One hour away from a better game

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Jonathan Wallett is a European Tour coach and director of the Elite Coaching Golf Academy.

Whatever your handicap, everyone thinks more practice is the key to success. However, as a golf coach for more than 25 years, I’d say that, of those who practise regularly, 70 per cent do so in a way that hurts their game, and 20 per cent in a way that neither hurts or helps. That leaves just 10 per cent who actually practise in a way that helps them.

And this isn’t just amateurs. When I started working with David Howell (above) in 2011, he told me he felt more confused and less confident after a practice session. But whatever your ability, focused practice is the foundation to lower scores, handicap improvement and golfing success.

Focus on the objectives
There are two main objectives to practice. Firstly you need to develop a skill (this might be a certain shot shape, for instance) and secondly you need to develop competitive confidence in that skill. Having confidence in high-pressure situations is vital to playing peak performance golf. You can meet these objectives by breaking your practice session down.

Work in thirds
A conversation with US Open winner Michael Campbell 15 years ago had a big impact on the way I coach players to practise. He was introduced to the ‘one-third rule’ in the early 1990s, which sees you break your practice into three sections. The first third focuses on technique, the second on rhythm and the final third simulates competition. This is the way my Tour players practise. The following pages show you how to do the same.

Pick one target
Target

The most common mistake I see in practice is golfers spending 100 per cent of their time attempting to make the swing and technique perfect. They hit every ball thinking about technique and, by the end of the session, have more swing thoughts than they started with. Avoid this trap by making sure no more than one third of it is spent on technique. The focus here is on building a technical skill. It’s fine to use training aids (to help you set up correctly, for example) but use one club and focus on one target. This removes any variables and places the emphasis solely on the technical side of your game.

Set up for the hour
Find a place on the range that allows you to work on each of the three practice disciplines. For now we are going to pick just one target, but choose a spot that gives you lots of targets to hit towards. In this spot, for example, you can work on feel by hitting single shots to each of the baskets, and introduce a competitive element by trying to hit one target a set number of times in 10 shots.

Use the same club
Start your 60-minute practice session by aiming at one target with one club – I’m using the 100-yard marker and a wedge here – for 20 minutes. During this time you can work on your alignment, set-up and finding key points during your swing. Improving these areas should see you find the target consistently by the end of this section.

Freshen it up
Putting

The focus in this middle third shifts from technique towards establishing motion, feel and rhythm. Developing these skills is vital if you want to feel comfortable hitting a range of distances and shot types on the course. The key to this section is making every shot different, as if you were on the course. Do this by trying to shape different shots (fade, draw, low and high). I see too many people ‘ball beating’ on the range, trying to develop their game simply by hitting ball after ball. This is misguided as beating balls bears little relevance to hitting the same shot on the course where there is no chance to replay it.

On the putting green
Feel is an essential skill for putting so part of your practice should be designated to developing it. Practising with your eyes closed is a drill Nick Faldo utilised frequently. Spend 20 minutes trying to putt balls in clusters with your eyes closed and guess whether the ball is short or long before you open your eyes. Repeat this to different distances and on different slopes.

Seek out variety to improve your tempo
Chipping areas offer ample opportunities to play different shots. Spend 20 minutes hitting shots from different lies (down and up slopes, tight and heavy lies) to different distances with different clubs and shot types. Use a range of swing tempos to see what works best in each scenario.

Pressure
Range

Put yourself under pressure in the final third of your session by introducing a ‘win-lose’ element. This last section creates a bridge from your practice to your play as it helps you transfer your range work to hitting good shots down the stretch, whether that is in a club medal or when you’re heading for your best score. Extensive testing has shown that practising in pressurised situations is the most effective way of inoculating yourself against the negative effects of pressure. Use your pre-shot routine just as you would on the course and have no more than one swing thought.

Set yourself a target
For the final 20 minutes of your session, create an imaginary fairway by using signs or landmarks in the distance to create left and right edges. Give yourself a target to meet (three in a row or seven out of 10, for example); and try to put that number on your ‘fairway’. Miss and you must re-start from ball one.

On the putting green
On tour this is called the ‘birdie-par’ or ‘around the world’ drill. Set up four tees at north, south, east and west about one putter length from the hole – these are the ‘par’ putts. Set up four more tees in the gaps (at north-east, south-east etc.) two putter lengths from the hole – these are the ‘birdie’ putts. Make 3 circuits (24 putts in total) and see what your score is to par. Record your score and look to improve through the season.