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Practice like you play! No, really!

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It’s a Sunday night at our golf course in Wisconsin. It’s August, hot and over 90 degrees at 6:00 pm, however, that doesn’t stop folks from coming out to practice. There is actually a surprising amount of people. At the end of the range are some college students hitting only driver stubbornly trying to fly the fence sitting over 300 yards away. In the middle of the range are a few seniors trying to hit the perfect shot—occasionally I see a club slam as they are unable to replicate the same swing again and again. Finally, there is a high school team closest to me constantly trying to best each other and hitting shot after shot rapid-fire with no purpose or goal.

What I’ve described above is all too common in golf practice today. We continually beat ball after ball mindlessly in search of this elusive “perfect swing,” but it is time that the story stops. I’ve found, and the research proves, that hitting ball after ball trying to find that next “thing” to hit good shots doesn’t work. Through this article I am going to explain to you how to practice effectively. I’m sorry to say that hitting off of a perfect lie and perfecting a swing isn’t the answer. I am going to share with you how to take those boring range sessions and make them into something fun, efficient, and productive that is proven to work.

It takes courage to break the status quo but, in golf and in life, it is what separates the good from the great. The status quo in golf practice is to hit balls and perfect your technique, but honestly, that is taking the easy way out. Think about it, how many times have you left the range feeling like you had a great session, only to come out the next day and play terribly? To change these results we have to practice like we play. In fact, we need to practice even harder so when we go out to play we can be easier on ourselves. Let me explain.

Please don’t mistake the word harder for agony. I probably should say practice smarter. Last season one of my college golfers came to me feeling extremely proud because he hit balls on the range for four hours “working on his swing.” Thinking he was a young Ben Hogan, he went on to say how much time and effort he put into the session. My answer to him certainly caught him by surprise as I said, “is that meant to impress me?” My point was that he was getting caught up too much in the time he spent rather than what he was accomplishing. The session had no focus as he was simply tinkering with his swing and scraping over another ball when he didn’t hit the previous one well, and that is not golf.

In golf, you have one shot that you have to execute at a specific time under pressure. There is a scorecard and inevitably expectations that we set upon ourselves. Why in golf do we hit balls on the range with no real consequence, yet expect to be able to stripe a ball down a tight fairway when we know if we hit it OB that a double bogey is surely the consequence? The reality is our practice is lacking focus and not game-like at all. Our practice needs to simulate pressure and game-like situations in order to be most effective. This will make our on-course experience feel much easier if done correctly.

An example of this practice smarter mentality would be going out and making 10 putts in a row from four feet. Those ten putts are going to be made by making your way around a hole on a slope, creating different putts that are uphill, downhill, right to left, and left to right. The important piece here is we are going to track this with a scorecard. If we miss a putt, we still have to go to ten and see how many we make; I/E 8 out of 10, but since we missed two, we’d need to do it again until we make all ten in a row. So what have we changed?

  1. We’ve put high expectations on ourselves, training under pressure.
  2. We now have one golf ball and different types of putts we are going to hit.
  3. We now have a scorecard to track results like we do on the course.

This is simulating play. This is practicing like you would play on a golf course with one golf ball, a scorecard, and added pressure. When I would do this with my students, that tenth putt would be filled with immense pressure because if they missed they knew they’d have to be there for another 30 minutes potentially. Many students and college athletes even claimed to be more nervous over those putts in practice than over any putt on the golf course and that is key to lower scores and playing your best golf! When you don’t practice under pressure, you’re not getting good under pressure.

Let’s revisit my college athlete’s story. Why was I not impressed by this time he spent working on his game? Well, he was falling into the trap like most folks visiting the driving range. It simply lacked focus and was not simulating what would inevitably be upcoming on the golf course. Again, it’s not about the time you log, but the results you get.

