If your life is like mine, you only have a limited amount of time to practice your golf game. So when you do, you want to maximize time rather than mindlessly beating range balls. Personally, as my golf career has progressed, I’ve figured out what works best for my golf game and what drills seem to give me the best output with my limited input.
In this article, I outline the drills that work for me. I’ve always placed drills into two categories, mechanical and game-improving. Mechanical drills are ones that help fix swing issues like over the top, casting, etc. Game-improving drills are ones that hone the necessary skills to shoot lower scores. In my experience, you need to perform both types of drills in order to truly improve your game.
For this article, I give you my top game-improving drills so you can make practice more fun and get better in the process. Look out for an article on my top mechanical drills in the near future.
1. Putting: High Break, Medium Break, Low Break
Being a successful putter means consistently marrying line and speed. But in order to do that, you need to be able to see the different lines that the ball can possibly take as it rolls across the green. There’s a “high” side and a “low” side to every putt, and if you can’t see the difference between those, you’re limiting your ability to read greens.
This drill helps develop that feel and imagination.
Pick a putt between 10-20 feet with some break in it, and practice finding the highest and lowest break points possible to still have the ball go in the hole. This will mean altering speeds in the process. Developing your imagination will help you better manage your line and speed on the greens.
2. Putting: Left Hand (Line), Right Hand (Feel)
Golfers often feel that one hand dominates their putting stroke, which is not a problem, but I like to train each hand individually to know its role during the stroke.
“Lead hand controls the line while the rear hand controls the loft of the blade,” Homer Kelley says in the classic golf instruction book, The Golfing Machine.
This drill, which you may have seen Tiger Woods perform in the past, has golfers hit putts of different lengths with just their right hand, and then just their left hand. You’ll want to notice how the face and loft of the blade changes during the strokes with each hand, which will give you a great feel for the role that each hand plays in the stroke.
Figure out which hand you feel more comfortable with when putting one-handed, and you’ll then know which hand you want to feel dominates the stroke when you’re putting with both hands.
3. Getting Back Your Short Game Feel
Back when I was a competitive player, there was nothing worse than losing my feel around the greens. I combatted this by looking for the longest grass around the practice green I could find, and practicing soft-landing flop shots to a tight pin. The longer grass made me accelerate through the ball and the precision required made me focus on hitting a perfect shot. And more times than not, I’d have my feel back after the session.
The next time you’re struggling with your feel, try hitting shots that require acceleration. It will free you up so you can get back to getting up and down.
4. Snake Drill (Bunkers)
The biggest issue most golfers have when playing bunker shots is their lack of low-point control; most can contact the sand before the ball, as needed, but they either take too much sand or not enough. If you’ve ever seen someone leave a ball in the bunker, then blade one over the green, you know what I’m talking about.
To solve this, I like to draw two lines in the bunker about six inches apart– I call them “snakes,” because that’s what they look like — and practice impacting the sand on the first line and have the club exit the sand at the second line. When I miss the “snakes,” I get to see exactly where I went wrong.
5. Line Drill (Wedges)
One of the most aggravating things in golf is to hit a great drive to 100 yards or less from the pin, then lay the sod over the ball on your approach and watch the ball fly only half-way there. As you know, hitting wedges solid is one of the keys to scoring well and one of the true great feels in golf. So whenever I have issues striking my wedges solidly, I use my “line drill.”
Draw a line in the turf and place the ball on the target side of the line. Then, hit a few shots and note where the divot begins. If you can consistently take a divot on the line or slightly forward of it, you’re on your way to more solid wedge shots.
6. Connection Drill (Wedges)
Consistent impact with wedge shots is crucial to ball striking, as we learned above. But how do we accomplish it from day to day? By using the big muscles to power the little muscles. A strong connection between the torso and the golf club will keep the body and club from getting disconnected. Whenever golfers use their hands excessively around the green, they’re destined for problems.
To combat this, place a towel under your armpits and hit short chip shots. The idea is to hit the ball solid and keep the towels from falling out, working everything back and through TOGETHER.
