Most amateur golfers accept that, if their goal is to improve their golf game, at least some amount of practice is required each week. It’s unrealistic to expect your scores to improve if you don’t spend at least some time between rounds working on your technique.
Golfers hoping to improve need to learn how to optimise the precious time that they are able to spend on practice. Going to the driving range and simply banging one driver after another for an hour is not an efficient use of your time, and it will do nothing to improve your scores.
It should be self-evident, but the goal of practice is to improve. So how can an amateur golfer, limited in the time they can dedicate to practice, make the most efficient use of their range time, while maximising their progress toward a better game? That’s the purpose of this article.
1. Identify Which Parts of Your Game Need the Most Improvement
The first step in knowing how to focus your practice sessions is to identify which aspects of your game are costing you the most strokes on the course.
Here’s an analogy that should help to make this concept understandable. An auto mechanic who is asked to make a particular car run better would never start to work on the car by randomly replacing parts or arbitrarily making adjustments. He knows that, to do his job properly, he must first run some diagnostics to determine exactly what is causing the car’s poor performance. Only then, armed with the knowledge of exactly what needs to be fixed, can he start to do the appropriate fine-tuning.
In precisely the same way, you can’t improve at golf until you first identify the specific things that need improvement. Is poor, inconsistent driving your primary culprit? Or is it inaccurate iron play? Maybe your short game is costing you a lot of wasted strokes during your rounds. Or perhaps poor putting is your nemesis.
Until you have the answers to those types of questions, your practice sessions will always be unfocused and won’t be targeted at making needed improvements. But conversely, once you’ve first performed the diagnostics that reveal your actual problem areas, you can then design practice sessions that will enable you to make quantifiable improvements. So how do you go about performing those diagnostics?
2. Start Recording Swing Data During Your Upcoming Rounds
Going forward, in addition to writing down your score when you play, you should make some additional notes on the scorecard about how you performed on each hole. Many players do some version of that already, by recording the number of putts they took on the hole, whether they hit the fairway, whether they reached the green in regulation, etc. That’s OK, but not sufficient if your goal is to identify areas for subsequent improvement.
Your data needs to be a little more comprehensive if the objective is to gain actionable information. For example, rather than simply counting how many fairways you hit during the round, start to identify where and how you missed fairways. Did your drive slice, did it hook, was it pulled, etc.?
Do the same with your approach shots and with your short game. Rather than just recoding when you successfully hit a green, identify what happened when you missed a green with your approach shots. Did you pull, push, top, or hit them fat? Was your proximity to the pin on short iron shots not as close as it should be? Were you consistently short or long on your targeted distances on those shots, etc.?
On your shots around the green, knowing that a goal should be to get within 5 feet of the hole, record how far you were from the hole after each chip. Chips left more than 7-8 feet from the hole, for instance, result in a 3-putt more than 70% of the time for amateurs (a big contributor to wasted strokes). It’s crucial to know how you stack up in that vital area.
You get the idea. What you are doing is generating input that will aid you in designing future practice sessions. After you’ve recorded that type of data for several rounds, you’ll start to be able to identify trends. You’ll plainly see what parts of your game are impacting your score the most.
3. Practice With a Purpose
Knowing exactly what parts of your game need improvement allows you to then practice with a purpose. No more wasting precious range time by flailing away at dozens of drivers. You will know how to allot your time on the range, by focusing on the areas that need the most attention.
If you’ve identified through your record keeping, for example, that you are not as accurate as you should be on 40-80 yard pitch shots, and that weakness is regularly costing you strokes, you know that this is an area that requires some dedicated focus. The same goes with all other parts of your game.
That is how to incorporate a purpose into each practice session.
4. Pay Special Attention to Your Short Game
Many amateurs are surprised to learn that over 60% of all shots taken during a round of golf consist of short game shots, shots that take place within 100 yards of the hole. But that is a well-documented fact, regardless of your handicap level. Putting alone accounts for about 40% of all shots.
That means that, for golfers who shoot around 100, over 60 of those shots are pitches, chips, putts, and sand shots. For a player who scores in the mid-80’s, those short game shots constitute 50 to 55 of their total shots.
But despite this fact, amateurs almost always focus on their long game at the driving range, almost to the total exclusion of their short game.
The message that those statistics reveal should be clear: Since most of your round consists of short game shots, you need to spend a little less of your practice time with the driver, and a little more time with the wedge. Because they represent the large majority of shots taken during every round, improvement in this part of your game can have a disproportionately beneficial impact on your scorecard. For any amateur golfer who wants to shoot lower scores, the fastest way to knock strokes off your card is to become better pitchers, chippers, and putters.
The good news is that becoming better at the short game is far easier than improving in the long game. Improving at pitching, chipping, and putting doesn’t require size or strength. Any golfer, whether they are a man or a woman, whether they are short or tall, or whether they are thin or stout, can excel in this part of the game and outperform other golfers who may have a physical advantage. In this way, the short game is the great equaliser....and it’s the fastest route to lower scores.
5. Stretch at home
We understand that not everyone will be able to find the time to get to a driving range, even once a week. But that doesn’t mean that the opportunity to improve your swing is forfeited. There is an effective way to get better.... which you can do right in your own home. And it doesn’t even involve swinging a golf club!
For those who have limited free time, there is probably no better way to improve your golf swing than to increase your flexibility. You may not be aware of just how effective golf-specific stretching can be in helping you to make your golf swing better.
Golfers who spend significant portions of their days at a desk, and who don’t exercise as often as they’d like, tend to lose the mobility necessary to execute a proper golf swing. And in large part, your swing is dictated by your flexibility. The golf swing relies on the coordinated sequence of muscle activation to produce a fluid movement. To maximise their effectiveness, these muscles should be as loose and flexible as possible. Tight muscles will limit your range of motion, which often results in subconscious compensations that are almost always detrimental to your swing. We’ve all seen the golfer with limited flexibility, for example, who swings too hard to compensate for the lack of full rotation caused by tight muscles.
A less restricted range of motion allows you to have a fluid, smoother, and more balanced swing, with the additional benefit that it reduces the chances of getting injured.
There are many different muscle groups that are called into action throughout the golf swing, with specific ones being activated during each phase of the swing (e.g., the upper and middle trapezius are the most active muscles during the backswing, the rhomboid and pectoralis major become engaged at the start of the downswing, etc.). Understanding which muscles are most important in the execution of the swing, and then developing a stretching routine that focuses on these specific muscle groups can be a game changer for golfers who currently lead a mostly sedentary lifestyle.
We've put together a list of ten stretches to improve your swing, complete with instructions and videos.
Getting Better Doesn’t Happen Just at the Driving Range
Improving at golf when you have limited spare time to devote to practicing requires that you become more efficient, and more effective, with your range time. Hitting a full bucket of golf balls using nothing other than your driver, might get you a good physical workout, but it won’t produce a lot of improvement in your game or lower numbers on your scorecard.
The most effective route to improvement is to do what the professionals do. Make a thorough and realistic assessment of your game, both your strengths and your weaknesses. Then dedicate your practice time to turning those weaknesses into strengths.
But, even if you can’t find the time for a weekly range session, you should find the time to devote to a regular, golf-specific stretching program at home. You will be amazed by how much freer, more balanced, and more powerful your swing will become by lengthening and strengthening the muscles that are utilised during your swing.
- Bill Sullivan