With me as his coach, his practices started to look like this after we changed his approach

  1. Make 10/10 from 4 feet
  2. 9 Holes Chipping: 7/9 up and down in 2
  3. On Range: 9/10 to a green 150 yards away.
  4. On Range: Hit 7/10 drivers in between a 30-yard target fairway.

In total, practice like the one mentioned above would take around 60 minutes or so to complete, and proved to be much more effective. That was an example session, as we tailored these sessions to work on areas he was struggling on during tournaments. Additionally, we changed up some scenarios to match tee shots at upcoming events, for example, making sure to keep the ball right or left of simulated trouble. So what makes this more valuable than simply “perfecting a golf swing and working on technique?”

  1. We are always training toward a target like on the golf course
  2. We are always simulating the pressures of the golf course
  3. We prove to ourselves that the results are inside of us, taking the pressure off of the actual on-course round, similar to a boxer boxing 15 rounds for a 12 round fight.

So I want you to ask yourself, how am I practicing? Cut down on the amount of time you practice and start to make it effective and efficient. Commit to using one golf ball. Set a specific target that you will accomplish at every practice, and simulate as best you can what you will be doing on the golf course. If you start to do this in your practice whether it is on the course, on the range, or on the practice green, I guarantee you will shoot lower scores.

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When Matthew began teaching in 2008 at Oakland Hills Country Club, most of his students were asking for him to fix their swing. After fixing golf swings for nearly a decade, he noticed that scores didn’t necessarily improve with the improved golf swing. He knew what his clients really wanted was to shoot lower scores! As most pros know, the key to scoring well isn’t hitting the ball further. It’s learning the REAL game of golf with one simple idea… get the ball in the hole in fewer tries than the other players. Matt started his new philosophy by taking a group of players on the golf course, observing each player’s game and developing a specific improvement plan for them while teaching them how to practice. The results were phenomenal! His players always drop shots off their game, and Matthew guarantees the results! Currently, Matthew is the PGA Head Golf Professional at Chequamegon Bay Golf Club in Ashland, WI. He is also the founder of "Great Data Golf." Born in 2016, Great Data Golf carries the vision of developing programs that make it easier to improve at the game of golf.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Ben Black

    Sep 6, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    I do the 3′ 4′ 5′ 4 point putting test before I play to get my putting focus on scoring.

    I throw three balls and then pitch/chip/lob to three different pins. Amazing how much better you get and faster, rather than robo-chipping 10 balls to the same pin 15 feet away from the same lie.

  2. iutodd

    Aug 31, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    This is really it everyone. There really isn’t much else you need to know about how to practice. The following sentence is perfect and is something that a lot of golfers don’t seem to understand:

    “In golf, you have one shot that you have to execute at a specific time under pressure.”

    A twist on the authors approach to practicing is to pretend like you’re playing a round of golf. Think about 9 holes of golf: two par 5s, five par 4s, two par 3s. Nine tee shots, five par four approaches, two opportunities to either go for it or lay up. That’s 16-18 shots. If you play enough you can probably fairly accurately remember what 9 holes of golf looks like and what you “normally” play and what the target looks like. So take 18 balls and try to then execute every one of those shots and see how you do. It’s how I practice and it absolutely helps.

    I used to be secretly terrified of being in the middle of the fairway with 100 yards to the pin – because I knew this was my chance to score and the pressure was suddenly immense. Grinding away on wedges for hours isn’t really possible for me (or for most people) and it doesn’t really help with the pressure – but I CAN practice what it feels like to have that pressure. I can stand on the range and tell myself: “OK, approach to number one at Hawthorn, 105 to the pin, which is back right so the miss has to be left and a little short if anything. Short right is dead with basically no green to work with” Then I can try to hit that shot at a target I pick out on the range.

    I’m no longer afraid of basically any shot.

    Wonderful article.

  3. Tired guy

    Aug 31, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    “Practice like you play”

    So once a month?

    Just a dad with 2 young kinds that used to be a scratch golfer… sadly missing any golf time… I know these days will pass yet am envious those of you that can work on their games…. hole some extra putts for the rest of us!

