Practice with a Purpose

Everyone likes to practice but not everyone’s practice leads to improvement. In almost 20 years of teaching I’ve found that it isn’t just practicing that makes you better. It’s HOW you practice. Many people wonder, “Why can I do it on the range and not on the golf course?” Well, what exactly WERE you doing at the range? Firing off 100 drives without a target, maybe?

When you go to practice there should be a purpose to what you’re about to do with those 100 balls. Is the practice short game based? Is it putting that’s causing you to lose strokes? Or maybe it’s bunker shots? Some people have trouble with uphill/downhill/side hill lies on the course but do we ever practice them? Yet we expect to hit a good shot when faced with that situation on the course. I don’t think so!

Your first step is to figure out what area of your game needs the most work or what area you have the most questions about. That’s your focus during a practice session.

Here are some simple things you can practice at the driving range that will help lead you to better outcomes on the golf course.

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Warm up
Get your 100 balls and warm up with some short wedge shots and then a few mid iron shots. Now you’re ready for your main practice.

Pitching & Chipping Practice – The Ladder Drill
Hit a ball 10 yards, then 20 yards, then 30 yards, etc, all the way out to a full wedge distance. For some that might be 60 yards and for others it might be 100 yards. Then work your way back to the 10-yard distance.

See if you can transition from ball to ball the distance you want it to go. On the course you’re never the same distance from the target each time so you need to practice shortening and lengthening your swing to accommodate those distances. I see many people having difficulty making smaller swings when they get near the green.  That’s because golfers practice way more full shots than they do half swings.

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Putting Practice – Distance & Direction
To practice putting productively, separate it into 2 categories – distance putting (lag putting) and directional putting.

Distance Drill
Try putting a 30 foot putt to the edge of the green and see how close you can come without hitting the fringe. Try it with any number of balls. Taking the hole out of the equation works well for people because you’re not trying for a hole, just for distance.

Direction Drill
Lay 2 clubs down parallel to each other, just wide enough so your putter fits in there. Place the clubs in the direction you want to putt and not more than 15 feet from the hole. You want to swing your putter in this path to better guide your stroke to the hole. You will make a lot of putts this way so don’t be surprised!

On the course if a player is unsure of what she’s doing as she stands over a ball, her chance of hitting it correctly are about zero. She’s not committed to the shot she’s about to hit. If she’s practiced that situation, purposely at a range or with the guidance of an instructor, she will have the confidence to hit it successfully.  Now THAT’S fun!

Dancing on the Green

“You’re on the dance floor,” is music to a golfer’s ears. You’re on the green!

Watch an experienced foursome, each moving about the green with quiet dispatch, precision and cooperation. It’s a beautiful thing – to the players and to the golfers behind them. Etiquette ensures fair opportunity for all players and moves play along.

Miss Manners of Golf? Please, not me. But knowledge and courtesy on the course are always prized. I’ll never master golf, but I can practice and become a good partner on the “dance floor”! Here are suggestions.

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When you get to the green

  • Don’t step on anyone’s putting line.
  • Ball farthest away putts first.
  • Mark your ball if you’re not first to putt, or if you wish to line it up.
  • Look for dent or ding left by your ball and fix it. Repair other divots too.


  • Take flag out and put it back nice and straight. It’s fragile around the cup.
  • Place flag GENTLY out of all golfers peripheral vision and putting lines.
  • Occasionally a player will request that you tend the flag. Do this correctly and you’ll score extra etiquette points. More on this in a later post!
  • No scooping the ball out of the cup with your putter head. Ouch!

Putting in Progress!

  • Stand out of the peripheral vision of person putting. You can “go to school” on someone’s putt with a similar line to yours but don’t get your education at her expense.
  • Don’t wiggle, waggle or whisper, or crinkle the wrapper of your granola bar. Or anything like that!
  • Keep your shadow to yourself.
  • Be ready, by lining up your putt while others are doing the same.
  • Putt-outs are allowable and courteous when you’re only a few inches from the cup and it won’t interfere with another’s ball. Ask, “Okay if I putt out?

Loiterers will be shot at – by the folks behind!

  • Put clubs at back of green or on side where you’ll exit to next tee. ALWAYS think of how to save steps. Never leave clubs at front of green.
  • Park cart so it is on shortest line to next tee.
  • When you’re finished putting, move to the flagstick, ready to pick it up and replace it in hole after everyone is done.
  • As you leave take a look over your shoulder for forgotten clubs.
  • Record your score when you get to the next tee.

That’s it – some smooth moves around the green.  Do you have more?


Mind Management in Golf

Holistic or half-baked, savvy or silly, whatever your opinion, the coaching methods of two women have taken the LPGA by storm.  Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott have the pros singing and “snowboarding” on the Tour.
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Both have serious golf backgrounds.  Nilsson spent 5 years on the LPGA tour, 10 years as head coach of the Swedish Women’s National team, and was Annika Sorenstam’s long time mentor.  Marriott worked for years as the LPGA’s director of teacher training.  Together they teach a “whole person” approach, going beyond stance and swing to focus on a player’s spiritual, social, physical, mental and emotional needs.
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Brittany Lincicome sings and whistles Keith Urban country songs after each shot. Suzann Pettersen counts out loud. Italy’s Giulia Sergas pretends to snowboard.  Others write inspiring words in their visors or recite funny movie lines.  It’s a whole new world of mind management in golf.  Read all about it in 7/15/09  Wall Street Journal article.