(This is the latest in a series of articles by nationally known PGA of America instructor Mike Malaska in the “Skilled Player” section of Golfweek Preferred.)
By Mike Malaska
It is impossible to underrate the importance of having a consistent, goal-oriented practice routine. People who are successful in business, or in any field, have a routine. We can be talking about surgeons, dentists, doctors, lawyers or car mechanics – all have checklists of things they go through. And if one part doesn’t work, they don’t go on to the next part. They spend a little more time on it.
When I watch most people practice, there’s no rhyme or reason for what they do. They just stand and hit balls. If it goes right, they aim left. If it goes left, they aim right. People want to be more consistent and want to hit the ball farther, but too many don’t have a structured routine.
Start with a goal. Ask yourself why you are practicing and how the routine ties into that goal. Then make sure you warm up before you hit balls. That means stretch – something for the neck, shoulders, hips, hamstrings, ankles and feet – just to get loosened up. You don’t want to hit balls as a way to loosen up. If you do, you are an accident waiting to happen.
The other benefit of a consistent pre-practice or pre-round stretching routine is that it will help eliminate those days when you have an almost “out-of-body” experience and can’t figure out why you felt so different from the day before. The biggest change I’ve seen in my swing and game since I’ve been very consistent with stretching and working out is that I don’t have those days where my swing feels very different.
The next step is to have a practice station. I watch thousands of people on the range at our golf schools, and most come out and start hitting balls even though there’s nothing on the ground to help them aim at their targets. They don’t understand how to aim. A club on the ground lined up in the direction you want the ball to go and another club, parallel to your target line to help aim the body, will help you with alignment.
Once your practice station is set, check your posture and grip to make sure they are correct and consistent. If the grip and the posture change, so does the ability to deliver the clubface to the ball.
Now you want to get into the feel of the flow of the swing. Start out with a mid-iron with nice, slow speeds. With these clubs (as opposed to a sand wedge), if you hit a ball with the clubface out of position, it shows curve. The shape of the shot gives you needed feedback. Then you can start creating fades and draws by how you rotate your forearms: No rotation promotes a fade or a cut. More rotation promotes a draw. Constant grip pressure is important, too, so you don’t feel any tension.
Next, a player must feel the path – making a backswing and coming down into the ball to get a feel for the track that makes the ball start down your target line.
Start with small swings and gradually build the length of the swing, but keep the pace slow. If you go full speed, all you’re doing is reinforcing a reflex. Work on full-motion technique, but at half or quarter speed.
Other sports force you to a pace you understand. Skiing requires you to stick to slopes you can handle. If you don’t, you will get injured. Similarly in baseball, if the speed of the pitched ball is too fast, you have to switch to a slower speed (or go hitless). In golf, however, people can go as fast as they want to, get lucky occasionally and think they’ve learned something.
Finally, simulate the golf course. Hit a driver like you’re going down a fairway. Watch where it goes. Then pick an iron, change the angle and watch what the tendency is. Do that for a few shots and simulate what’s going to happen on the course.
The final thing you want to do is hit a few shots with the driver or whatever club you’re going to hit off the tee, with no target in mind. Watch what the ball does in the air. Whatever the tendency is for those balls, you want to play that tendency on the course that day and get it around as best you can. If you don’t like the way you played, you can practice more after the round. That’s how most good players approach it.