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10 principles of effective golf practice (for pros and beginners)

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I hate to say it, but many golfers spend a lot of time practicing and don’t get much better. Why? There are a lot of reasons, but by far the most pressing issue is the structure of their practice in the first place.

I watch a lot of golfers practice as a golf instructor, and I’d estimate that 90 percent or more of their practice is little more than physical exercise; it doesn’t help golfers improve their skills and score better. If your golf goals are to get a little sun on your face, wind in your hair, or enjoy the company of others (or even a bit of solitude), I certainly don’t want you to get the idea that you’re doing things the wrong way. Please, continue to enjoy the game the way you want to enjoy it. This game should be fun, after all.

My experience is, however, that even golfers who play strictly for fun a few times a year would like it more and have more fun if they could play better.

So here is the deal: There are ways to practice golf (or anything) that are more effective than other ways. We can all agree on that. Below is a list of my top-10 practice principles I recommend to all golfers. What these principles do in a nutshell is guarantee the time you’re spending is as efficient as possible.

You might notice that many of the principles I recommend are used a lot by the good golfers you know, but not as much by the bad ones. That’s no coincidence. Go to a professional golf event, and you’ll see all of these principles in practice.

1. Start each practice by writing down what you’re going to do. List the specifics, the games you’ll play… everything.

2. Do a full routine with tournament-like intensity on every single shot.

3. Play the ball as it lies all the time. Drop it and play it. Don’t fluff.

4. Think about what you’re going to do before you hit every shot, and assess yourself with feedback when necessary. Remember, prepare-perform-review.

5. Always do your putting and short-game practice before full-swing practice. That’s a requirement. Be disciplined with it even when you don’t feel like it.

6. Half or more of your time during golf season should be on the course playing, or on the course doing scoring games. You need to learn on the course.

7. Never hit balls on the range with balls right at your station. Put the bucket, bag or triangle a few feet behind you. Walk back and pick up one ball at a time.

8. Play practice games, preferably against others. Any games you play, keep a score. Record the score at the end of each practice.

9. Always finish a practice session with a game, and make sure you are “winning” your way off the course.

10. When you’re done with practice, write down anything important: scores you got on games, thoughts, general feelings, etc.

Want to take your practice a step further? I highly recommend linking yourself up with a coach who can guide you through these principles. He or she can also recommend new techniques and playing adjustments that can help you make even faster progress.

Getting better at golf requires time and discipline — like going to the gym, eating healthy or learning a new language or instrument. You can’t change that. What you can do is spend your time in a way that helps you get the most out of what you have. Remember, you are in control of your improvement. You want it, so get it done.

Good luck, stay disciplined and let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below.

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I coach golfers of all levels! I split time coaching between the Bethlehem Golf Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and at DiJulia Golf at Jericho National in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. skip

    Nov 30, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    There’s also a little thing called talent.

    • Eric Cogorno

      Dec 3, 2016 at 11:05 am

      Yes there is…I think the purpose is to get as good as you can get…reach potential! Different for everyone!

  2. Clay

    Nov 29, 2016 at 7:13 am

    Mr. Peppertooth is so distinctly correct! I say “right on dear Chauncy.”????

  3. Mongoose

    Nov 28, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    Zero people will do any of this…

    • mark mckeown

      Nov 29, 2016 at 9:43 am

      wrong

      • Looper

        Nov 29, 2016 at 4:41 pm

        No your wrong, so I guess everytime you practice you follow this to a tee???

        • Shortside

          Nov 30, 2016 at 9:15 pm

          I play 3 shot par 5’s at the range after loosening up. Always starting with wedges when warming up. When the par 5 phase starts it’s 1 swing each with the driver/3 wood, long iron/or hybrid, short iron/wedge.

    • Eric Cogorno

      Nov 29, 2016 at 11:06 am

      Some people go to the gym and workout hard, others don’t. Same rules apply to anything in life you want to get actual lasting results in. Can’t please everyone, no one size fits all.

