep you ticking over.
Another trick that I use is that I have a cut off golf club, so it is the grip and maybe three inches of the shaft, with no club head, and I use this to mimic the way that I want my body and hands to move in unison during the backswing.
It helps me work on keeping connected and I find it much easier to replicate that feeling in my practice swings, which in turn eases the transition into my full swing.
Read some golf mentality books
I’m sure we all have time to read or listen to audiobooks with the amount of travel and commuting going on nowadays, so why not use that time to evaluate your golf mentality and work on improving it before you play next?
A considerable amount of the golf psychology that I have learned over the years has seemed pretty obvious as soon as I read it, but I wouldn’t have known how to get there without searching it out. This isn’t particularly taxing stuff to think about, it’s more about introducing yourself to a different way of approaching golf and perhaps uncovering some things you might do which are actually pretty harmful to your scores.
The best golf mentality/psychology books that I have read are written by Dr. Bob Rotella (which will come as no surprise to those who have experience in this area), mainly due to the simplicity with which he conveys the message and how to implement his advice on the golf course.
His books cover a variety of different scenarios and you will be sure to find something in there which relates to your golf and your style of thinking. It could be something to do with your expectations, or how you deal with a poor shot, or what you do in your pre-shot routine which allows you to play more consistently.
The point is that thinking a bit more analytically about what we do can uncover some wondrously simple gains in our golf games.
Golf psychology is still incredibly undervalued for amateur golfers, even more so considering that it is that demographic who would benefit the most from such learnings. If you don’t have the time to work on your physical game, please do not think that you cannot improve your scores, the easiest way is something you can do as far away from the course as you could imagine!
Why am I not improving?
If you are in the camp of putting in the practice but you aren’t seeing any results, then welcome to the world of golf! No, I’m just kidding…sort of. Golf will be infuriating at times and continuously deny you any feeling of satisfaction, regardless of the work that you put in.
The idea of improvement in golf is always long-term, that is important to remember when you are judging your performances. I suppose what I am trying to do here is buy myself a bit of time with the advice that I give you, because although I am 100% confident that your game will improve by improving your practice, I cannot make any promises that it will happen immediately.
Putting the right tools in place and sticking to a structure of some sort is the way in which golfers strive to improve. Clearly, the higher the level that you play at, the more areas that you will cover with this, but to begin with I would suggest that you measure your practice and work on quality over quantity.
Measure your practice
One of the most effective ways to improve, and to make yourself believe that you have done so, is to measure your practice and be able to see your progression with the results that you achieve. If you simply go and hit balls each time without being able to see any results, then how do you actually know if you are performing better, rather than just ‘feeling’ like a better golfer?
I have spoken about improving your driving range sessions in a previous article, so you can see some measurement drills in that article, but the most important area for this is within the short game. When you are working on your chipping, it’s a good idea to do a scoring test based on some zones around the target.
It can be particularly convenient to make these zones a club-length distance, as you can then easily measure each time without faffing around too much. I like to play a game where you get 5 points for a holed shot, 2 points for within a club length, 1 point for within two club lengths and minus 1 point for anything outside of this range.
Of course you can switch up these rules depending on your skill level, but you get the picture. I then try to reach 21 points as fast as possible. I write down how many shots it took me to reach my target and try and beat that the next time.
Another option is to play ‘Par-18’ in which you will play 9 holes trying to get up and down, ideally with three easy, three intermediate, and three difficult holes. This one is pretty simple, count up your score and keep a record of it, trying to improve it each time.
This game is one of the best because it combines chipping and putting and gives you a greater appreciation for simply trying to get the job done. I find that it helps me to feel less pressure on my chip shots because I back myself to hole the putt anyway, which in turn frees me up to chip the ball closer.
Having such a clear objective is a sure way to get your mind focused and competitive, which only gets more important as you get to the putting green.
