Is work/life getting in the way of your golf? How do you play your best if you can’t tee it up four times a week or visit the driving range on a daily basis? Time is a precious commodity and it depends on how you use your available hours, but you can shoot low scores even on a constrained schedule. Here’s how.
Use the correct combination of play and practice. My preference is for more play than practice, but first you must measure how much you do of both. Today is Sept 8 or day #253 in the year. I’ve played 21 full rounds and practiced 41 times. My 62 days of golf divided by 253 indicate I have my hands on the clubs only one out of every four days. I’d consider myself a dedicated player but not a frequent player, with a 1:4 ratio. What is your ratio? If you can get your hands on your clubs every other day, your ratio is solid. You need both play and practice, but given a short supply of time, favor play.
Meaningful practice is essential and doesn’t require the same time commitment as play, which is why my practice days are double my play days. In season, I’ll generally practice twice per week and play once. Off season, I’ll practice more and play less. A general rule about practice: The closer you are to playing a round, the more you should practice your mental game. This is the best way to ease the transition from practice to play. Have you ever overheard players out on the course saying, “I don’t understand why I’m playing so bad; I was hitting it great on the range.” That’s because they haven’t practiced correctly by focusing on their mental game.
The key to mental practice is to mirror game conditions. Many coaches in other sports utilize this technique. Football teams pump crowd noise into practice. Teams also script their first 15-20 plays and rehearse that script over and over in preparation to implement in games. I try to script my golf practice by playing up-and-down in the short game area and working with only one ball. I’m getting my mind ready for the pressure of difficult green-side shots. Sometimes I’ll putt 9 or 18 holes alone or against a friend, varying the length of the holes. Always play a match with a goal. The key is to build pressure on yourself. On the driving range, don’t rake ball after ball with the same club. Vary your clubs from shot to shot. Play a simulated round at your favorite course. All these activities insert small doses of pressure and condition your brain into play mode. Finally, when warming up before a round, do not work on your swing. Just get loose. Reserve the last half dozen balls and hit shots to simulate the first three holes of the course you are about to play. This will give you the best chance of getting off to a great start.
Mechanical practice is necessary when trying to make swing changes and should not be attempted too close to a scheduled round. Golf is a difficult game. Playing golf swing when you’re trying to focus on scoring just makes it harder. A big challenge amateurs face is playing a round immediately after a swing lesson because the plethora of swing thoughts can quickly get your mind off the business of scoring. Has this ever happened to you? Tour pros are often seen working with their swing coaches at a tournament site and are simply good enough to execute mechanical changes into their game immediately. Forget them. Sometimes you cannot avoid playing right after a lesson. In this case, work with your pro to distill the lesson content into at most two swing thoughts. And try to keep them as simple as possible for easy replication on the course.
One final though. Lately, I’ve been working the Dead Drill into my Mon-Wed-Fri gym workouts and found this is a great way to build good mechanical habits without focusing on swing changes. A couple weeks ago, right after introducing, I enjoyed a great ball striking round just thinking about the movements of the drill, and they’re really quite simple. Give it a try and play well!