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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 at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. 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 60 people in the world.

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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

6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Instruction

Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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Instruction

Build A More Consistent Short Game Through Better Body Movement

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So far in my collection of articles on GolfWRX, I’ve talked at length about the importance of posture, stability and movement patterns in the full swing, particularly utilizing the GravityFit equipment for feedback and training load. Many coaches use the same equipment to teach better movement in the putting, chipping, and pitching actions.

To help give some more insight into exactly how they do this, I have recruited Matt Ballard to co-author this article. Matt is an Australian-based coach and short game specialist who has been working with Adam Scott for the past year.

Matt Ballard (right) with Adam Scott.

According to Matt, the short game issue that the club players he coaches struggle with is contact and delivering consistent loft with their wedges.

“Most people tend to get steep, the handle comes in first and not enough loft is delivered,” he says. “This means that the bounce of the wedge isn’t being used properly, which makes control of contact, trajectory, and distance very difficult. ”

As Matt explains in the video below, this problem tends to manifest itself in chips and pitches that are either fat or thin, fly to short or not far enough, and either check up too soon or go rolling on past the pin.

The really frustrating part is the inconsistency. Not knowing how the ball is going to react makes committing to a shot extremely difficult. This has the unnerving effect of turning a simple task into something difficult… and pars into bogeys or worse. For the past few months, Matt has been using the GravityFit TPro to teach correct set up posture and body movement for chipping and pitching.

“I use the TPro to first of all establish spine and shoulder position,” Matt says. “I like my students to have the feel of their shoulders and forearms being externally rotated (turned out). From this position, it’s much easier to control the clubface (i.e. not getting it too shut or too open). The second benefit of using the TPro is controlling the golf club radius during the swing, with the radius being the distance the club head is from the center of the body. Controlling the radius is paramount to becoming an excellent wedge player. The third reason I use it is to help teach that pure rotation from the thoracic spine (mid/upper back), minimizing the excessive right side bend (for a right handed player) that gets so many people into trouble.”

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Nick demonstrating how TPro drills can be performed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essentially, Matt uses the GravityFit TPro to train a simple movement pattern that, once mastered, all but eliminate the typical problems normally associated with chipping and pitching.

“When (golfers) learn to turn using their thoracic spine and keep their arms in front of their body, it has a dramatic effect on how they deliver the club to the ball,” Matt says. “They are now able to maintain width or radius on either side of the ball, shallow out the club, and engage the bounce (sole) of the wedge to interact with the turf effectively, which is a key trait of all excellent wedge players. Doing this greatly increases their margin for error from a strike perspective and produces a far more consistent outcome in terms of loft, trajectory and distance control.”

Here is Matt’s 5-step process that you can follow with the TPro:

  1. Push handles out in front of your body, keeping slight bend in elbow.
  2. Stretch tall. Feel the green spikes in your middle/upper back and your shoulder blades on the paddles.
  3. Hinge forward into posture for pitching or chipping (the shorter the shot, narrower the stance.).
  4. Slowly turn chest into backswing, keep arms out in front of body, and maintain pressure on the spikes and paddles.
  5. Turn through to finish position using normal tempo, maintaining same pressure on the TPro and keeping arms in front of your body.

In summary, using the TPro and Matt’s drill can help you train a simple movement pattern that can give you far more control over the strike, trajectory and distance of your chips and pitches.

Click here to learn more about the TPro. To discover more pearls of wisdom from Matt, take a look at his website here and his social media activity here.

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