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Practice Like You Play
By Anne Marie Goslak


Do you know what the longest walk in golf is? Is it the walk to the first tee of the Masters?  Is it the walk back to the clubhouse after losing a playoff? Good guess, but the longest walk in golf is from the practice range to the first tee.

You get to the practice range to warm up before your round, hit a small bucket of really good golf shots.  You walk to the first tee anticipating a great day, and BAM!  You suddenly lose everything you thought you had that day.  By the fourth hole, you are ready to quit, and when you make the turn, you look longingly at the range and dream about what could have been.  So what happened? Where did those good shots go and why can’t you hit them on the golf course?

The truth is, you failed to practice like you play.  For example, the average range is more than 150 yards wide, while the average fairway is less than 35 yards wide.  Most people aim at a place on the range, hit a few drives in the general direction the target, and feel good about going to the first tee.  Meanwhile, on the tee, there are visual distractions like trees, sand traps, water, and the dreaded house.  It would serve you well to pick two targets next to each other, roughly 30 yards apart, to help you visualize a fairway. If your range does not have flags that will work, then pick two trees out in the distance.  The idea is to “frame” the acceptable landing area, just like golf course architects use traps and trees to frame a course.

When hitting irons, pick two targets 25 yards apart and visualize a green.  Include consequences.  For example, you might say, “The green is from the white flag to that brown spot on the ground.  If I land short, I am in the water, left is a bunker.”  The more imagination you use, the better off you will be.  You can design holes in your mind that will challenge you.  For wedges, pick two targets that are very close together.  If, on the course, I would not be pleased to hit a wedge shot 40 feet from the pin, then I shouldn’t aim at an imaginary green on the driving range that is 30 yards wide (90 feet). 

You can also learn to practice like you play by chipping using only one ball.  Use the brand name that you would use on the course.  It does me no good to learn to roll a range ball up to 2 feet while practicing, if, when I am on the course, I am playing a Titleist that will stop on a dime due to such a soft cover.  When chipping, I recommend making yourself putt out from where ever your chip ended up.  This will prevent you from believing that your short game is “good enough” when you can only chip a ball 8 feet from the cup.  I worked with a student today who said, “My short game is good enough.  I can often chip it within 8 feet.”  Although I was impressed with his ability to get the ball that close, I asked him if he could be happy only getting up and down 20 % of the time or less.  He said “No.”  So I put 10 golf balls 8 feet from the cup and asked him to make them.  He made only 20%. He tried again and again, but his best score was 40%.  When I moved him in only 2 feet closer to the hole, his average jumped to over 80%.  The moral of the story is learn to hit it as close as your putting talent will help you.  The pressure of knowing that you have to make the putt will help you to chip better.

On the putting green, you can play 18 holes.  Imagine that you are on the first tee, you hit a drive, knock a 6 iron to 20 feet and now you have this for birdie.  Drop a ball on the practice green 20 feet from the hole.  If you made it, then you are one under, two putt, and you are even par, three putt it and you are already one over going to hole #2.  On some holes, give yourself a make-able birdie putt.  Others, imagine that you missed the fairway, hit an iron short of the green, chipped up to 5 feet and you now have this 5 foot putt to save par.  The more you imagine, the better off you are.  The idea is that you are no longer allowed to randomly take putts on the practice putting green. You need to “create a story” around each and every putt.  Why?  Because on the golf course, each putt comes with a story.  It’s the story that is going on in your head.  “This putt is to save par.  I just bogied the last hole. If I don’t make this, then I will be two over…” Or “This is my best chance for birdie today. I NEED this putt.”  (As if you don’t need every putt)

By practicing this way, you will learn what thoughts serve you and what thought hurt you.  It will make you focus and practice with purpose.  The golf course naturally provides us with stress.  We need to learn to deal with that stress by facing it during our practice.  If you practice like you play, you eventually will see your scores drop.  And suddenly, the walk from the practice range to the first tee will be nothing but sweet!

-Anne Marie Goslak