by Lawrence Martin
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Step 8. Practice With a Purpose.

Golf is like music. You must practice to get better. Practice does not necessarily mean going to the driving range and banging a bucket of balls. In fact that usually is not good practice.

Practice means to try a shot or a technique over and over, until you feel comfortable with it. Practice means making mistakes and taking time to correct them. Practice means trial and error.

How do you know what to practice? Well, for starters every lesson you take will end with the familiar refrain: "Practice that shot until the next lesson." So that's one way. Every intstruction book and every general golf magazine you read will inundate you with "tips" to practice. And there are detailed practice routines available on the internet from Golf Tips Magazine. In truth, you can't learn to swing, pitch, chip or putt from a book or magazine. But you can be guided on what to practice. You can learn "tips" to incorporate into your swing, which can then be practiced.

You can also practice while playing. If you get a chance to go out alone on an uncrowded course, there's nothing wrong with playing two balls, or on a given hole repeating a shot to try to improve the result. That, too, is a form of practice.

The mistake most hackers make is that week after week they come out to the course with no more skills or knowledge or ideas than the week before; they are not learning to improve. Here's an analogy: You play a piano piece for friends, and miss half the notes: a rank amateur performance that clearly needs improvement. A week later, without any practice in between, you play the same piece for your friends, and your performance is just as bad. The following week, you offer to play it again. "Have you practiced since last time?" they ask. "Well, uh, not really," you mutter. Then "NO THANKS. If you can't play it any better than last week, please spare us!"

True, you aren't playing golf for your friends but for your own enjoyment. But my point -- really, the point of this entire book -- is that you will enjoy the game so much more if you improve. And the fastest way to improve is to practice with a purpose.

Everyone loves the long drive, and certainly if you can't get off the tee you can't play this game. But there is far more to the game than the tee shot. Yet the tee shot seems to be the only thing most amateurs practice when they do go to the driving range. Even with the tee shot, most amateurs worry only about hitting the ball, and don't try to experiment. For example, if you are going to bang out a bucket of balls, see what happens when you open or close the club face; when you swing out to in or in to out; when you open or close your stance; and so on. To do these things, of course, you need to know something about ball flight (Step 4).

There should be far more to your practice than just the long ball. Remember, always practice with a purpose, or goal. Here's an example. Take each iron, from sand wedge to your longest (which should be 4 or 5 iron), and see how far you can hit it with a full swing that's hits the ball cleanly (ignore mishits). Record those distances. You should know how far you can hit each of your irons when everything goes right. Then, on the course and confronted with a 140 yard shot to a level green, you don't have to guess which club to use - you know from practice on the driving range that your 8-iron (for example) will do the job without over shooting the green (because you can't hit it farther than 140 yards).

Here's a short game shot you can practice, taken from Pelz's Short Game Bible (page 328). Place 10 balls in the fringe around the green, each 10 yards from the cup. Chip each ball to the cup. Count how many you get into the cup, how many to within 3 feet, how many to within 3 and 6 feet, and how many outside 6 feet of the cup. Give yourself points for each distance, as follows:
Outside 6 feet = 0 points
3-6 feet = 1 point
inside 3 feet = 2 points
in hole = 4 points

Here is what Pelz has found about this simple exercise:

SCORE for the 10 chip shots HANDICAP
0-6 30+
6-9 30-22
9-11 22-12
11-14 12-5
14-16 5-0
16-20 Tour Players

This simple practice session is a real eye opener. Here is a shot that takes no strength, no athleticism, only finesse and a "feel". This is a shot any of us could learn, and learn well. Yet the high handicapper can hardly get the ball close to the hole, while the pro does it all the time. Now this is something to practice!

There are obviously hundreds of different shots and techiques you can practice. The point is to practice as often as possible and with a purpose so that, incrementally, your game will begin to improve.

Most hackers know practice is important, but their refrain is familiar: "I just don't have time!" This is true and not true. None of us has enough time for golf (except for retired folks, perhaps). But consider the typical 18-hold golf game: with travel time to and from home, it takes at least 5 hours, and probably closer to 6! For practice, I am talking about, perhaps, another 15-20 minutes before each round, and maybe another half hour during the week. How much time during a given week do you spend watching television?

In reality, time is not the issue. It's motivation, it's the desire to get better. You either have it or you don't.

Practice has been made easier in the north by large, heated golf domes and weather protected driving ranges, in in many cities. Domes and weather-protected driving ranges are never as good as practicing on real grass, but if you live in the north they are a good alternative during the coldest months.

Golf domes, completely enclosed and heated, are typically 100 to 120 yards long; they allow for hitting drives as well as practicing the short game. Golf domes are actually best suited for the short game, since they aren't long enough to see how well your drive is actually hit (i.e., whether it hooks or slices). Domes can be found in many northern cities and many other cities.

Heated or weather-protected driving ranges, where you hit to the outdoors, also exist in many places. Perhaps the largest and fanciest in the country is New York City's Chelsea Piers, located at 23rd street and the Hudson River. At Chelsea Piers you can drive the ball up to 200 yards as well as practice the short game and take golf lessons.

In summary, if golf is your game and you want to become an ex-hacker, then practice as much as you can -- but with a purpose.

Table of Contents/ Go to Preface/ Go to Step 1/ Go to Step 2/ Go to Step 3/ Go to Step 4/ Go to Step 5/ Go to Step 6/ Go to Step 7/ Go to Step 8/ Go to Step 9/ Front Nine Quiz/ Back Nine Quiz/ Golf Bibliography/ Internet Sites Listed in Book
Lawrence Martin
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