By Garrett Johnston
Charley Hoffman loves the game of golf, and boy does it show. The 4-time PGA Tour winner has some interesting range routines, like visualizing the first two holes and playing them with his clubs during warm-up. There is much more to learn from the 43-year-old veteran on how we can improve our practice and have as much fun playing the game as he does.
Golf Range Magazine: What can amateur golfers be doing to get better, especially if there’s more time at home with the pandemic?
Charley Hoffman: Even if the pandemic wasn’t going on, the most important thing is to stretch. It doesn’t matter if you sit behind a desk or you play golf for a living, I think stretching should be a crucial part of your daily routine. If you want to hit a few balls before you go play, I’d rather see you stretch for fifteen minutes than hit balls for fifteen minutes. I think it does more for your body. Maybe swinging inside into any sort of net to keep the muscles moving would be good, but I definitely recommend stretching and some golf-specific exercises.
GRM: How can amateurs get more out of their practice?
CH: The reality is everybody wants to hit the ball farther and straighter but the majority of strokes are around the green. It’s not a secret that you only hit 14 drives per round; but you usually have 14 putts before the first nine holes. Chipping and putting are the keys to what saves your shots. And in this day and age, if you have a backyard and you can hit a few chips and practice the short game a little bit, or if your course has some good chipping greens, I’d practice chipping.
GRM: Any good drills for chipping?
CH: Don’t try to lift [the ball] up in the air. Contact the ball first. You still want sort of a descending blow on a chip – you’ve got plenty of loft. And if you want to hit it higher take a more lofted club.
GRM: What are your best tips for amateurs as we warm up?
CH: I always start the warm-up with short shots, wedges. Then I work my way through the bag and then I come back. I hit wedges, 8-irons, 5-irons, 3-woods, drivers, long irons, and then some wedges again. I like that I’m easing my way into the warm-up. I remember reading books as a kid that Tom Watson always started with his 3-iron, and I’ve witnessed it now that I’m a pro. You definitely don’t want to step on the range and swing driver as hard as you can on your first three shots.
GRM: When you’re on the range I hear you visualize your first two holes?
CH: The whole key is that the warmup is there so you can be ready to go to the first tee. If you visualize your first tee shot and then the iron shot, you realize ‘Ok, it’s a dogleg left – this is how I would play it.’ You’re not walking to that first tee going ‘I wonder what shot I should hit here? Is it a 3-wood? Is it a driver? An iron?’ There’s no decision [to be made] because you tell yourself ‘I’ve already done this [on the range].’ There are no surprises. It gets you in a better rhythm mentally and physically if you do that on the range. You might not have ever played the golf course, so you can’t do it every time. But with me being on Tour for fifteen years, I’ve played these courses a ton of times; but I still mentally go through those first few golf shots (obviously not the putts) and I’ve found that to be very effective.
GRM: What can we visualize on the practice putting green?
CH: How I read greens is what I call the “snail trail technique”. If you ever putt on the dewy greens in the morning the snail trail is what the ball leaves on the green. You see what the putt did after you hit the putt. That’s what I try to do before the putt, I snail trail it there and try to visualize virtually every part of the putt. That’s what helps me see the read and the break and how the ball dies toward or away from the hole; so, I sort of made that up myself but that’s what I like to see.
GRM: I hear you putt with consequence, only use one ball?
CH: When you do a couple of drills on the green, that’s fine, but it should be a third or [even just] a quarter of your pre-round practice at the most. The rest should be ‘game-ready’ practice. That’s where you go ‘alright I’ve got a 6-footer’ and if you miss it, then you change to a completely different putt because you go through the entire process of making a putt. You don’t get three tries on the golf course standing over a putt. The reality is on the golf course 100 percent of the time you get one shot at it and you better read it right so you might as well practice like that. All amateur golfers should spend 75-90 percent of their [putting] practice with just one ball. With your buddies at the club, have a putting match. That’s only one try. Go putt against a buddy for five bucks. Do whatever makes you concentrate a little bit more because that’s what you’re trying to do on the golf course.
GRM: People often drop 3 balls in the same spot?
CH: It does nothing. It does zero.
GRM: Any gadgets that would really be most beneficial to amateurs?
CH: You know something that’s really beneficial is called putting plates (puttingplates.com). It’s a modern Dave Pelz gate drill. You got to make sure your putter face is square and make sure you start it online by going through two gates. He developed these plates that ensure your putter is square to your target and you can start it on the line your putter is aimed. I think it’s pretty simple and gives you instant feedback. Most amateurs are not going to be able to start their putts on the line they think they started it, so this gives instant feedback.
GRM: How long is your pre-round warm-up?
CH: My warmup is pretty extensive. I always get to the golf course two hours prior to my tee time. Thank goodness there’s a traveling gym for a light workout and warm-up. That takes 30-45 minutes and then I go change my shoes and get a quick bite to eat and I’m usually on the putting green about an hour prior. I hit some short putts – I hit some speed putts – and then I go to the range for a while to hit balls. Then I chip and putt again for five to ten minutes before the first tee. I’m pretty regimented when it comes to my routines. I think the biggest thing you can take away from practice is to compete. Try to compete with yourself. Try to compete with a friend. Trying to do anything like that is the most important key for your practice. I think technical is very important, but I think competing to see if that technical works is more important.
GRM: Does technical fit in our pre-round warm-up?
CH: There’s definitely time for technical in the game of golf and there’s a place for it, but when you’re warming up and about to go play, that’s not the time or the place-at all (laughs).