Going to College Archive

How Can a Junior Golfer Improve Practice Sessions?

Design a program that ensures long-term success through quality practice.

Have you ever left the golf course after a practice session and felt like you’ve accomplished nothing? Are you uncertain as to which areas in your game need attention in practice? Do you allocate enough practice time to improving your short game? After taking a lesson, do you find yourself constantly hitting balls on the range and never playing rounds on the golf course for score?

As a collegiate golf coach, I worked regularly to help each player on my team address these and other related issues that affected the quality of their practice sessions. I encouraged my players—before they practiced—to think about what they wanted to accomplish during a session and how much time they had available to do so. This mental exercise was the first step in designing an effective practice program. I suggest that junior golfers participate in a similar exercise before they practice.

To help a player know exactly where their practice time should be spent, I recommend that they analyze their past several rounds on a statistical basis (fairways hit, greens in regulation, short game conversions, putts, etc.). Some will argue that score is the only statistic that matters. In the long run, I agree with this argument but would encourage a player to pay close attention to this statistical feedback, using it as a means to identify specific areas that are adversely affecting their score. Generally, short game weaknesses will be identified once a player completes this exercise.

Most college golf coaches will tell you that the best players in the nation spend at least two-thirds of their practice time working on their short games. This includes putting, chipping, pitching, bunker play, and partial wedge shots. In my 13 years as a collegiate coach, I never witnessed a player who spent too much time on these areas. The best players I coached made sure their short games were sharp first and then worked on their golf swings while hitting balls on the range. To see improvement, junior golfers must be disciplined to work on their short games every time they practice.

I would like to make a few suggestions on how to work on your short game:

  • Always practice your short game with the same type golf balls with which you normally play. Do not use range balls to chip and putt.

  • Integrate competitions with a friend into your short game routine. This makes practice fun and helps you focus.

  • When you practice your chipping, pitching, and bunker play, always practice from both good and bad lies around the green. Consider how many times during a round you will draw a “less than ideal” lie on one of these shots. Always create challenging shots and work hard to master them. Attempt to hole out as many shots as possible around the green. Do not leave the short game area until you have holed out at least three shots from off the green. Increase this quota over time and set tougher standards for yourself.

  • When practicing putting, I recommend that long putts (20 to 40 feet) be practiced to the edge of the putting green or to a tee, not to a hole. This strategy allows a player to work on the feel of his stroke with no concern as to whether or not the putt is holed. Furthermore, a player should not practice missing long putts over and over again. Putting to the edge of the green or to a tee eliminates this negative reinforcement.

  • Short putts should be practiced daily. A junior golfer should always try to hole out at least 50 three-footers in a row before completing the session. Over time, they should increase their quota to 75, 100, and so on. This exercise will create confidence and determination.

  • A player should always focus on his routine during putting sessions.

It is important for a player to differentiate their range sessions between “technical work” and “shot making” practice. I recommend that a junior golfer allocates no more than two range sessions per week to technical work. These sessions include working on drills and video taping his golf swing. Additional range sessions should focus on shot making practice, including controlling trajectory, shaping shots, and varying speeds in his swing. In determining how many balls to hit, a junior should always consider quality over quantity.

During shot making practice, a player must pay very close attention to their preshot fundamentals (grip, posture, ball position, alignment, etc.) and always practice their routine. This routine includes selecting a target and predetermining the type of shot they would like to execute. The ultimate goal in practice is to simulate on-course situations as closely as possible.

Finally, a junior needs to play scoring games on the golf course while they practice. I recommend playing from the forward tees on your home golf course to see how low you can score. Set a target score for yourself that is challenging. Maybe 29, 30, or 31 would be appropriate for you. Once you have achieved the first goal, move one set of tees back and set a new target score. Continue this process until you are once again playing the championship tees. This game is fun to play with one of your friends and may take several weeks to accomplish.

Another scoring game on the golf course involves playing with a partial set of clubs. Initially, I recommend using your even numbered irons only and playing with only half of your set of irons. This will create the need to hit ½ shots and will improve feel and distance control. A challenging target score should be set from the tees you normally play at your home course. Once this score is achieved, remove a few more clubs and play with only six clubs total. Set the same target score.

In summary, how effectively you practice will determine how quickly you improve as a player. Before your practice sessions, decide exactly what you would like to achieve and how long it will take you to do so. Analyze your game closely and identify specific areas that need improvement. Short game is an area that always needs attention. When you hit balls, spend some time working on drills and then the remainder of your time playing shots to targets. Scoring games on the golf course are excellent ways to allocate your practice time as well.

Coach Brooks
Red Numbers Golf®

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