There are several practice strategies that I would suggest. They all contain several key elements:
1. They are “games” designed to keep your interest and focus on otherwise boring drills.
2. They have some way to keep score so you know if you are getting better.
3. They contain some sort of consequences. This is absolutely key and can’t be skipped.
1. The games that I have designed create situations where you have to master the smaller (an more important) parts of the game before moving to longer shots. Don’t be fooled about the value of putting and short shots. It may seem like a drive in the woods is a dramatic miss but it cost you as much as a missed six foot putt. Most people don’t seem to be bothered by missing a handful of putts inside 12 feet but get very upset about hitting a shot in the woods. This perception is totally opposite from how a good player views the game. Remember, a missed shot tee to green offers many opportunity to make amends for your error but a missed 10 foot putt is a dropped shot…period. Just as an example, Tiger made 56 putts in a row inside 6 feet (in tournament and down the stretch!)…Paul Runyan played on tour for over 15 years and averaged just UNDER two shots from inside 100 yards! That means he chipped in slightly more often than he didn’t get up and down. Play a round sometime and play 6 foot gimmes or auto-up-and-downs. You would be staggered at how it changes your score.
It is very difficult to practice short putts and chipping with any attention unless you make a game out of it. When I was playing, I would spend on average four hours practicing inside 6 feet! I would have lost my mind if I tried to do this without some sort of fun and excitement built in to the practice routine. Most people that I see, head out to the putting green, drop a handful of balls and “putt around” for twenty minutes. This does absolutely NOTHING for your game.
2. Keeping score is the only way to know if you are better today than yesterday. It is also the basis for the “consequences” that we will talk about next. Just like in business, if you track metrics, you can make adjustments to create performance. If you don’t know exactly how well you are doing and what parts of your game are strong and weak, you can’t make refinements in your practice routine. It takes a bit of discipline in the beginning, but just like metrics, as soon as you start to see the patterns, it becomes very rewarding.
3. Have you ever heard that “no matter how much I practice, when I get to the course, everything is different?” There is a very simple reason for this. Most people create a practice environment that is totally different than what they face on the course. They hit balls on the range where shots that are thirty yards offline look straight, they putt and chip in a casual way without creating any of the pressure that they feel on the course, and they spend most of their practice time on parts of their game that aren’t causing the most dropped shots. Creating a practice routine that simulates what you face on the course is the only way to have it translate. The ONLY way to accomplish this is to put consequences on your practice games. I will give you examples of mine, but you have to decide what is truly motivating and will get your heart rate going when facing them.
I have designed these to fit my game. The details or parameters were appropriate when I was playing for a living. You have to adjust the “bar” and consequences to fit your time, lifestyle, and goals. I urge you to be creative as long as you stay in the simple guidelines of focusing on the smallest shots first, make it fun, and have harsh consequences.
Game #1 3 Foot Circle
There are many variation of this game and I see a lot of people do it, but without the consequences. It is very simple. Put one ball 3 feet from the hole (or one putter length) at each of the four compass headings. Putt around the circle and repeat.
Each holed putt equals one point. Each missed putt means you start over. Start with a point total that you have to achieve before you move on to the next game. I would suggest 12 points to start. Go through this a handful of times having to start over and that last 3 foot putt will get your attention…just like on the course.
Modifications: As you get better, you can increase the point total, increase the number of balls to 8, or add break to the putts
Game #2 Ten Footers
This is super simple as well but the key to scoring is being a great 10 putter. There is nothing fancy about this one.
Put three balls at ten feet from the hole on a straight putt. A holed putt equals one point and a miss equals one strike. You have to get to 21 without striking out. When I played, I would use three balls and I had to make at least one of the three or I would go back to zero. There were days when I spent all morning trying to get through one game! You have to make sure you don’t cheat or break the rules. The more pressure the better.
Game #3 Baseball
I like this game because it is slightly more complex and it incorporates short and longer putts. (Plus, being a baseball guy, you will probably like the analogy)
Put a coin or tee 3 feet from the hole (first base), 6 feet (second base), 9 feet (third) and 12 feet (home plate). You will start at first base with three balls. Any missed putt is one strike. When you putt three, you move to the next base. If you strike out, you start over. Any putt you make from 12 feet without striking out is a “run.”
You have to set your own goals and make them achievable . You can always increase the difficulty but you should always be able to “win” without major failure in the beginning. As an example, your initial goal might be to simply get to the 9 foot putts. As you progress, your goal might be to get one run. The only major rule is that if you set a goal, you HAVE to achieve it before you move on or leave. Set the bar low and continually adjust upwards. Striking out ensure that you are putting way more short putts than long ones but the long ones become very important and thus more stressful.
As an example, during my prime, increased the number of 3 and 6 foot putts to 6 balls and I would have to score 8 runs before striking out. That meant that I had to go 21 of 24 inside from 12 feet and in. I can tell you that I literally had my hands shaking when I had two strikes and 7 runs (after striking out many times). People on the practice green thought I was crazy.
Game #4 Chipping
You are probably noticing a trend. Chipping works the same way. You can use the same structure to make up your own game. I had about 20 different variations but put simply, I would pick a distance and shot characteristic and use the point total system.
For example, 20 foot chip and runs with a 9 iron. That meant I was 4 feet off the green. My 9 iron would roll 5 times further than it would fly on a chip and run. I would get 3 points for holing it, one point for inside 3 feet, and minus one point for outside of 3 feet. I had to get to 21 points. I would often shake it up by actually playing the balls out and keeping score. I had to get to 5 under par before moving on. Once again, start relatively easy and adjust. I would start off by picking a simple shot (like the one above) and trying to get to 21 points without using the “minus one” for chips outside of three feet.
This type of game can be used all the way up to 40 yard pitch shots. There are tons of variations.
Game #5 Full Shots
If you are going to hit balls on the range, you have to give yourself an actual “shot” to hit and a realistic target size. So many times I talk to someone that says they hit it perfect on the range but spray it on the course. When I give them an actual size green to shoot for on the range, they quickly see that they would have missed the green on almost every shot. The range provides a scale that is not relevant to the course, so pick you targets accurately and decide on what type of shot you want to hit. Include visualizations that include hazards. For example, I am trying to hit a full shot to the red flag. Anything short of the brown patch right before the green would be in the water (such as on 18 at CGC). Any ball right of the blue flag would be in the woods, etc.
I would focus on one type of shot that had been giving me trouble or I was uncomfortable with on the course. I would try to pull the shot off a certain amount of times before moving on. For example, I would have to make the shot 7 out of 10 times or 5 in a row. Something like that.
The exact details of these games is not as important as the understanding of why they work. You have to decide what consequences really get you stressed. I always used “more practice” as the motivator, but with limited time, this may not be as realistic. For many executives, I have suggested that they start with the short putting games and they have to get through them all in order to get to the full shots. Most people love hitting driver on the range and being denied the pleasure seems to be a decent punishment. If your time is really tight, the consequences for not achieving your goals have to be external from the practice routine. Only you know, but it could be having to finish your practice games instead of playing the next time you are asked. It could be having to make a sizable donation to a “date-night” fund for you and your wife. (this one helps your marriage but isn’t much of a punishment…a shopping spree for your wife might be better). Anyway, I am happy to brainstorm more ideas at the range but this is the simple formula that will create a gain in performance.