Improving Your Short Game Practice

When a golfer pulls off a really difficult shot around the green, for me this reveals how the power of intention and belief can overcome the difficulty of a shot (or even a player’s mechanical limitations).

Making one of those shots once might be a fluke. But doing it twice proves that there is something more powerful at work. “Willing” the ball to get close — or to go in — can actually get you there! We used to see this frequently with Tiger Woods in the closing stages of majors. It clearly demonstrates how the power of positive focus and visualization can affect a player’s short game and putting.

Watching the PGA Tour pro’s in the desert recently reaffirmed how important the short game is. They were getting up and down from everywhere …including the cactus. You might want to try the following drills (used by Tour players) to start honing your short game and to help you make more up-and-downs this season.

I. One Club, Two Distances

In order to become really good from 125 yards and in (the scoring zone), you need to develop feel. The following drill was borrowed from sports psychologist, Dr. Glen Albaugh. A great way to practice feel is to hit the same club from several distances (you can try this with your long game, too). The aim of the drill is to hone your instincts for how far away from the pin you are:

  1. Start at 125 yards and hit one ball to a target.
  2. Move to 115 yards and use the same club to hit to the same target.
  3. Move to 105 yards and change to whatever club you would normally hit from this distance.
  4. Move to 95 yards and hit the same club you used at 105 yards.
  5. Move to 85 yards and hit the club you normally use at this distance.
  6. Finish by hitting your 85-yard club to a 75-yard target.

You will have played from six distances and used three wedges (twice) at two different distances.

Some players choke down on the club and change their ball position for distance control while others use swing length and tempo. Experiment with both approaches to see what works for you. You can repeat the drill and use different distances such as 5-yard increments.

It is very easy to get caught up in swing mechanics on the practice tee, usually without even knowing it. This drill de-emphasizes mechanics and helps you create feel.

II. “Real” Short Game Practice

One of the first things I cover with my new students is the manner in which they practice. More often than not, fundamental changes are necessary. I try to instill a “practice as you play” philosophy. This simply means that you should simulate the golf course on the practice tee as much as possible.

A great short game drill is to take (20) balls and drop them around a green from different positions and lies. For each shot, go through your routine just as you would on the golf course and imagine that you are playing in a competitive event. If your pitches / chips come to rest outside of gimme range (2 ft), go through your pre-putt routine just as you would on the course or in a competition and try to hole the putt.

When you’ve made the up and down, move the next shot until you’ve holed all (20). This exercise might take 40-50 minutes to perform, but it makes practice very meaningful.

What this drill accomplishes:

  • You’re practicing your complete shot routine and making this process more consistent, regardless of the shot or the situation.
  • You’re working on your imagination and visualization.
  • You’re simulating pressure while you practice.
  • Playing from different lies and trying different shots makes practice more enjoyable.
  • This drill gives every shot a purpose; it makes practice less routine.

III. See it, Feel it, Trust it

This is great drill for improving your chipping quickly. It works using a variety of clubs from the same distance so that you can see the benefit of using less lofted clubs around the green.

  • From the edge of a practice green, select a hole that’s about 20-25 ft away.
  • Take a 6-iron and go through your pre-shot routine.
  • The pre-shot routine has (3) steps: Visualization, Feel and Trust. As you’re visualizing the shot, ask yourself where the ball will land, how it will roll to the hole and where it will enter the cup.
  • Once you’ve seen the shot in your mind’s eye, feel the swing you need to produce that shot.
  • When you’re standing over the ball, say to yourself “trust it” and do exactly that.
  • Once you’ve holed a chip with your 6-iron, repeat this process your 7-iron and move all the way through to your pitching wedge.

This will require a minimum of (5) shots — see how close you can get to a score of “5” each time.

IV. The Par-18 Game for the Short Game

This game was devised by Sports Psychologist, Dr. Karl Morris.

  1. From around the green, you’re going to pick nine locations to play from: (3) will be easy, (3) of medium-difficulty and (3) should be difficult.
  2. Each mini-hole is a par “2.” By playing all nine holes, the total will be “Par-18.”
  3. Play nine holes and keep your score. Make a score of “18” your goal.

Although I don’t ever recommend trying to beat a particular score during a round of golf, in practice it’s different. You want to create the same pressure you’ll be feeling on the course. Of course, on the golf course we want to reduce pressure. By thinking about your score while practicing (and trying to beat it), you’ll get closer to the pressure you feel on the course.

Thanks for reading. Please don’t forget to share these drills with your friends and let me know if they’re helpful.

— Billy

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