Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Games I Like To Play...

I get a lot of questions about range practice and drills. It appears that golfers relegate themselves to just beating balls and doing drills on the range. I think this is often counterproductive and can be a bit boring, leading to the golfer not practicing as much as they should because they are bored with it. Think of it a bit like trying to get somebody into exercise. Some people have the ability to get into lifting weights and doing plain ole cardio. But many people get bored with it. So a good trainer needs to come up with fun exercise activities to keep the student interested. Here's some games that I play.


I like to start a range session where I try to create a 3' x 3' square divot patch on the range and try to keep it as neat and tidy as possible. The thing about this is it helps you concentrate on the divots a bit more (the divot should be out in front of where the ball was, so if you're trying to create a square patch, you will need to figure out where your divot is going to end up and place the ball accordingly to where you need to take up the divot). This also can create some tough lies for you that you may get out on the golf course, but are tough to re-create on the range.

Once I've created my square, I then will hit shots out of the divot. Not the greatest lies to be hitting out of, but that's a GREAT thing. Three of the greatest ballstrikers ever were Hogan, Byron Nelson and Trevino. All grew up in Texas and were used to hitting off of tough, hardpan lies. I don't think it's a stroke of luck that they happened to be great ballstrikers.

Also, hitting out of these rough lies helps golfers get rid of their flip. Mainly because most flippers simply do not hit down enough on the golf ball. That's why good players who flip tend to struggle hitting off of tight lies or when a ball lands in a divot. As Lynn Blake likes to say, there's not enough 'down' when they strike the ball.

I've seen Duramed Futures Tour leading money winner Jean Reynolds do her version of a 'divot game' as well as many other touring pros. Do the divot game and I guarantee you those plush fairways will seem like a joke to you.


One of my favorite teachers, Geoff Mangum, prescribes against 'grooving a move' and I agree with him. Although Mangum focuses his great efforts on the putting game, I think this certainly applies to the full swing as well. Golfers often complain that they 'cannot take their range game out on the course' and I think it's because they are too busy 'grooving a move.'

Most amateurs tend to just get up there and beat a bunch of golf balls with no rhyme or reason and not even aiming at a target. But even those who do take the time to aim themselves and have some purpose to each swing still tend to 'groove a move.' For instance, they'll just keep hitting driver after driver after driver after driver at the same target. After awhile they'll become adept at hitting that driver at that target, but they should be with that much practice. The real course doesn't operate that way as the targets change drastically and that can cause other factors like wind to play differently.

So I suggest the 'change it up game' to help get rid of the funk. I'll take out a driver and aim it at a target and strike the ball. Then on the very next shot, I'll take out say a 9-iron and hit a shot at that target. Then on the very next shot, I'll take out my hybrid. And then I start changing up targets. I'll take one shot at the flag on the very left side of the range and then take a shot with a different club at the flag on the very right side of the range. Of course, the goal is to come pretty close to hitting the intended target.

I believe what this does is it gets the golfer into creating better mechanics and alignments and allows the golfer to then get more comfortable with those mechanics and alignments instead of becoming more comfortable with one particular golf shot. Hitting balls all day on the range at a target that is slightly left of center generally only helps the golfer when they face targets that are left of center. The 'Change It Up' Game allows the golfer to feel comfortable with all sorts of different shot angles and club selections.

I would not suggest the 'Change It Up' Game right when you arrive at the range. I would first get a solid warmup going and then if you have time start working on the 'Change It Up' game.


I think one of the biggest misperceptions of the great Ben Hogan was he played one shot, the power fade. Instead, Mr. Hogan was not only an unbelievable ballstriker with fantastic consistency, but he was arguably the greatest shotmaker that ever lived. He could hit a big draw, a low fade, a high soft draw, a high baby cut, etc. if he had to. That's why he was able to get the ball so close to the pins. If the pin was cut to the left behind a bunker with trouble off the green, Mr. Hogan could aim at the middle of the green and play a draw to the pin. If it stayed straight, he wound up on the middle of the green with a 25 foot birdie try. If it drew, then he could be very close to the pin. All the meanwhile he greatly eliminated the chance of getting into trouble.

Most of the Tour pros work the ball quite a bit. You may see somebody like Kenny Perry always playing a draw, but if it calls for a fade they'll probably try and lessen their amount of draw just so they don't leave themselves with a troublesome shot. If it calls for a fade and they need to birdie, then they'll try to hit a fade and even guys like Rocco Mediate can work a fade if they have to, it's just something they are not comfortable doing.

But, I believe working the ball is an important part of scoring in this game. You need to be able to fire at as many flags as possible, but do it in a sensible manner because the probability of you making anything outside of 10 feet is rather low. Here again is the 1995 data of putts made by PGA Tour pros from certain distances.

So you need to be able to work the ball if you can so you can get more reasonable birdie opportunities. However, I do warn that sometimes you just have to take your medicine and leave yourself with a 25 - 35 foot putt, 2 putt and take your par and go to the next hole.

This is something I see as a problem for good junior and collegiate golfers. Their games are pretty much shot position golf. All pretty much the same flight pattern, usually something that doesn't fade or draw that much. Then when a pin is tucked over the left or the right, they pretty much are resigned to either hitting their stock shot at the middle of the green or aiming at the flagstick and greatly risk getting themselves in trouble or with a difficult up and down.

What I like to work on is working the ball and I'll stick an umbrella into the ground in front of me and try to get the ball to start out to the right of the umbrella and draw left of the umbrella. Then I'll hit shots that start out to the left of the umbrella and fade to the right of the umbrella. Then I'll aim at specific pins out on the range and try and hit draws and fades to those pins. I would suggest this for the more advanced golfer as the higher handicaps really need to focus on being able to hit a quality 'stock' shot on a consistent basis first. However, understanding the physics and geometry behind hitting a fade or a draw on command can help with understanding how to hit the ball straight as well.


Sometimes I'll get on the range and start to simulate the entire round of the course (sans the putting). For instance, the first hole at a course may be a Driver and a 7 iron. So I'll aim at a target with a Driver and if I hit it pretty well and accurately, I'll step up with the 7-iron. And if I miss a bit with the 7-iron, I may hit a flop shot with my sand wedge. And then I move onto the next hole. And if I hit a drive that is wayward and would have gone O.B. then I hit another driver. Then I move onto the 3rd hole and so forth.

If there's a hole that gives me trouble, then I repeat emulating that hole over and over again. I try to emulate it down to the finest detail, even with the angle as to where I would aim myself off the tee or on the second shot.

All of these games are designed to improve your game and make it fun in the process. If there's any games you like to play that are not mentioned here, post them up in the comments section.


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