Another drill to feel this connection is to stick an alignment rod in the hole in your grip and make practice swings from waist high to waist high without getting slapped by the extra long club. If your hands become overactive, the stick will let you know.
7. Mid-Irons (Left-Straight-Right)
Anytime I see players hitting the ball very well OR very poorly, I ask them to use the left-straight-right drill with a mid-iron. That’s because when good golfers are hitting the ball well, they can make it curve however they want and go to the course with supreme confidence. On the flip side, if they’re hitting shots all over the lot, they’re usually better off identifying the trajectory they’re most confident in and sticking with it until their swings come back. That will help them score better.
For the drill, use a 6, 7 or 8 iron and practice hitting draws, fades and straight shots, alternating between each. Practice curving it a lot, then practice curving it a little. See how much control you can gain over the amount you curve the ball, or what shot is working best for you that day.
8. Mid-Iron (9 Panes of Glass Drill)
Imagine a big window in the sky with nine panes of glass; one pane for each possible shot you can hit. Low-left, high-right, straight-middle, and so on.
The best part of Bubba Watson’s game is the way he can make the ball move through any pane of glass with any club at any time. Golf is much more than just hitting a series of straight shots at the highest level, and shaping shots is key to converting good strikes into lower scores. The more shots you have in your arsenal the better you will play, regardless of your level of play.
Take as much time as you can to learn how to hit all nine shots with a mid-iron, and expand to the other clubs in your bag once you do. Start this winter and come spring, you’ll be glad you did.
9. Driver: Find the Fairway Any Way You Can
When you’re struggling with your driver, you need a go-to shot to find the fairway. It’s even more important to have a go-to shot when you’re under pressure, whether you’re playing for your pride or your career.
For this drill, simply take time experimenting on the range with your driver. Try hitting huge banana balls, stingers and hooks on command. Eventually, you’ll figure out what shot feels most reliable for you. Remember, this is more about accuracy than distance. You want to find the shot you can get in the fairway no matter what.
10. Driver: Impact Drill with Spray
The best way to audit your impact on the practice tee is to spray the face with Dr. Scholl’s Foot Spray to see where the ball contacts the face. Remember, you can do more to gain distance by improving impact location and consistency than adding club head speed.
One of the best recent golf studies I’ve seen was by James Leitz, who charted the changes in impact point with a driver and what it did to the ball speed, spin rate, and launch angle. Basically, the study showed that golfers must contact their drives in the high center of the club face to create the launch conditions that maximize distance off the tee.
What to look for in a golf instructor: The difference between transformative and transactional coaching
Golf instruction comes in all different styles, methods, and formats. With that said, you would think this would be a good thing due to there being so many different types of people in the world. However, it is my opinion that the lack of standardization within the industry makes it confusing for the athlete to determine what kind of golf instruction they should seek out.
Before we can discuss what may or may not be the best type of instruction for yourself, first we need to know what our options are. Whether we are taking a “broad-spectrum approach” to learning or a more personalized approach, it is important to understand that there are differences to each, and some approaches are going to take longer than others to reach goals.
Welcome to the world of digital golf instruction, where tips from the most famous coaches in the world are a click away. The great thing about the internet and social media for a golfer is there has never been more access to the top minds in the field—and tips and drills are plentiful. With that said, with there being so many choices and differing opinions, it can be very easy to become distracted with the latest tip and can lead to a feeling of being lost.
I would describe “internet coaching”—or YouTube and Instagram surfing—as transactional coaching. You agree to pay, either a monthly fee or provide likes or follows and the professional provides very generalized tips about the golf swing. For athletes that are new to golf or golf instruction, this tends to be the first part of their process.
There are people who prefer a more transactional approach, and there are a ton of people having success working together over the internet with their coach. With that said, for someone who is looking for more of a long-term individualized approach, this may not be the best approach. This broad-spectrum approach also tends to be the slowest in terms of development due to there being a lot of trial and error due to the generalized approach and people having different body types.
Individual Transactional Coaching
Most people who are new to golf instruction will normally seek out their local pro for help. Depending on where you live in the country, what your local pro provides will vary greatly. However, due to it being local and convenient, most golfers will accept this to be the standard golf lesson.