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Instruction

The important lessons you can learn from Peter Senior’s golf swing

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He may not be a household name in the United States, but Australia’s Peter Senior has a swing for the ages. At 60 years old, Senior has 34 worldwide professional wins including the 2015 Australian Masters beating a competitive field with several top-ranked players in the world. Turning professional in 1978, his career has spanned over 40 years.

Senior’s game and swing have stood the test of time, and the longevity of his career should be recognized. Senior formerly worked with Australian instructor Gary Edwin, and the structure to this swing taught to Senior paved the way for a future of consistent, high-quality professional golf.

Having a great golf swing isn’t the only key to becoming a great golfer, one must learn to play the game. However, you can learn a lot from Senior’s swing.

The origin to Senior’s swing lies in his set-up. Senior sets up in what I call his “hitting angles” or a position that mirrors impact.

From this position, Senior is able to simply keep these angles he established at address throughout the swing. This is why the set-up is so critical. The further he deviates from these “hitting angles”, the more he will have to find that impact position with his body in the backswing and downswing. In other words, more movement. The goal of his backswing will be to maintain these original starting angles.

From the picture, Senior has maintained his original body shape that he established at address. From this position, it will be much easier and repeatable to return the club to impact.

Note how his impact position now mirrors his original address position. All his original angles were maintained with a slight bump of the body towards the target. From impact, he can simply fold up his arms as his right side of his body rotates around his left side, keeping the clubface square to the body.

This standing tall finish position with the head following the torso is much easier on the back. His body has come forward and around beautifully, covering the ball for a proper strike.

The beauty of Senior’s swing lies in its simplicity. The changes Senior made to his swing can apply to anyone. Let’s look at two simple drills to make your swing more efficient and powerful.

“To a large extent, my backswing is a product of my set-up position” – Tiger Woods, Golf Digest 2020

To get into these impact angles simply practice pushing into an impact bag with the head and shaft of the club. Make sure your trail arm is tucked, lowering the trail shoulder as you pressure the bag.

To get the feeling of the proper coil from this set-up position, grab an impact bag and hold the bag in front of you.

From here, swing the bag around you with your arms keeping the top of the bag level. You will feel the trail side of your body move back and the lead side move out, coiling around your spine angle.

The trail glute will also move back and around with this drill, a key move the great Ben Hogan used to pivot his body. To develop an efficient swing and a long, injury-free career, take note of Peter Senior’s key moves.

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Fix early extension: 3 exercises to get your a** in gear

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It’s pretty common knowledge that “early extension” is a problem for golfers everywhere, but how does it affect your body and your game? And what can you do to fix it?

First, let’s look at early extension in its most simple form as a physical issue rather than a technical issue.

During the swing, we are asking our body to not only create force, but also resist a number of different forces created by the aggressive rotational pattern we call a golf swing. The problem comes down to each player’s unique dysfunction which will likely include bad posture, weak glutes or a locked out thoracic spine for example.

So when we then ask the body to rotate, maintain spine angle, get the left arm higher, pressure the ground, turn our hips to the target (to name a few) a lot of mobility, strength and efficiency are required to do all of this well.

And not everyone, well actually very few of us, has the full capability to do all of this optimally during the swing. The modern lifestyle has a lot to do with it, but so does physiology and it has been shown that tour players as well as everyday golfers suffer from varying levels of dysfunction but can ultimately get by relative to learned patterns and skill development.

But for the majority of players early extension leads to one or more of the following swing faults:

  • Loss of spine angle/posture. During the swing, a player will ‘stand up’ coming out of their original and desired spine angle, this alters the path and the plane of the club.
  • “Humping” the ball. Johnny Wunder’s preferred term for the forward and undesirable movement of the lower body closer to the ball.

Lack of rotation during the swing occurs due to the shift in the center of gravity caused by the loss of posture as your body does its best to just stay upright at all.

