How To Practice To Play Golf

Make Every Range Session Truly Count

practice to play golf opener

Do you practice to play golf?

In other words, are you making the most of your range sessions?

practice to play golf downrangeIn a lot of the clients I see are golfers looking to gain an edge and reach not only the next level of play, but at least one level beyond. They spend time at the golf practice facility to engrain new motion habits and to have a sense of confidence that their improved swings will perform for them when it matters, on the golf course.

But many of them fail to recognize that you must test these new-found improvements under the same pressure that you face on the golf course, opting instead for the current craze of producing a perfect golf swing, influenced by current the instruction industry trend to emphasis technological master of swings and strokes.

Do you fall into this trend when it comes to your practice habits? If so, keep reading.


If you fall into this trend, you are learning to swing. At some point, you must ask yourself, “how much more learning of the swing do I need to accomplish to achieve the objective of lowering my score?” The answer is relative to your priority system and where golf fits in. For most, golf is not one of your top five priorities, but close enough for you to spend more time practicing golf than other priorities. What you are forgetting is golf is meant to be “played,” and if you are spending no time during practice learning to play, you are in theory just exercising your muscles, and not the one muscle that matters most, your brain.

practice to play golf pick your shotLearning to play is altogether different than learning to swing. Learning to play breeds confidence and wisdom. Learning to play teaches you how to handle pressure and think in the moment versus outside the moment. But most importantly, learning to play during your practice sessions provides the vehicle for your swing to repeat in the heat of battle, so you can be less thoughtful of what you need to do and be more instinctive.

Let’s explore ways in which you can learn to play during your practice sessions, with and without aids, to assist you with bringing that fantastic swing you have honed at the practice facility to the golf course and feel confident it will work.


Testing your skills without any thought to how to perform the skills is an essential part of anyone’s learning curve. Just like role play exercises assist sale people to be better sales people, or a doctor utilizing virtual patients to practice real procedures prior to doing so to real patients, testing your golf skills, under pressure, is a must if you are looking for the time you spend practicing to pay dividends to your game.

I am fortunate to be a FlightScope Ambassador and use the ball flight technology to confirm what I see as a golf coach to my clients. But are you and your coach using this technology in a way that objectively measures your skills under pressure situations? And are you using the technology to teach you real time problem solving skills essential to lowering your scores? My use of FlightScope is heavily weighted towards using its “Skills Application” to create and administer skills tests to new clients which we can use as bench marks for their improvement plans. We also use FlightScope to create individually designed skills games my clients can use independently of me to increase their ability to handle pressure situations that mimic the same situations they face on the course.

practice to play golf skills testA simple way of determining your current skills is designing a simple 5-8 target Skills Test that incorporates short, medium, and long shots as well as a shot requiring you to hit your driver. You don’t need a launch monitor to administer this test to yourself. Just clearly defined targets at vary-ing lengths with specific landing areas that allow you to score points.

I use a simple skills test that all my clients take their first sessions with me called “The Evaluation.” It consists of hitting four balls to varying length targets, with accepted landing areas becoming larger as the target becomes longer. A predetermined amount of time is used to provide ample time to complete the test but not enough time to waste. This recreates the same amount of time a golfer faces when needing to speed play up or deciding upon the best option to use when faced with a difficult situation. The test’s maximum score is between 150 and 200 points based on how many targets we use. And the test measures everything from where the client’s missed shots tend to land to club data, to trajectory and grouping patterns.

The information we gather from a client’s skills test results provides the information we both need to make instant improvements to their game while determining the most significant part of a client’s game we need to focus on first. After so many hours of coaching and so many rounds of golf played, each client retakes the evaluation to compare their game now versus when they first take the evaluation, as well as deter-mine if there are other aspects of their game that now need to become the priority of their improvement plan.

I have similar skills tests for chipping, bunker shots, and putting, which I created from ordinary drills I administer to clients. All these tests serve as the initial bench mark of determining their current skill set within each aspect of their games as well as their ability to play simulated games, under pressure, to improve their ability to handle pressure on the course.


During each practice session, you should devote the last 25 percent of your practice to scrimmaging yourself. That is, playing games on the range to test the skills you were just practicing. But a good scrimmage must have a realistic outcome or consequence based on the level of success of the scrimmage. Golf provides an outcome and consequence with every shot you execute. The consequence is what provides the realistic measure of whether your game can withstand pressure. Not leaving the practice area until you succeed, doing push-ups or sit-ups, running laps, or sacrificing your favorite after practice beverage, or any other negative consequences can be applied to any negative outcome of your scrimmage. The flip side of this is if you succeed within the scrimmage, you should have a positive consequence occur that rewards you for your acceptable efforts. But stick to what you promise yourself, good or bad, based on the results of your scrimmage. Doing so maintains the pressure you need to effectively handle and simulates pressure you may face during any round.

