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The Solitude of Practice: Free your psyche to focus your mind

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You know those lonely days on the range by yourself when, for whatever reason, every little mishit and mistake drives you crazy? I’m going to help you find inner peace in these moments, and make those range sessions more productive.

For me, I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours I’ve spent beating balls on the range in an attempt to improve my game. Sometimes that “hard work” was fun; other days it felt like more of a chore. Even on those tough days when I felt like snapping every club over my knee, I always tried to make sure I reminded myself that golf was “only a game.” While that’s easier said than done, I want to discuss the “zen,” or solitude of practice that we should all strive to achieve when we are hitting balls so we can actually get better when we practice.

Look at the photo above of me hitting balls a few years ago at Bighorn in Palm Desert, California. I want you to notice several things that I would suggest you try the next time you are out on the range.

Dressed for the Day 

It’s difficult to have a solid practice session when you’re not wearing the correct attire — whether it’s the wrong shoes, or you forgot to wear a hat and you’re looking straight into the sun. Remember that you are responsible for dressing for success and making sure you have your glove, sunscreen, hat, glasses, and the proper type of clothing for golf. It’s not about wearing $1,000 shoes and matching your outfit perfectly. You want to make sure you wear things that allow you to sweat less, avoid sunburn, feel better while practicing, and generally allow yourself to make the most out of your session. There is nothing worse than trying to work on a certain shot when you are sweating like a dog, slipping around, or being blinded by the sun.

On the Far End of the Range

If you are truly practicing and working on something in your game, you must remember that it’s not social hour; it’s a time for you to focus and meditate on your feels and your goals for that practice session. It’s impossible to get better between jokes and keep your focus when your buddy is goofing around next to you. This does not mean you cannot ever practice around people. I’m not encouraging you to be anti-social, but if you truly want to step inside yourself, you must break away from the masses. Concentration and solitude is required to “be the ball,” as Ty Webb once said in Caddyshack.

Using a Solid, Level, and Grassy Portion of the Practice Area 

Now I understand that not every facility has a range as nice as Bighorn’s — or even a manicured strip of grass — but every facility has sections that are better than others. I suggest you find these areas and camp out if you’d like to really work on your game. It’s not reasonable to try and work on certain things when you are hitting off downhill, sidehill hardpan or a sandy lie. And what chance do you have to find the feel, much less your groove when hitting out of a divot or a mat with a hole in it?

Most of the time, I see people drop their bags on the range at the closest spot to the cart path. Think about it; that’s probably the most overused and worn-out section of the range. Find a less frequented spot, and you’ll have a more productive session.

One Ball at a Time 

One of my favorite things about the photo taken of me aboce is that you can only see one ball. The others are in a pile a few steps from where I am hitting. Why did I put the balls out of arms reach? So I have to stop, regroup, and go through my pre-shot all over again before every shot. This keeps me focused and in the best mindset possible to stay in the zone so I can get my best work done. How many of you resemble a machine gun while hitting range balls? I know many people who have another ball teed up and ready to go before the last one lands. Don’t be that guy!

Clear Target in Mind 

When you dial a phone, you have a specific goal in mind. For that reason, you input the correct number pretty much every time. You don’t just pick up your phone and hit random numbers; if you did, you probably wouldn’t reach the person you intended to dial. The same is true with golf. If you don’t focus on a target — an EXACT target — for every shot you hit, you won’t get much out of your session. If I ask you “What was your target?” and you answer, “I don’t know, I was just hitting the ball,” I can guarantee that you learned nothing from that shot, and you did not get better on that swing.

Relaxed and Un-rushed

If you have time to practice, then you have time to slow down. It’s never about the number of balls you hit; it’s about the quality of the balls you hit, especially when you are trying to learn a different move or swing feel. Far too often I see lunch-break golfers trying to hit a large bucket in 30 minutes. They get nothing accomplished but exercise. The goal of practicing on the range is to make a high number of correct repetitions in order to change a motor pattern, not finish a large bucket.

Focusing on Feels, NOT Results (Just Yet)

When you’re working on your swing, the range is a place to feel your new move versus an old one. It offers a low-pressure environment to work a new skill into your current game without repercussion. When you practice, don’t worry so much about the outcome at first; you only want to work on the feeling of the new move and understand just how close you’re actually coming to making “it.” Don’t ruin your zen by worrying on results quite yet… they will come.

I hope by now you have learned how to set yourself up for success by preparing, slowing down, and focusing on the task at hand. And please remember to enjoy the quest of golf and the constant strive for improvement!

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Labia

    Sep 9, 2017 at 12:56 am

    Find feel between the bedsheets…. NOT by hitting golf clubs….. that’s pathetic

  2. Nundie

    Sep 7, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    Just go commando in really loose pants

    • Chipolte

      Sep 7, 2017 at 8:09 pm

      and one ball at a time so you don’t stress your Fruit of the Looms.

