September 21, 2023

The Importance of Practicing Like You Play – A Women Leading on the Range Feature

By Jessica Barts, PGA

Look at our range on almost any day of the week and you’ll see it full of golfers eager to get better at the game. Many of them are trying to cure their slice, while others are just starting out and trying to get the ball in the air.

Of all the players on the range, the lower-handicap golfers tend to stick out the most. It’s not their tempo or perfect divot pattern that stands out – it’s the way they practice. These players have been on the range for over an hour and have barely put a dent into their bag of balls. After all, most of the players you see on the range are like machine guns. They rake another ball over before the previous one hits the ground. You can see them searching for the perfect shot. Unfortunately, many will never know what it’s like to hit a shot like Tiger or Rory. Most just hope to get through the next round with the same ball they started with.

Quality over Quantity

I have always taught my students that the quality of their practice is more important than quantity. I would rather they practice for 30 minutes, hitting only a handful of golf balls, and do so with a purpose, rather than mindlessly hitting a million balls. Why not be specific with what you are trying to achieve?

Unfortunately, most people are practicing the wrong things. They tend to practice the things they’re good at instead of the things they need to improve because the latter is more frustrating. For example, if you hit very few greens in regulation the last time you played, concentrating on improving your aim or gaining a better understanding of your yardages would be more useful than trying to see how far you can hit your driver. Taking a lesson from your PGA Professional would also be a great way to help you pinpoint the areas you need to improve.

Build a pre-shot routine

If you watched a skilled player hit balls on the range, it would look very similar to how they look on the course. They practice their pre-shot routine on the range because that routine is part of how they play golf. They practice stepping up to the ball the same way so that things like aim and ball position are always correct. Poor aim and incorrect ball position will cause swing flaws like hooks and slices, inconsistent contact and a lot of wasted time trying to correct it. Without a routine to set up to the ball, how can you really assess your golf game?

At a minimum, a pre-shot routine should be a practice swing, a target and a visualization of the shot. In my opinion, not enough people take practice swings. I tend to hear that practice swings slow play, so they avoid them. That may be true if you are taking ten of them! I strongly feel that practice swings are setting your intentions and they provide feedback

To implement a pre-shot routine, start with something like this:

  • Select a club for the shot.
  • Walk behind the ball.
  • Visualize what you want the shot to look like.
  • Pick your target.
  • If you have trouble lining the ball up, find something on the ground a few feet in front of the ball that is in line with your target.
  • Take a practice swing.
  • Step into the ball.
  • Align your clubface to the target.
  • Hit the ball.

Practice like you play

First, set up a productive practice station. To ensure aim and ball position are correct, I have my students use two alignment sticks – one for target and one for ball position. Lay the alignment sticks on the ground in the shape of a T. The horizontal stick points at the target, while the vertical stick is your ball position. Now you won’t have to second guess the basics if you hit a poor shot. Refrain from dumping out your bag of golf balls, as this only promotes the machine gun mentality. Instead, try taking only one ball at a time. Go through your routine on each shot as if you were on the golf course.

One of my favorite things to do with my students is to have them hit a different shot with each ball. Imagine you are playing your home course on the range. Hit driver, then a 7 iron, then a wedge. To do this, you will have to step away from the ball each time to select another club and go back through your routine. To make this drill more realistic, take several minutes in between each shot to represent the time it takes to get from shot to shot on the course. This gives you the opportunity to hit all the clubs in your bag and make your brain think a little.

Jessica Barts is PGA Teaching Professional at Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a Certified PGA Professional in Teaching and Coaching, is TPI-Certified and a Titleist Staff Member. Jessica is originally from Cumberland, Maryland and started playing golf at an early age with her Great Uncle and Dad. Jessica graduated from Radford University, where she received a Division 1 scholarship to play golf.