Driving Range Practice: The Basics
Do you ever have the feeling when playing a round that nothing you have been practicing is transferring to the course? I have. It’s frustrating, demoralizing, and downright discouraging.
But the good news is I have lived through the darkness and come out the other side with the experience and ideas that I would like to share with you to help you get into good habits on the range and maximize your practice sessions so your range work will translate to on the course success.
When trying to build a reliable swing, you want to develop a repeatable shot. Some of the best golfers have a shot that they know how to play and can predict. Some like to fade; some like to draw. What it comes down to is knowing what the ball will do so you can play the shot with confidence. I’m not going to try and go into swing mechanics or any of that here.
I come from a place where the issues are not the shot shape you are playing but the fact you are not playing it correctly. Below are some things to do on the range to help you dial in your game to be predictable and reliable and help you achieve to the best of your ability on the course.
Would You Consider Using Alignment Sticks?
Focused practice on the range will help you achieve the best results. Use alignment sticks. Many people know about these, not nearly enough use them. Back in the day, players used to lay down a club for alignment. This is fine, but I like the alignment stick, so two identical sticks are helping you visualize the line you need.
Alignment sticks are only a few bucks each down at Lowes (not sponsored) and are a staple in every tour player’s bag. And they need to be a staple in your bag. Most popular golf brands even make branded covers for them, so they don’t scratch any of your woods.
The method for using alignment sticks is to lay one down on your feet line, just above your toes, and the other above where the ball is. You will want to stand behind these and take the time to adjust them correctly, so they are helping to get you lined up. The more accurate the sticks are, the better your alignment will be, and the better your fundamentals will be.
You can also use the sticks to learn to hit a draw or a fade. Place a stick on the path that you want the ball to start. This will be what you line your toes up with. Then place a stick pointing to the spot you would like your ball to end.
This stick is the line you will swing down. Practice making shots with the sticks as a visual guide, and you will learn shot shape.
Be Specific with Target and Shot Shape
Next, you need to be specific on your target and shot shape. Shot shape is a grey area here. I am not advocating one shape or another. If you hit a fade and that’s the shot you want, by all means, keep it. Incorporate both directions in your practice if you are a more advanced player and can move the ball in both directions.
Anyone who has been to a range knows how wide they are. Some ranges are nice enough to place pins or targets out there for you, but not all do. If you are working on your irons, be specific on where you want the ball to start and the shot’s shape. Play games with yourself; try and hit the perfect shot, then twice, then five times. Penalize yourself for not executing by starting over.
This focused practice on your target and shot shape will build the feeling of the correct shot and help you recreate it on the course. Also, having something at stake will help you practice with pressure.
It’s much better to learn to deal with the pressure of hitting the perfect shot on a range vs. trying to learn it in front of your buddies on the course.
Learn how to Aim
Next, learn how to aim. People use many methods, but I will highlight what I do because I think it’s the easiest and most effective. This is also a very common technique used on tour.
After picking a target and shot shape, I stand behind the ball and line up, so the ball is exactly between myself and where I want the ball to start. If the shot is straight, I line up with my target. If the shot has shape, I line up with the line I want to start the ball on. Then I hold my club vertical, making it a straight line.
I then look about six inches in front of the ball on the ground. This spot on the ground is what I will be aiming at. When I walk up and get into my stance, I focus on that spot on the ground. Then when I am in my stance, I look up at my original target and take a second to visualize the shot.
This is the point where if I were hitting a shot with shape, I would line the clubface up with the target to achieve the intended shot shape. Now all that is left is to execute the shot.
It is important when on the range to go through this sequence for each shot. In combination with your alignment sticks, this ensures that you are properly aligned and practice correct fundamentals. It also gets you in the habit and feeling comfortable with it being your pre-shot routine. Consistent practice leads to consistent results.
Do You Have a Goal?
Finally, I will convey the messaging my golf coach said to me long ago. “You are not out here to get exercise.” He meant don’t just bang a large bucket until you are soaked in sweat and have blisters on your hands. Make a focused practice plan and stick to it.
If you are working on something specific in some practice sessions, you won’t use the whole bucket. That’s a good thing and shows progress is being made.
You may have driver issues you need to work through or long ironwork. If you get through what you needed to work on, you can always use the rest of the bucket for additional wedge work. You can always improve on your wedge game.