Ultimately, early extension leaves us “stuck” with the club too far behind us and nowhere to go—cue massive high push fade or slice going two fairways over (we’ve all been there) or a flippy hook as your body backs up and your hands do whatever they can to square it up.

Not only is this not a good thing if you want to hit a fairway, it’s also a really bad way to treat your body in general.

As a general rule, your body works as a system to create stability and mobility simultaneously allowing us to move, create force, etc. When we can’t maintain a stable core and spinal position or force is being transferred to an area that shouldn’t be dealing with it, we get issues. Likely, this starts with discomfort, possibly leading to prolonged pain, and eventually injury.

The body has a whole lot to deal with when you play golf, so it’s a good idea to start putting in the work to help it out. Not only will you reduce your risk of injury, but you’ll also likely play better too!

So we have three simple exercises for you here that you can do at home, or anywhere else, that will help you with the following elements

  • Posture
  • Core strength
  • Glute function
  • Thoracic mobility
  • Asymmetrical balance
  • Ground force development

#1: Forward lunge with rotation

  1. Standing tall, core engaged with a club in front of your chest, take a reasonable step forward.
  2. Stabilize your lead knee over your front foot and allow your trail knee to move down towards the ground, trying to keep it just above the surface.
  3. Maintaining your spine angle, rotate OVER your lead leg (chest faces the lead side) with the club at arm’s length in front of your torso keeping your eyes facing straight forwards.
  4. Rotate back to center, again with great control, and then step back to your original standing position.
  5. Repeat on other leg.

#2: Bird dog

  1. Get down on all fours again focusing on a quality, neutral spine position.
  2. Extend your left arm forward and your right leg backward.
  3. Control your breathing and core control throughout as we test balance, stability and core activation.
  4. Hold briefly at the top of each rep and return to start position.
  5. Repeat with right arm and left leg, alternating each rep.
  6. If this is difficult, start by working arms and legs individually, only life 1 arm OR 1 leg at a time but still work around the whole body.

#3: Jumping squat

  1. Start with feet shoulder-width apart, eyes fixed forward.
  2. Engage your squat by sending your knees forwards and out to create pressure and torque, whilst sending your hips down and back.
  3. Squat down as far as possible whilst maintaining a neutral spine, active core and heels on the ground.
  4. As you naturally come out of the squat, push the ground away using your whole foot, creating as much speed and force as possible as you jump in the air.
  5. Land with excellent control and deceleration, reset and repeat.

Got 10 minutes? Sample workout

3 Rounds

  1. 10 Forward Lunge with Rotation (5 each leg)
  2. 10 Bird Dog (5 Each side or 5 each limb if working individually)
  3. 5 Jumping Squats
  4. 1 Minute Rest

If you can take the time to make this a part of your routine, even just two or three times per week, you will start to see benefits all round!

It would also be a perfect pre-game warm-up!

And one thing you can do technically? Flare your lead foot to the target at address. A huge majority of players already do this and with good reason. You don’t have to alter your alignment, rather keep the heel in its fixed position but point your toes more to the target. This will basically give you a free 20 or 30 degrees additional lead hip rotation with no real side-effects. Good deal.

This is a great place to start when trying to get rid of the dreaded early extension, and if you commit to implementing these simple changes you can play way better golf and at least as importantly, feel great doing it.

 

To take your golf performance to new levels with fitness, nutrition, recovery, and technical work, check out everything we do on any of the following platforms.

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Clement: Chicken wing? Just swing like Nicklaus or Woods!

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Your lack of width in the swing can come from a few sources that will surprise you. Advice like “keep your head down and still” and “keep your lower body stable” are absolutely, positively golf swing killers and will snuff out any possibility for you to create effortless speed and accurate width as well as cancel any follow-through you are struggling so hard to achieve! This video will help you easily remove the shackles that hold your potential back and free both your body and mind to bring the majesty into your golf action.

There’s no need to fix what isn’t broken!

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