January 19, 2015

Make Golf Easier

By making your practice tougher

Can you name a sport where the practice isn't more grueling than the competition? Wrestlers train hours for bouts that last six minutes. A few sets of downs is nothing to a football team that works out twice a day. Even look at marathoners: They might not run 26 miles until the race, but their preparation will wear out a pair of sneakers, if not a knee. A practice session for most golfers, on the other hand, is hitting balls for 20 minutes from perfect lies. Then we head out for four hours and encounter all sorts of challenges: deep rough, odd stances, swirling winds and vicious taunts from our buddies. Is it any surprise we crumble? The 18th-century Russian general Alexander Suvorov, undefeated in a long career, said, "What is difficult in training will become easy in battle." Compared to chest presses with bayonets in the snow, the drills I'm about to show you are a lot of fun. Yes, they make the task of hitting a golf ball a little tougher, but that's the point. Grit your teeth and imagine your next round, when the game just might seem easy.

1. BLAST WITH AN 8

The greenside bunker shot is hard enough, so why make it any harder? Because once you can reliably get out with an 8-iron, using a 56- or 60-degree will be a cinch.

To do it with an 8-iron, exaggerate the fundamentals. Play the ball farther forward in a wide stance, lay the clubface way open, and let your hands hang low at address. Then just maintain that deep knee flex as you splash the sand a couple of inches behind the ball with lots of clubhead speed (above). You might be surprised at the high bunker lips you clear.

I have students who do this drill with a 5-iron. It can morph into a bit of an ego contest.

2. COVER ONE EYE

Lots of elite athletes, like soccer goalies and baseball sluggers, practice with strobe glasses that flash intermittently. The idea is that hampered vision helps develop sharper reflexes. Although golfers hit a stationary ball, shaking up how we see is useful: It challenges our balance and focus during the swing.

Chances are you don't own strobe glasses, but an eye patch or bandana works. Cover either eye and hit balls (right). Start with driver because it has the biggest clubface. With less visual information, your brain has to exert a bit more effort. This promotes long-term learning. You'll be concentrating harder to make good contact.

Christopher Smith

3. ROLL IN DRIVERS

Go to the practice green, and putt with your driver. This tip is as simple as that. Grip the butt end or choke way down as I'm doing (right). Or go split-grip like a hockey player. Stand square or open. Trust whatever technique you want to try.

This drill is fantastic for golfers who've become overly technical. It gets them putting like a kid again. Using a weird, long club reminds you that putting is about rolling the ball on a certain line at a certain speed to get it into the hole. Nothing more.

When you go back to using your regular putter and your eyes are set comfortably over the ball, keep the same attitude of just rolling the thing in.

Christopher Smith

4. RAISE YOUR RATE

You stripe it on the range, but whenever a match gets tight your swing goes AWOL. Sound familiar? Don't worry, there's a way to train to be clutch. It starts with not caring if you look ridiculous doing jumping jacks on the practice tee (right).

Thirty seconds of jumping jacks or running in place—or any calisthenic that raises your pulse—before you hit a shot is a great way to simulate on-course pressure. Your heart's pounding, the grip feels odd in your slightly numb hands, and you've got to pull the trigger.

Calisthenics create the same effect as playing for money. And not only are they healthier for your body, they're better for your bank account, too.

*Christopher Smith is the founder of Train2Trust.com.

He is based at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside Portland, Ore.*