Here are some simple yet effect scrimmages you can very easily incorporate into your practice routine that will provide immediate feedback of your current skills and while honing your new skills to be more consistent. These scrimmages cover the three essential skills that must always stand up to pressure; your putting, your short game, and your ability to make the same swing with all clubs, regardless of circumstance:


Call the Shot – Similar to the evaluation I administer, you’ll be hitting to various targets. Difference is someone else will call the shot you need to hit (distance, shot shape, acceptable landing area, etc.) and hand you the club you will use to achieve the result. This is a great scrimmage to share with a practice partner, and your job as the golfer is:

  • Never look at what club you are hitting. Trust you practice partner provided the right tool for the job and focus on executing the shot.
  • Never judge the shot before it lands.
  • And evaluate each shot you hit based on your current abilities to perform the shot under pressure. Let your practice partner be the one to score each shot.

A great consequence for this scrimmage is not being able to end practice until you achieve a set number of agreed-to shots prior to the start of the scrimmage, or not going on to the next shot until you achieve the desired results.

Same Swing-Different Distance – It is imperative you know how far each club can make the ball travel in the air. You only have a certain amount of control over each shot, that being how far it carries. By understanding how far each club each club performs, you can make a simple need to know distances into a highly effective scrimmage.

  • Determine a starting distance – for example’s sake, let’s use 100 yards.
  • Determine an incremental amount of difference you want each shot to land. For example, using 100 yards as the starting point, I plan to hit each subsequent shot no less than 8 yards farther and no more than 11 yards farther then my starting point.
  • Pick a club that will travel 100 yards
  • Determine a consistent swing you can repeat for all clubs, that will allow the club you chose to hit carry 100 yards.
  • Swing the first club. If it lands within three yards of your intended target, you can move on to the next club. If not, continue to hit that club until you can achieve the objective.

Swing The Next Club – if it lands between 108 and 111 yards, great, you achieved the objective. If not, go back to the be-ginning and hit the 100-yard club again.

The concept of this drill is with one chance only, be able to make a swing, being totally confident in the club you choose and the swing you make, to carry the desired difference in distance to the next target. To start, I’d limit this to five targets. As you improve, increase the number of targets until you can hit every club in your bag using the same swing, to achieve a consistent difference in distance. This is a great drill to use when it comes to learning to control your distances with your wedges. Only difference in how you perform the drill is by varying your set up positions (hands up or down the grip; club square, slightly open or closed to target; stance square or open, etc.) to achieve smaller differences in distance you can use each club.

Play the Course – This practice scrimmage has been highlighted in many publications throughout the past few decades. As a reminder, it is imagining a golf hole at the practice area and hitting the clubs you need to hit the green in regulation or working through a difficult situation of one shot puts you into virtual trouble. Here are a few ideas to add to this time-honored scrimmage that can enhance the effectiveness of the exercise while at the same time instilling some consequence to its outcome:

  • Be target specific and focused – Find a way to make your target smaller and be visually more focused on the target throughout each shot. Your brain loves small targets and when you are focused on smaller targets, your ability to let yourself “swing to the target” greatly increases.
  • Be specific with your shot shape – Don’t just hit the target. Determine a specific shop shape prior to hitting the shot so you learn to hit different shots so you can adapt to different circumstances.
  • Always be pin high – There is a direct correlation to being at or past a pin and the chances of you making birdie.

When hitting a virtual approach shot, be sure the shot lands pin high or with-in an acceptable landing area past the target, so you get used to hitting shots the proper distance.

Do Not Finish Practice Without Making Par – It’s not worth leaving practice until you are confident in yourself. And I have never felt more confident than leaving practice on a positive note. Do so with this game too. Just because you ran out of balls does not mean practice is over. Go buy a few more and insure you leave making par or better on the last hole you virtually play.


practice to play golf chippingMake it Chipping – Chips shots are not to be taken lightly, and when you are thinking about just getting it close, you are missing out on a great opportunity to pick up a stroke. Make it Chipping is an easy scrimmage focusing on you making chip shots, not just getting them close:

  • Pick a hole on the green that represents the typical chip shot you experience any given round.
  • Place five balls just off the green, and at 5 feet, 10 feet, and 15 feet off the green.
  • Object of the game is to make at least one chip shot from each distance be-fore moving back to the next distance. You can use any club necessary to achieve the objective. If you do not make a chip, you stay at that distance, retrieving the five balls you just hit, until you do.

Be sure to go through a consistent routine for each shot. Don’t just rake another ball over. You go through a routine on the course, so why not use it here? What you’ll end up creating is a better routine to gather more information to increase your chances of making the chip shot. Use that same routine when on the course, it will in-crease your odds of making a chip shot on the course too.

  • You can use this scrimmage for bunker shots as well small distance pitch shots too.
  • Be willing to vary lies, roll, and different situations you will face, such as hitting over sprinklers, bushes, or over casual water.
John Hughes is a PGA Master Professional based at Falcon’s Fire in Orlando, Florida, and 2013 PGA of America Horton Smith Award recipient. Visit him at

Leave a Reply