You should be measuring your putting practice at least 75% of the time. Sure, you need to have some technical work in there as well so that you understand what you are doing, but putting is predominantly feel and confidence, so having improving results to look back at will be what truly allows you to improve your competitive putting performances.
A simple game would be to put down tees at 3 feet, 6 feet, and 10 feet in four different lines around the hole. Preferably so that the putts have variability in terms of which way they break. You can either keep a tally of how many you hole from those 12 putts, or count how many putts it takes you to hole all 12 putts. If you’re low on time then obviously the first option will help you.
It’s important to test yourself with variety in this game, so don’t go back to the same hole on the putting green every time because you’re quickly going to learn exactly what each putt does and that does not replicate on-course conditions.
Another effective game is one that I call ‘one-ball’ (creative, I know) where you drop the ball in random spots around the green and choose a pin which is more than 20 feet away. Your objective then is to go through your full routine on every putt and avoid any three putts.
I tend to play nine holes with this, so it is very similar to Par 18, but I won’t stop until I complete nine holes without a 3-putt, measuring how many efforts at nine in a row that takes.
What extra notes can I take?
With any of these games it is going to help you if you can take some more detailed notes on each shot. For example, with the putting games you could be writing down on which side of the hole you missed the putt, and which break that was.
This will show you (once you have gained more data) if there is a pattern with your putts. Maybe you miss the majority of your left-to-right putts to the left, so you should consider adjusting your aim. Or maybe you are missing uphill putts on the low side (right for a L2R putt, left for a R2L putt) so you need to hit them with a bit more pace.
The same principles apply for the chipping games, but you can obviously look at your performance from different lies as well. You would be amazed by how wrong we can be in our assessment of our performance if we rely simply on what we ‘felt’ was happening.
Quality over quantity
Another way to make your practice more valuable is to approach it with the attitude of quality over quantity. People who just stand there hitting hundreds of balls in an hour, or walking around the putting green whacking balls and never lining it up or going through a routine, are not really training anything.
Whatever your performance is during a session like that, it is not transferable to the course because the conditions were not similar in the slightest. Effectively, it was a waste of time.
An effective way to work on this is to break your practice down into smaller chunks. Maybe you do your range session in five ball increments. Each set of five balls has a certain objective (backswing work, distance control, fade etc.) and then you move onto the next five balls.
You will find it a lot easier to focus on these five balls than if you look down at your basket, see fifty balls and think “that’s a lot of balls, they don’t all matter”. This will probably save you some money as well because you’ll need half of the balls for twice the return!
When it comes to the short game work I would recommend doing a lot more of your practice with a full routine. Read the putt like you would on the course, do your normal routine, and treat it like you have this putt for your best ever round. This will prepare you much more thoroughly for your next round than hitting meaningless putts without any consequence.
Practicing with quality over quantity is better on so many counts; it can take less time, it gives you more feedback, it is better for your body and it provides more scope for confidence building during practice, rather than relying solely on on-course results for confidence.
How often do you start a round and determine your confidence level from the first few shots that you hit? Wouldn’t it be nice to stand on the first tee already knowing that you feel confidence? Or not being totally frazzled by a couple of poor shots to begin with because you know how to fix it? Start practicing with more quality and you will learn how to achieve this!
Some of you may consider practice to be a bit of a luxury as a social golfer. I can understand why people have this view with the other responsibilities in life, but I hope you have learned from this article that practice can be as simple as you need it to be and it does not have to take away from the time that you give to things with greater priority in your life.
Making better use of your practice time is undoubtedly the cheapest and easiest way to improve.
You don’t need to buy anything, you don’t need to spend more time on it, you simply need to improve something that you are already doing by having a plan and using more critical thinking.
The keys to improving your practice are to have a plan, stick to it, and remain focused for the time that you are practicing.
Practicing this way will allow you to enjoy your time on the course far more as you get to chase your goals (breaking 90, 80, par…whatever it is) rather than spending twelve holes trying to fix whatever didn’t feel right at the start.
Good luck and stay patient!