Smart Practice Tip #1. Simulating game conditions.

If you’re like me, golf is not your day job and you cannot devote hour after hour to game improvement, yet you need to stay as sharp as possible for your weekend play or the occasional tournament.  Typically, I play once every two weeks and dedicate one morning per weekend for practice; that’s it.  I manage to stay sharp by maximizing my limited time and by following three key principles.  1 – You must simulate game conditions as often as possible.  2 – You must spend 75% of your time on your short game.  3 – You must develop and practice a reliable pre-shot routine that can be executed with every club.  I’ll address each of these with a series of posts.

Simulating game conditions  Often players complain of not being able to take their range swing to the course.  Their failure to execute the shots that seemed easy in practice is a never ending source of frustration.  Yet, golf is like any other sport that requires separate sessions for practice and play.  Smart football coaches simulate game conditions by pumping in loud crowd noise before taking their teams into a hostile road environment.  Baseball teams play 30+ spring training games against live opponents before the real season starts.  All serious athletes know that drills and repetition are required parts of practice, but there is no substitute for the value that game condition pressure provides.  Golf is no different and here’s what I do to easily transition from practice to play.

First, get to your short game practice area and warm up with a few chips and putts, then play nine holes around the practice area with one ball.  Drop the ball in various lies that will require you to use different green-side shots.  Attempt to chip/pitch to the various holes and make the putts.  If possible, play shots similar to those you may encounter on the course.  Playing a course with lots of mounding and elevation changes around the greens?  Make sure to hit your share of pitches with your sand and lob wedges.  Playing a course with large flat greens?  Work your low bump and run shots with the 7 and 8 irons.  Use your actual pre-shot routine for all chips and putts.  It’s especially important to mark and clean your ball as you would on the golf course before you putt as this helps to transition your mind from practice to game condition state.  Keep score (even use an old scorecard).  Marking your score is a game component that will get you in the mindset too.  Have small bets if you’re playing with a friend or play against your personal best score.  The key here is to simulate every activity down to the smallest detail that you follow during your round.  Then when you transition to the course, the play will closely resemble your practice.

Next, head to the driving range.  Warm up with a few partial and full wedge shots and a half dozen drivers then start playing a simulated game.  I play four or five imaginary holes on the course I plan to play the next day.  If the next day’s round is on a new course, play simulated holes on your home course.  Use trees, signs, fences, tractors and anything available on the range to construct imaginary holes.  Play your tee shots and approaches and be honest with yourself.  If you miss your imaginary green, grab a wedge and try to hit a pitch of the appropriate length.  You MUST hit every shot with a distinct target and purpose.  Just raking ball after ball and banging away will not help you improve or transition to game conditions.  This approach also works great as a warm-up routine before an actual round.  Simulate play on the first hole a couple of times before teeing off and you’ll experience less transition pressure when you get to the actual first tee.  It’s important to note that if you have very limited practice time, put a premium on the short game work because you’ll be hitting off real grass and holing real putts.

Good luck! – Brian

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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