There's a big difference between practicing hard and getting the most out of your time working on your game. All too often, we think buying a jumbo bucket will serve us more than hitting only a few balls. As a kid, I desperately wanted to be a great player and heard somewhere that I needed to hit 1,000 golf balls a day! I'd grab the massive yellow range bucket from the cart barn and fill it until it overflowed. Dragging it to the tee, I'd embark on a marathon practice session under the hot summer sun. Very often, my sessions would start positively. I knew what I wanted to accomplish and would get into a pretty nice rhythm. The more I hit, however, the worse I'd perform. I'd quickly lose focus and begin hitting shots at a feverish pace. The moment of poor contact, I'd immediately rake another ball over to lash at again. I'd become so undisciplined in my approach, each session would end out of breath and full of frustration.
One afternoon, one of the better players at the club took notice of my downward spiraling practice effort. This guy was a real "ace!" It was the 80s and I remember him purely striking shot after shot with his forged irons, collar up and cigarette dangling from his mouth. He proceeded to tell me a story about Ben Hogan and how to craft the perfect practice session. He said, back in the day, Hogan and his caddie would go to the practice tee with only a small shag bag full of balls. He'd then proceed to hit no more than 20 shots, directing total focus and commitment to properly executing his specific goal for the day. After 20 balls had been struck, Hogan would sit and enjoy a cigarette, as his caddie would collect the balls. The short break would allow him to mentally refresh, reflect, and consider adjustments for the next series of shots.
Did Hogan "actually" practice this way? I have no idea, but building my practice sessions in this way really helped my game. I didn't take up smoking or have someone shag balls for me. I did, however, begin hitting only 20 shots at a time, followed by a short water break. For me this process had the same effect, and it felt really good to leave the course feeling as if I had accomplished something. Try incorporating this little secret into your next training session and you can count this challenge as complete!