If you had to draw up the perfect scenario necessary to create a great golfer, one of the first things you'd probably mention would be access to a range and a golf course. Sung Hyun Park, former World No. 1 and defending champion of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, wasn't so lucky. In her first few years playing golf, she barely set foot on the golf course.
"I first started playing when I was nine years old, and I only practiced indoors," Park said through a translator in her pre-tournament press conference at the KPMG. "It was like a three-meter distance, and I used to hit my shots over there. And playing like that for three years, I probably went on the golf course around four or five times only, which probably means like once a year. And so I always looked forward to going out on to the course and to play."
If you're someone who loves golf, but don't have easy access to a course, there's hope for you. Park is proof that you can get good—sometimes really, really, good—even if you can't get on-course as much as you'd like.
We talked to Jason Guss, one of Golf Digest's best teachers in the state of Michigan, about how you can make a range-centric golf existence work.
"If you’re a good visual person you can create holes on the driving range," says Guss. Doing something as simple as picking two targets and visualizing a fairway between them can help you create a golf hole in your mind.
"You can get into golf course mode, you can visualize and you can get pretty close to the real thing," said Guss. Creativity is the key. "You have to be really good at using the boundaries of the driving range."
While there's a school of thought that says you should spend more time on the golf course than the driving range to become a better player and course manager, there are benefits to logging big hours on the range.
"I had a lot of complaints back then, not being able to play on the course, and I always wanted to play on the course," said Park. "But looking back, I think that time on the range definitely helped me . . . sort of establish my swing and my shots."
Guss agrees there's a hidden upside.
"You’re working more on technique than feel and playing when you’re on on the range," said Guss. "So if you’re working on it the right way, you’re going to have a technical advantage."
Moreover, Guss points out that you can be more efficient with your practice when you're on the range compared to when you're on the course from a time perspective. You can hit a lot more golf balls spending an hour on the range than you would if you spent that same hour on the course.
There are also golfers out there who have the opposite problem Park did, with access to a golf course but no range.
"If you only get to be on course, which is how I grew up playing," says Guss, "you have to make time for technique. You have to say, 'Today I need to work on my technique all throughout the golf course.' You have to turn the golf course into the driving range. Go out and say, 'I don't care what we shoot today, we’re going to work on our swings on the course.'"
Obviously, the ideal scenario would be to have access to both a range and golf course, but if you're stuck in a lop-sided situation, learn from Park and be willing to make whatever situation, no matter how imperfect, perfect for your development.
"It’s great to have the advantage of being able to play whenever you want and hit balls whenever you want," says Guss, "but if you’re one who's stuck on one side of the equation, you have to learn how to create on-course scenarios on the range or make the range atmosphere as close as you can on the golf course."