A plan. A target. A goal. A purpose. Too many golf balls soar from the driving range tee box without one.
It's one reason amateurs never see their golf games improve.
Time spent on the range is essential to becoming a better player, but it can also be a handicap.
According to area PGA golf professionals, there are four key problems players struggle with when trying to improve: Not stretching, not enough short game practice, having no purpose or goal and not knowing the difference between the range and the golf course.
Every instructor mentioned the importance of stretching. Whether it's before practicing, playing or before a lesson, stretching will prevent injury and also allow more time to work out swing flaws if time is restricted.
Jim Gabrick practices his short irons Tuesday at Madden's Airport Driving Range. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"One of the biggest problems is people don't stretch and secondly, they always grab their driver to start with," said Breezy Point Resort's Mark Johnson. "That should be the last club you hit. They should always start with a 9-iron or a pitching wedge and get comfortable before taking out the clubs that are harder to hit."
The short game is the most important part of golf. But it's also the first part of the game that is forgotten when practicing because it's the least fun.
Brian Erickson, head professional at the Legacy Courses at Cragun's, said players should split their practice time in half and work on the short game for the first part of the session.
"When people do go to the driving range they spend the majority of their time on the range hitting their driver," said Erickson. "Well if you can hit far and straight that's great, but if you three putt the green that drive didn't do you a whole lot of good."
Erickson recommended having one or two points of concentration for the practice time. He stressed sticking to those one or two keys instead of suffering from paralysis by analysis. That is, Erickson said, when a player reads Golf Digest or another golf publication and becomes bombarded with too many tips. Instead of working hard on just one or two, they speed through it all and never receive the benefit.
Chris Foley, owner of Chris Foley Golf Schools at Madden's Resort, stressed knowing exactly what part of the game a player needs help with.
"A lot of times when I work with someone they think they're driving the ball poorly, but in reality if they could hit their clubs better from 150-yards in they would score much better," said Foley. "You need to have a realistic understanding of what you need to work on in your game."
Mark Neva, professional at Deacon's Lodge said concentrate on the fundamentals - grip, alignment and set up and then make swing tweaks based off of ball flight. He stressed having a specific target in mind because it can be difficult to analyze your alignment and set up and ball position if you're not focusing on something.
"Regardless of our ability we can all become masters of pre-swing fundamentals," said Neva. "It's the building block to swing success.
"Have a purpose when you go to the range. The most important tip in practicing is having a specific target. You need to have a physical target in mind so that your conscious and subconscious minds know what the goal is."
Another problem is players don't realize that hitting golf balls at the range and on the golf course is different. Foley and Erickson both said any player can grove a swing when hitting 50 balls with an 8-iron within a matter of a half hour. But that's not how the game is played.
"The golf course is one shot at a time, not the same shot over and over," said Foley. "Unlike the range, on the course you spend a lot of time between shots and you usually hit a different club each time. If you practice more like you play and just hit a couple of shots with each club, maybe hit driver, than a middle iron and then a pitch shot, that will translate to playing the game much better."
Foley suggested pretending to play your favorite course while on the range.
Johnson concluded that people struggling with the game should not be afraid to ask a professional for help.
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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