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.
Kelley: Should a Tour player’s swing be the pattern we copy?
PGA Tour players are the most gifted golfers on the planet. Their ball striking ability is remarkable to the average, even scratch, golfer. With the time to practice all day, usually perfecting their imperfections in their own swings, why are PGA Tour players’ swings always the model we seek?
Look at the progression and expectations in other sports played recreationally. If you start playing Tennis, you don’t expect to serve as fast and accurate as Rafael Nadal. When joining a gym, do we look and replicate the times and bodies of Olympians? However, in golf, players seek the worlds best trying to emulate them. Examining this idea, could this actually be detrimental?
Let’s start with the speed differential. The average PGA Tour driver club head speed is 113 mph. The average male amateur golfer driver speed is 93.4 mph. The average handicap for the male golfer sits between 14 and 15. Below is a chart from Trackman showing the distribution of clubhead speed among male golfers.
Speed is mostly a natural talent developed at an early age. It can be enhanced with speed training, gym work and even lifestyle changes. ?With such a differential in speed?, wouldn’t players first be better served focusing on center contact with the most efficient route to do so? This can include modeling simple looking swings.
Besides the speed differential, the world’s best golfers all have unique swings that have been perfected over time. Take for example the top ten players in the world. Different swings with different match-up moves throughout the motion. They have made it work for themselves with countless practice hours. Usually time the average golfer doesn’t have.
A main example would be Rory McIlroy, often a sought out golf swing among students. Here is a quote regarding his swing swing sequence after visiting the Titleist Performance Institute Center. “At the start of McIlroy’s downswing, his left hip spins violently counterclockwise, as it does for every elite, long-hitting player. but then, and only with the driver, Mcllroy makes a funky move you could not teach. a moment before impact, his left hip suddenly changes direction and jerks back, clockwise, and then rotates again.”
With the average golfer on a time constraint?, golfers could actually look at what the greats do the older they get in their careers. The swings become more simple, using their instincts to get their body in efficient and more teachable positions. This is usually in their set-up then backswing, with less excess movement for an efficient strike. Take for example a young versus older Ben Hogan. (Picture below)
Below is another example of a young Jack Nicklaus compared to an older Nicklaus later in his career.
This is in large part due to the concept that less can be more at times. Unfortunately in golf, all to often players are told to do more with their swing, only to jeopardize center contact even seeking vanity over function.
A concept that could be beneficial is next time you want to work on your swing, focus on efficiency and minimizing the ?motion for center contact and a better face/path relationship. Then you can build. Rather then taking a bit from a Tour player’s swing, understand how your body should move to achieve your desired ball flight. Once you have a foundation, then add speed and your own DNA to the swing.
The argument could be made the opposite should be taught for aspiring junior golfers, especially the way the game as going. This article is intended to open a discussion and perhaps change the view of how the golf swing is being taught based on your skill-set and what you are trying to get out of the game. Also, what may be teachable and not teachable. You can change swings with concepts alone.
Clement: Why laying up = more power
You have been there before — you can’t get over the hazard on a par 5 and decide to lay up and take the club you need for the distance and the ball makes it into the hazard after you took this smooth swing that smoked the ball 15 yards farther than you expected? We uncover the mystery right here!
Kelley: Simplify your swing with the hammer drill
Regardless of your handicap, a simple hammer can teach you how to efficiently address the ball, start the swing and then put your body in a dynamic position at the top. If you can hammer a nail, there is no reason you can’t simplify your swing. This drill can also change the parts in the middle of your swing you have been struggling to change.
To start, grab a hammer with your trail hand as if you are hammering a nail into a wall in front of your body. You will notice how this instinctively gives you a slight tuck of the trail elbow and drops your trail shoulder below the lead with angle in the trail wrist.
Once gripping the hammer, move the weight of the hammer as if hammering a nail. This will give you the feel of the takeaway.
From here, the golf swing is no more then a lifting of the arms as the right arm folds and the body goes around a bit.
From this position, holding your spine angle and placing the left hand on the right hand will pull your body into a coil or “turn”. This places your body in a position to efficiently swing the golf club back down to the ball.
A great way to combine the hammer drill with a golf club is to hold a hammer on the grip of the club or tape the hammer down the middle of the shaft. Start with just your right hand on the club and make slow swings.
Once you have practiced this a few times, the hammer can be removed and this feel can be integrated to a normal golf club. To continue this feel, simply turn the clubhead in as if you are hitting the ball with the toe of the club (below picture). When turning the club like this, the center of balance goes more to the clubhead, helping replicate the actual hammer feel.
What’s great about this drill is that the actual task is driving the technique. Rather than being thoughtful of several technical positions in the golf swing, replicating the instinctive motion of the hammer will put you in the proper positions. This drill will also help you place your focus of attention on the actual club, which is often overlooked.
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