      • Mongoose

        Nov 29, 2016 at 4:39 pm

        I agree, great piece but what is the average handicap nation wide…

        • Eric Cogorno

          Dec 3, 2016 at 11:06 am

          Too high buddy! I could give the perfect practice plan to 100 people and maybe only 10 will actually follow through…just like everything else in life!

  4. Bart Dickens

    Nov 28, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    I an a bit of a social golfer that enjoys a cool beer or two on the course. My instructor tells me to practice like I play. So now I bring beers to the driving range.

  5. knoofah

    Nov 28, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    I think this may be covered in your 4th point, but I believe that recording your swing at every practice session possible is an essential for improvement to happen. This is both for your own information and your coach’s. This is integral to the “Review” part of your “Preare-Perform-Review.”
    Great article, Mr Cogorno.

  6. Bob Jones

    Nov 28, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    Re #5: When I practice chipping and putting, my back is always a bit sore when I’m finished from all the bending over, so I hit balls first. Also, I practice chipping with only one ball: chip it and putt it out, just like you do on the course (and no do-overs!).

  7. antonio

    Nov 28, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Very interesting article, thanks!
    What is the reason behind principle number 5 (practising putting and short game BEFORE full swing shots)

    • birdy

      Nov 28, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      i’m guessing its to make sure it gets done. easy to skip out on putting after hitting a bucket and just go home. if you putt and chip first, you’re less likely to skip out on hitting balls.

  8. Rob

    Nov 28, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Grab a buddy (preferably one who has a better short game than you) and find a practice green that has a bunker, some short grass, some long grass, lots of different slopes. Take turns picking different spots around the green and a hole to play to (even stipulate a specific club) and do this 18 times (9 if you are short on time). You can play it as a match and/or as stroke but the most important part is to put enough of something on it that you feel that “must-make” pressure – I found money or beer are the most motivating (especially when you are broke).

  9. Greg Norman's Chainsaw

    Nov 28, 2016 at 3:17 am

    Great little article. Especially the emphasis on games, short game and on course scoring practise. I see way too many people practising the same shot off a perfect lie, hitting the same chip 20 times or putting 4 balls in a row. Practise scoring and playing!

  10. M.

    Nov 27, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    Bucket away from you sounds like hard work, but productive!

  11. Gubment Cheez

    Nov 27, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Write down my feelings?

  12. Mark

    Nov 27, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    I know I am being something of a pedant but I cannot resist on this occasion.

    When practicing, here is what people are incorrectly doing. They “practice as a golf instructor”. When what they should be doing is practicing as the golfer they are.

    • KK

      Nov 27, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      Wth does that even mean?

      • Mark

        Nov 27, 2016 at 4:47 pm

        It means the author of the article failed to clearly express himself.

        • roastwrx

          Nov 27, 2016 at 5:17 pm

          They don’t like for someone to express their self around here…
          You’ll get blocked yo
          And have to get a new username

        • KK

          Nov 27, 2016 at 6:41 pm

          He gave a list of ten specific things to do when practicing. It doesn’t get any clearer than than. If anything, your “Don’t practice like an instructor, practice like yourself” is the most vague, useless thing I’ve ever read on GolfWRX.

    • Chauncy Peppertooth

      Nov 28, 2016 at 12:59 pm

      Its supposed to read: “as a golf instructor, I watch a lot of golfers while they practice.”
      This article is spot on. Being aware and in control of your feelings will shave more strokes than any improvement club or swing change. Everyone knows that one golfer, the 12 handicap that can’t hit the broad side of a barn on a relaxing day with the boys, but throw some skins at him and once the pressure is on plays to a 6. We call them “gamers”. If you don’t know what I mean or have never experienced this, look up Rocco Mediate 2008 us open. My point is, you can shoot par with the ugliest swing if you have the sharpest mind. Golf is played 95% in between the ears.

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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo

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One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.

Why?

If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots

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You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?

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As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.

  

  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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