I’m only 23, but I’ve spent a lifetime on the range. My game took off after I learned a powerful truth: Hitting 20 smart practice shots helps a lot more than mindlessly banging range balls. Here, in the time it takes to play one hole, is how to improve four key areas of your game—and always bring your best swings to the course.
YOUR SHORT GAME
One good pitch shot is all you’ll ever need
I always start practice with the short game—it’s the only area in which I didn’t net a positive Strokes Gained rating in 2016. (That in itself is a lesson: Attack your weak spots first.)
You don’t need to hit dozens of shots. Me? I practice one stock pitch. I use the same club (my lob wedge) and make the same overall motion, which gives me consistent height, trajectory and spin. The only variable I tinker with is landing area. For, say, a 20-yard pitch, I pick a spot six yards from the hole—that’s where I want the ball to land. I let roll do the rest. If I’m 30 yards out, I’ll land the ball eight yards from the hole. The trick is to let your body and swing “react” to different landing spots while keeping everything else the same. (It’s about instinct.) Here’s how.
1. Set tees in the practice green at 10, 20 and 30 yards out. (You can use golf towels, too.) Your goal is to land the ball near each tee using the same club and the same overall pitching motion (whatever wedge and stroke feels comfortable).
2. As you size up the shot, let your eyes tell your body how fast to swing the club, or how far to take it back. Don’t think! See the shot in your mind, then pull the trigger.
3. Hit each spot in succession, then work your way backwards. Once you can nail these yardages at will, the short game becomes child’s play—and you’ll pile up par saves.
YOUR IRON SHOTS
How to target your weaknesses fast—and pure every iron
On the road, I can typically sneak in only 20 minutes on the range. But that’s plenty of time to improve your iron swing and other areas, too. Efficient practice beats extended practice any day of the week. But every swing, every ball, must have a purpose—rifling through a bucket won’t help. A way to be highly efficient is to target your errors. My common iron misses are cuts and pulls. Like you, I can get too steep on my downswing, the error that causes these mis-hits. Sure, I could bang balls until my swing gets dialed in, but that takes time (and money, if you pay by the bucket). My coach, new Top 100 Teacher Jeff Leishman, gave me a drill that cures in a few swings what used to take dozens of balls to fix. Follow the steps below, and kiss your cut good-bye.
1. Tee a ball up about three inches off the ground. (Use a long-drive tee, if you have to.) Swing, using your 7-iron. Your goal is to sweep the ball off the tee.
2. If you swing down too steeply, you’ll pop it up. Let your body “react” to the ball, as you did in the landing-spot drill on the opposite page.
3. After a few swings, your hand-eye coordination will kick in, and your swing will automatically flatten out through impact and catch the ball square. I never worry about “positions” when I practice. Drills like this one naturally groove good feels that soon become habits.
Start small, then work your way up to center-face mashes
Fact: The ball doesn’t go very far or very straight when you miss the center of the face. That’s why my driver practice is all about finding the sweet spot. I can swing the club nearly 120 mph, but on the range I tone it way down. In fact, before I tee off, the final thing I do is hit a practice drive at 20 percent speed. Here’s a drill that lets you lock in dead-center contact in a few easy swings.
1. Tee a ball, take the club halfway back, and stop when your hands reach waist height. Then fire through impact as fast as you can.
2. Use your regular tempo and speed. Can’t find the center of the face? Slow things down. Hitting it solid? Make a bigger backswing.
3. Gradually keep increasing your backswing, but only after you can make centered contact at each backswing length you attempt.
4. Don’t cheat! It’s tempting to take it all the way back, but don’t go full throttle until you can make good contact on shorter swings.
For more birdies, use a stroke that “dies” putts at the hole
On Tour, I rarely putt the ball more than an inch or two past the hole. I’m what’s called a “die” putter—I want the ball to drop in on its very last revolution. This method effectively makes the hole larger. If you hit a putt firm and it catches the left edge, odds are it’s a lip-out. But when a dying putt finds that edge, the ball tends to topple in. Yes, line is important, but speed is my top priority, so that’s what I work on. Try the drill below and the hole will seem twice as big.
1. On the practice green, find a 10-footer with just a few inches of break. Drop a few balls on the ground and hit some putts. You can adjust your line after a few rolls, but your goal is to have every putt die right at the hole.
2. If you keep running putts past the cup, grip down on the handle more. It’s an easy way to shorten, or “soften,” your stroke.
3. Fix your eyes on the rim of the cup, then—as in my other drills—react to what you see. Picture the ball falling in on its…last…inch… of…roll. Now you’re putting with finesse!