  3. OB

    Sep 7, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    If you want to be good in sports, music, dance, it’s 99% practice and 1% performance play.
    You may be on the golf course for 4 hours (240 minutes) but you must reduce that to the time you are swinging or putting or strategizing for perhaps 10 solid minutes. You are doing nothing athletic or strategic for 230 minutes, other than socializing and taking in the scenery!
    So, if that 10 minutes of performance time is backed up by 99% practice time, you would need to be practicing 1000 minutes (~17 hours)! Sounds just about right.

  4. acemandrake

    Sep 7, 2017 at 10:15 am

    1. Use an alignment rod

    2. Stop if tired

    • Chipolte

      Sep 7, 2017 at 8:06 pm

      and shove the alignment rod for your spinal axis

  5. Solid Golf

    Sep 7, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Good points in this article. You kept it very simple and straight to the point. Sometimes I get carried away on the range and get to exhausted. Once that happens I start hitting bad shots. Then to rectify this I hit more shots. That’s when I know it’s time to leave. I am just wasting my time at the range at that point.

    • Chipolte

      Sep 7, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      same on this fine forum…. wasting time

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Instruction

Should you strive for a flatter transition in your golf swing?

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A lot has been said recently regarding flattening the transition in the downswing. As a teacher for many years, I totally agree that this is clearly what highly skilled players do. Sasho Mackenzie, the great biomechanist from Canada, explains that when the center of mass of the golf club gets UNDER the hand path coming down, we get a much easier squaring of the club face.

There is, however, a difference in the players we see making this move and average amateur golfers. Nothing in the golf swing happens in a vacuum, so to speak. That is, every move has to complement the other moves and balance the equation. So when we see Sergio “laying the club down” (flatten) in transition, it complements or is in sync with the “delivery” he has into impact.

Sergio has Hogan-esque “lag” in his downswing. That is, his wrists stay cocked very late as he approaches impact. with a great deal of forward shaft lean. While this may be characteristic of all great ball strikers, his “flat” action is more pronounced than most. He lays the club down, downcocks his wrists and voila, strikes it solid.

The point here is when the shaft is laid off and flattened in transition, it cannot then be released early. Those who cast, or release early from a laid off transition are staring shanks right in the face, and feeling heel hits with the driver. The reason is the club is being cast out, not down when it is coming in on a more horizontal plane. When a professional flattens it, they then tighten the delivery with hands in and a narrowed arc into impact. This is a huge distinction, and one I feel is little understood. If you are working on laying it down, but are used to an early release, you may accomplish the former, but are asking for trouble on the latter. It has to be released later and tighter after the transition to work.

Another common error I see quite often is the hand path issue. Here I’m referring to to how far from the body the hands move on the down swing. If you are a player who transition steep (too vertical), your miss is very likely the toe of the club. As a result you develop a habit of sending your hands out and away from your center (the distal and proximal, in biomechanist terminology) to compensate for the toe hit and in an attempt to find the center of the face. That swing habit is common and will, at times, compensate for the steep transition.  So you can see why the club will be more likely to hit the heel if it is delivered on a more horizontal plane.

The point here is this: it’s the same theme that I have seen and written about for many years:  Golf swing corrections, if that be your goal, are rarely singular; the come in pairs.  And the reason it can be frustrating is because we have develop two new feelings, not one. Many golfers abandon the effort because the accomplish one without the other.

If, for example, you decide your transition is far too steep, and you flatten it but then cast the club (remember now OUT not DOWN) and hit the heel of the club or shank a wedge, you may say: “Hey, that’s just not for me; or that was WORSE, not better”. And you’d be right, the RESULT is likely to be worse- but maybe not the effort.  If you are committed to a swing change, it rarely comes with a singular correction.

Be sure you know what you’re in for when working on laying the club down ala Sergio, or Furyk, or Ryan Moore, when you are told you’re too steep starting down.  My advice would be to try and work on one thing at at time.  For this particular correction, I have my students ht balls on a sidehill, above the feet lie. This can orient you to a more horizontal swing feeling and then an only then can start to work on keeping the hands, arms and body connected (the “inside moving the outside”) for the completion of the swing change.

One final note on this: I want to repeat that any change is optional based on your current ball striking, not what your video looks like. Phil Mickelson is one of the best players EVER, and his swing starts down as steeply as any club golfer, and he swings his hand path out away from him as a result every time. Let me me ask this question: who among us would change the swing of a 44-time champion and five-major winner on the PGA Tour? Whatever works…

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Instruction

How-to Series: How to swing like a pro — golf swing transition

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How To Series: Transition

Now it’s time to focus on the transition—this part is probably the most important! Be meticulous in your practice. Start slowly and make sure you’re doing it properly before you speed things up. Get this right and you’ll see that it helps with power, too!

More info on hollow body and core movements: Core Movements – How the Legends Move Their Middle

This new series is all about helping you improve your golf swing quickly. We’re going to break the swing down into its component parts and give you specific practice direction—master these key elements of the swing and you’ll see improvement fast!

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Instruction

Tip of the week: Dealing with downhill-sidehill lies

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In this week’s tip, Top 100 teacher Tom Stickney shows you how to play from downhill-sidehill lies and avoid a shot that flies well right of target.

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