Toward Effective Practice in Golf

We've adequately laid the groundwork to begin to discuss what solid, well-directed golf practice might look like.

I can tell you, first of all, what it doesn't look like: it doesn't look like what so many people do when they go to practice. A lot of people go to the range, get a bucket, plop it down at one of the tees, perhaps do a few desultory stretches, and then pull out their driver and see how far they can hit the ball.

Now, I get the appeal--it's pretty satisfying to see that thing fly 200 or 250 yards. (Not that that happens much for me.) But is this effective practice?

Let's back up, and start by asking, what are you trying to accomplish with your practice session?. This may seem rather obvious, but the design for your session will depend on your answer. If all you care about is hitting your drives as far as possible, then great, grab your driver and whale away. Maybe all you care about is reaching the green in as few shots as possible, but don't care about your ultimate score. In that case, there's no need to practice chipping or putting.

But if, instead, your goal is to play better--and I'll define "play better" as most people would, meaning "shoot a lower score"--then let's never forget: every stroke, no matter how long or how short, counts the same. A 250-yard drive is scored the same as a 20-foot chip or a three-foot putt. What does that mean for the path to improvement?

The general consensus is that the average golfer shoots around 100 for 18 holes. So the average golfer plays an average hole by getting on the green in one over regulation and then two- or three-putting. Let's divide up those 100 shots over an 18-hole round. It might look something like this:

  • 14 drives, at most. (If you're hitting driver on the par 3s, you either need a different approach or to find an easier course.)
  • A fairway wood or longer iron on most of the par 4s and 5s, totaling 14 shots.
  • A shorter iron off the tee on the par 3s and as the third shot on the par 5s, totaling eight shots.
  • A chip onto the green on almost every hole (18 shots)
  • A total of 46 putts (which equals eight two-putts and ten three-putts).

What does that tell us about our practice sessions? Just follow the math. We should be practicing putting almost as much as everything else put together, and more than three times as much as we practice hitting driver. (46-to-14 is a nearly 3.3-to-1 ratio.) We should be chipping and hitting short irons about twice as much as we hit driver. And longer fairway shots should get about as much attention as our drives.

Yet these ratios don't seem to match how most people practice. Not even close.

If you practice with these numbers in mind, it might not be as thrilling as whacking driver over and over again, but it's likely to have a fairly dramatic impact on your game.

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