If you can break 90 with regularity, you are an advanced player. One of the hardest things advanced players struggle with is transitioning from practice to play. If you can steel yourself during preparation the game will come so much easier to you. If you are in this group, your fundamentals are sound and you have good control of your golf ball around the green. Follow these practice techniques and you will find transitioning to play is much easier. Those who don’t usually break 90 should focus their practice on mechanics and not attempt these techniques until achieving a higher level of consistency. The last thing we want to do is try something that will breed uncertainty and frustration.
As an advanced player you can pitch, chip, hit bunker shots, and putt with reasonably solid technique. You’ll need them all in this exercise. To start, find a short game practice area that allows you to land shots on a green and putt. Ideally, your practice green has some slope around the edges or is built on a small hill. My home course has a putting green and chipping/pitching green, but you cannot putt on the chipping green so, I’ve located an alternate facility that satisfies the requirement. For those in Montgomery County, MD, the venue is Poolesville Golf Course.
This session should take about an hour. First, warm up your short game. Take some pitches, chips, and putts from various distances. Use a variety of clubs. Next grab two mobile targets. A lot of courses are using the practice pins that stick in the ground and can be moved. These are best. If not available, use two colored golf balls. Next, place these targets at the top and bottom of sloped areas on the green, so getting a short shot close to either will be extremely difficult and there are no straight putts in close unless you manage to be directly above or below the targets. The faster the surface the better. For a visual, think of #15 green at Augusta National at The Masters. The more difficult the better.
Now play 18 holes of up-and-down. Throw a golf ball into a greenside lie and don’t improve the lie. Hit the appropriate short shot to the chosen target and putt your approach until holed. Use a variety of uphill, downhill, long and short-sided situations. If you have an old scorecard it often helps to record your score on each hole. Par is two strokes for each hole. You will find even your good short shots end up considerably outside of gimme range. As a reference point, when I play this game at my local muni with flat lies, I usually shoot 42-44 or between 6 and 8-over par for 18 holes. Today’s session on my difficult setup left me at 50 strokes or 14-over par and I felt I played well.
Why involve yourself in this masochistic activity? You’ll find the difficult shots will force creativity into your mind. It will help you focus on your landing point, the trajectory, spin, and club selection. Everything but mechanics! Training your mind to “paint a picture” of the shot is the key to becoming a good feel player around the greens. This drill is more like playing real golf than dumping a bag shag of 50 balls and chipping each with the same club to a flat target.
Let’s level set expectations: You may get frustrated, you may get a little angry, but you will get very satisfied when you hit a great shot, and as you transition to the real course, you’ll notice very few short shots are as challenging at the drill. Making practice harder than the real game is the secret sauce. Give this drill a try, then play a real round of golf the next day and let me know how you made out.