What makes this type of instruction transactional is that there tends to be less long-term planning and it is more of a sick patient-doctor relationship. Lessons are taken when needed and there isn’t any benchmarking or periodization being done. There also tends to be less of a relationship between the coach and player in this type of coaching and it is more of a take it or leave it style to the coaching.
For most recreational or club-level players, this type of coaching works well and is widely available. Assuming that the method or philosophies of the coach align with your body type and goals athletes can have great success with this approach. However, due to less of a relationship, this form of coaching can still take quite some time to reach its goals.
Individual Transformative Coaching
Some people are very lucky, and they live close to a transformative coach, and others, less lucky, have had to search and travel to find a coach that could help them reach their goals. Essentially, when you hire a transformative coach, you are being assigned a golf partner.
Transformative coaching begins with a solid rapport that develops into an all-encompassing relationship centered around helping you become your very best. Technology alone doesn’t make a coach transformative, but it can help when it comes to creating periodization of your development. Benchmarks and goals are agreed upon by both parties and both parties share the responsibility for putting in the work.
Due to transformative coaching tending to have larger goals, the development process tends to take some time, however, the process is more about attainment than achievement. While improved performance is the goal, the periods for both performance and development are defined.
Which One is Right for You?
It really depends on how much you are willing to invest in your development. If you are looking for a quick tip and are just out enjoying the weather with your friends, then maybe finding a drill or two on Instagram to add to your practice might be the ticket. If you are looking to really see some improvement and put together a plan for long-term development, then you are going to have to start looking into what is available in your area and beyond.
Some things to consider when selecting a coach
- Do they use technology?
- What are their qualifications when it comes to teaching?
- Do they make you a priority?
As a golf coach who has access to the most state-of-the-art technology in the industry, I am always going to be biased towards a data-driven approach. That doesn’t mean that you should only consider a golf coach with technology, however, I believe that by having data present, you are able to have a better conversation about the facts with less importance placed on personal preference. Technology also tends to be quite expensive in golf, so be prepared if you go looking for a more high-tech coaching experience, as it is going to cost more than the low-tech alternative.
The general assumption is that if the person you are seeking advice from is a better player than you are, then they know more about the golf swing than you do. This is not always the case, while the better player may understand their swing better than you do yours, that does not make them an expert at your golf swing. That is why it is so important that you consider the qualifications of your coach. Where did they train to coach? Do they have success with all of their players? Do their players develop over a period of time? Do their players get injured? All things to consider.
The most important trait to look for in a transformative coach is that they make you a priority. That is the biggest difference between transactional and transformative coaches, they are with you during the good and bad, and always have your best interest top of mind. Bringing in other experts isn’t that uncommon and continuing education is paramount for the transformative coach, as it is their duty to be able to meet and exceed the needs of every athlete.
The importance of arm structure
How the arms hang at address plays a vital role in the golf swing. Often overlooked, the structure in which we place the arms can dictate one’s swing pattern. As mentioned in the article How Posture influences your swing, if you start in an efficient position, impact is much easier to find making, the golf swing more repeatable and powerful.
To start, I opt to have a player’s trail arm bent and tucked in front of them with angle in the trail wrist. While doing so, the trail shoulder can drop below the lead with a slight bend from the pelvis. This mirrors an efficient impact position.
I always prefer plays to have soft and slightly bent arms. This promotes arm speed in the golf swing. No other sports are played with straight arms, neither should golf.
From this position, it’s easier to get the clubhead traveling first, sequencing the backswing into a dynamic direction of turn.
When a player addresses the ball with straight arms, they will often tilt with their upper body in the backswing. This requires more recovery in the downswing to find their impact position with the body.
A great drill to get the feeling of a soft-bent trail arm is to practice pushing a wall with your trail arm. Start in your golf set-up, placing your trail hand against the wall. You will instinctively start with a bent trail arm.
Practice applying slight pressure to the wall to get the feeling of a pushing motion through impact?. When trying the drill with a straight trail alarm, you will notice the difference between the two? arm structures.
