Six drills to help you master the art of deliberate practice
I agree that playing your best golf isn't about talent but about practicing harder and smarter. After consulting with Geoff Colvin, I came up with six drills that golfers of all levels can use to stretch their comfort zone and lower their handicap.
1. REHEARSE YOUR FULL SWING
Don't be a mindless range rat when working on your full swing. Instead, take one deliberate, mindful practice swing before each shot, mimicking the feel or technique you're working on that day. For example, if you're working on a more upright backswing, make a purposeful rehearsal that employs your new swing key, then repeat it when hitting the shot. This helps you reinforce the new motor skill you're trying to learn. It also keeps you focused on the all-important process of the swing, not just the quality of the contact.
2. MAKE DEAD AIM A GAME
On the practice tee, visualize a course you know well and "play" an entire nine or 18 holes [minus putts]. If the first "hole" calls for driver, then 6-iron, then wedge, hit those clubs in succession; choose a specific target for each shot, and follow your normal pre-shot routine. This drill makes you hit your clubs in random order, just as you would on the course, and it also helps you work on visualization. Turn it into a game. Give yourself a score — one point for a quality swing, zero for each so-so shot, and minus-one for poor shots [tops, chunks, etc.]. Your goal? Beat the previous score by at least one point.
3. DIAL IN YOUR CHIPPING DISTANCE
On the practice green, take five balls and hit chips of various lengths to your target hole until you knock all five to within a club-length of the cup [make it two or three club-lengths if chipping isn't your strength]. Once you go five-for-five, repeat the drill, this time trying to knock them all inside, say, the steel of the club. Hey, we told you this would be hard!
4. BE AMBITIOUS FROM FIVE FEET
Find a straight five-foot putt on your practice green and keep rollin' 'em until you make 50 — yes, 50! — in a row, going back to zero after every miss. Is this easy? Heck no. It might take you two hours, it might take you two days. But it's doable. Once you get to 47, 48, 49 putts…well, that's where you'll learn what pressure is. This drill smoothes out your short stroke and banishes the fear of knee-knockers. Don't give up until you've rolled in No. 50, or until your wife sends out a search party. [And take the occasional break to stretch your lower back!]
5. GET A FEEL FOR YOUR HALF WEDGES
Few weekend golfers practice hitting wedges at less than full distances, but you face those shots all the time on the course. Pick three awkward distances — 35, 50 and 75 yards, respectively — and hit ten balls at each target. Give yourself a point for each ball that lands within what you consider an acceptable distance — perhaps 15 to 30 feet. Whatever you score, try to beat that number the next day, with the perfect score of 30 being your Holy Grail.
6. GET SERIOUS FROM THE SAND
Instead of mindlessly blasting sand shots from the practice bunker, let a precise goal sharpen your prep. Choose a challenging radius around a hole — it could be 10 feet or 50 feet, depending on your skill level. Using five balls, try to blast all five shots within your chosen radius. Give yourself two points for hole-outs, one point for inside-the-radius shots, and zero points for all others. Once you score five points with five swings, you win! Now shrink your radius, choose a new distance, and start all over.