2005: Brewing up competitive practice

Orlando, Fla.

Most golfers do not know how to practice.

This is the unrelenting message of Brad Brewer.

From his headquarters at the Brad Brewer Golf Academy at Shingle Creek Golf Club, Brewer continually campaigns against what he labels “passive” practice. Instead he teaches “competitive” practice.

All Brewer’s students follow a regimented practice routine. The regimen is easily adapted to different players and skill levels.

Here is an example. Because you are unhappy with the way you are driving the ball, you and your driver venture arm-in-arm (OK, shaft-in-arm) to the practice range. Bam, bam, bam, you pound drives until you feel better about your swing.

Brewer would not allow you to get away with this. He might say you are creating an unrealistic rhythm. He certainly would say that the environment you have created on the range is nothing like what you will encounter on the course.

So he would tell you to hit five balls while thinking intently about your mechanics. Then he would tell you to hit five more, this time pretending that each is a drive on the course.

“I want you to download from the mechanical into a routine that is similar to playing golf,” Brewer says. “Stand behind the ball, visualize the shot, go through the entire process of actually playing a golf shot on a hole. You can do this with both woods and irons.”

Here is another example: You are putting poorly, so you go to the putting green and drop three balls. You hit a bunch of putts, most of them from 10 feet or more.

Stop that, Brewer would say. In your mind, you know it’s normal to miss most of these longer putts. What Brewer is seeking is the pressure of forcing yourself to make putts. He stresses the positive visualization of seeing putts fall into the cup.

So you must engage in his circle putting drill, which requires you to make a prescribed number of 4-foot putts (10 or more is standard) in succession.

“It’s amazing how making all these putts from 4 feet can make you a better putter from longer distances,” Brewer says. “It happens almost every time.”

Brewer has emerged as one of golf’s most thoughtful instructors. “Practice Like a Pro” is the name he has given to his overall practice philosophy.

Here are the four components of the philosophy:

The “winner’s circle” for putting is created by placing five tees in a circle, each 4 feet from the hole. A golfer rotates from one tee to the next, always facing a 4-foot putt.

Brewer’s insights: “I tell my students, ‘I don’t care how long it takes, you stay here until you make 10 in a row from 4 feet.’ What I’m doing is adding the same kind of competitive element they have on the golf course. They’re not just passively practicing their putting.

“You have to really work and grind it out. I had one junior (Martin Ureta, now playing on the University of North Carolina team) who made 100 in a row. I had never seen it done before.

“It is a drill for concentration, and I have found that it definitely helps all lengths of putts. Mentally your expectations are much higher. You see the ball go in the hole much more often, and that just does great things to your confidence.”

The “scoring zone challenge” is aimed at reinforcing positive thoughts about chipping, pitching and bunker play.

Brewer might leave the “winner’s circle” tees in a 4-foot circle around the hole, or he might expand the circle to as wide as 10 feet. He asks his pupils to hit 10 consecutive shots inside the circle (sometimes the number could be reduced to five).

When a golfer gets to flop shots and bunker play, achieving the number can be quite difficult.

“That’s all right,” Brewer says. “I want to maintain the same competitive intensity.”

“Dumping” is a practice routine in which a golfer switches back and forth between practice mode and play mode. The name comes from the process of dumping swing thoughts and “avoiding the living jungle of swing mechanics.”

This addresses a concern expressed by virtually all advanced players: How is it possible to leave mechanical thoughts behind and concentrate on actually playing the game?

The routine always includes five swings focused on mechanics followed by five swings designed to emulate on-course conditions.

“By switching back and forth, you can develop an understanding of what you need to do on the course,” Brewer says. “Most golfers hit balls too quickly on the range. I want them to stand back there, concentrate as hard as they would on the course, and visualize the shot they want to hit. This way, practice allows you to blend the physical and mental elements of golf.”

Brewer believes practice time on the golf course is an essential part of overall improvement. To optimize on-course practice, Brewer uses two games that can be played by individual golfers.

There is the Hogan Game and the Palmer Game.

The Hogan Game, sometimes called “worst ball,” was used by Ben Hogan in preparation for major championships. A player hits two balls, always choosing the worst of the two for the next shot.

The idea is to generate consistency and repeatability in shotmaking. The Hogan Game is used primarily by highly skilled players.

The Palmer Game, on the other hand, can be used by any golfer of any ability. Essentially it is the opposite of the Hogan Game. A golfer hits as many shots as desired from the same spot, always selecting the best shot. It is designed to reflect the fearless and aggressive attitude of Arnold Palmer.

“Players start to free up,” Brewer says.

“They start firing at the stick. They start putting much more aggressively, knowing there is no fear. After two or three holes, magical things start to happen.”

With all his drills and games, Brewer maintains a central theme: “Always challenge yourself. Always keep the pressure on yourself to perform better than before.”

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