What is ground force in the golf swing?
There is no doubt about it, the guys and gals on tour have found something in the ground—and that something is power and speed. I’m sure by now you have heard of “ground reaction forces”—and I’m not talking about how you “shift your weight” during the golf swing.
Ground force in the golf swing: Pressure and force are not equal
With respect to ground force in the golf swing, it’s important to understand the difference between pressure and force. Pressure is your perception of how your weight is being balanced by the structure, in this case, the human body. Your body has a center of mass which is located roughly one inch behind the belt buckle for men and about one inch lower in women. When we shift (translate and/or torque) the center of mass, we create a pressure shift as the body has to “rebalance” the mass or body. This pressure shift can help us understand some aspects of the golf swing, but when it comes to producing power, force and torque are where it’s at.
Pressure can only be expressed in relation to the mass or weight of the body. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can only create 150 pounds of pressure at one time. However, when we direct that mass at a larger object than our mass, all of a sudden that larger mass directs an opposite and equal reactionary force. So now, when a human being “pushes” their legs against the ground and “feels” 150 pounds of pressure, they now get 150 pounds of force directed back towards them from the ground, creating a total of 300 pounds of force that allows them to jump off the ground in this scenario.
If ground reaction forces don’t have anything to do with the “weight shift,” then what do they affect? Everything!
Most people use the same basic ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. However, almost everyone has chocolate chip cookies that taste slightly different. Why is that? That is because people are variable and use the ingredients in different amounts and orders. When we create a golf swing, whether we are aware of it or not, we are using the same basic ingredients as everyone else: lateral force, vertical torque, and vertical force. We use these same three forces every time we move in space, and how much and when we use each force changes the outcome quite a bit.
Welcome to the world of 3D!
Understanding how to adjust the sequencing and magnitude of these forces is critical when it comes to truly owning and understand your golf swing. The good news is that most of our adjustments come before the swing and have to do with how we set up to the ball. For example, if an athlete is having a hard time controlling low point due to having too much lateral force in the golf swing (fats and thins), then we narrow up the stance width to reduce the amount of lateral force that can be produced in the swing. If an athlete is late with their vertical force, then we can square up the lead foot to promote the lead leg straightening sooner and causing the vertical force to happen sooner.
While we all will need to use the ground differently to play our best golf, two things need to happen to use the ground effectively. The forces have to exist in the correct kinetic sequence (lateral, vertical torque, vertical force), and the peaks of those forces need to be created within the correct windows (sequencing).
- Lateral force – Peak occurs between top-of-swing and lead arm at 45 degrees
- Vertical torque – Peak occurs between lead arm being 45 degrees and the lead arm being parallel to the ground.
- Vertical force – Peak occurs between lead arm being parallel to the ground the club shaft being parallel to the ground.
While it may seem obvious, it’s important to remember ground reaction forces are invisible and can only be measured using force plates. With that said, their tends to be apprehension about discussing how we use the ground as most people do not have access to 3D dual force plates. However, using the screening process designed by Mike Adams, Terry Rowles, and the BioSwing Dynamics team, we can determine what the primary forces used for power production are and can align the body in a way to where the athlete can access his/her full potential and deliver the club to the ball in the most effective and efficient way based off their predispositions and anatomy.
In addition to gaining speed, we can help athletes create a better motion for their anatomy. As golfers continue to swing faster, it is imperative that they do so in a manner that doesn’t break down their body and cause injury. If the body is moving how it is designed, and the forces acting on the joints of the body are in the correct sequence and magnitude, not only do we know they are getting the most out of their swing, but we know that it will hold up and not cause an unforeseen injury down the road.
I truly believe that force plates and ground reaction forces will be as common as launch monitors in the near future. Essentially, a launch monitor measures the effect and the force plates measure the cause, so I believe we need both for the full picture. The force plate technology is still very expensive, and there is an educational barrier for people seeking to start measuring ground reaction forces and understanding how to change forces, magnitudes, and sequences, but I’m expecting a paradigm shift soon.
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