Why Your Practice Isn’t Improving Your Golf Scores

As golfers we’re always looking for ways to improve our game, reduce our handicaps and generally lower the scores we shoot week in week out. Lots of us frequent the practice grounds of our golf clubs or visit the local driving in pursuit of improving our ball striking. Its a scene we all see constantly of the practice grounds across the country, golfers trying to hit longer and straighter drives and long irons on the assumption we’ll give ourselves greater opportunities to reach the green in regulation and shoot better scores. But are we being realistic and are we missing out on what really matter when it comes to practicing and lowering the scores we post?\r\n\r\nI’ve been mulling it over for a while, considering how I’ve practiced throughout my years as a golfer. I’m amazed at how blinkered I’ve been! I’ll tell you why…\r\n\r\nUsing a course I know well, Bingley St. Ives, as an example of a typical golf course lets first of all work out what a round of par golf is actually made up of. The course is a par 71 standing at 6289 yards from the yellow tees. There are four par 3s, eleven par 4s and three par 5s.\r\n\r\nbingley-st-ives-golf-club-score-card\r\n\r\nIf we break that down further it means we should play the following number of shots during a round.\r\n

\r\nbreakdown-of-shots-during-golf-round\r\n\r\nStraight away we can see that 36 out of the 71 shots we should be taking are on the putting green, that’s over 50% of our strokes in the round.\r\n\r\nIf we break the tee shots and approach shots down further and consider the yardages we’re looking at for those shots we can begin to understand in what range of the putting surface we’re typically playing and which clubs we’re likely to be using when playing those shots.\r\n\r\nIf we we’re to say that an average drive is 275 yards with a driver in hand and cross reference that to the yardages on the score card we can see the following on each hole:\r\n

\r\nhole length yardage left to green\r\n\r\nFrom the break down above we can see that across the 14 holes which are Par 4s or 5s the approach shot to the green is within 155 yards on 11 holes (bearing in mind we have two shots left to take after our drive on the par 5 2nd, 9th and 14th). For many golfers that will be somewhere around a 6 or 7 iron and below. Add in the fact that on the par 5s the second shots only need to be in the region of 150 yards to leave the ball roughly 50 yards short of the green, it means that we’re likely to be playing 14 shots with a 6 / 7 iron or below.\r\n\r\nOf the 14 holes which are Par 4s and Par 5s the card allocates us with 59 shots to take, 28 of those are supposed to be with the putter, combined with the 14 shots we’ve just identified it means that 42 of the 59 shots will be taken from within 155 yards. That’s a whopping 71.2%!\r\n\r\nclub-usage-on-par-4s-5s\r\n\r\nIf we then add in the Par 3s whose lengths are 158, 135, 184 and 182 yards respectively and consider the entire 18 holes with an allocated 71 shots, 36 are supposed to be putting and 16 shots will be with a 6 / 7 iron or less (I’m including the 158 yard par 3 3rd for the sake of 3 yards!). That’s 52 of the 71 shots which increases the percentage of shots taken with a 6 / 7 iron or below to 73.2%.\r\n\r\nclub-usage-through-entire-round\r\n\r\nAt this point we could also argue that the 73.2% of shots played with a 6 / 7 iron or less are in fact the shots which make your score, they are the shots where you’re playing into the green and trying to get the ball as close as possible to hole or even into the hole.\r\n\r\nSo what’s your point I can you screaming?!\r\n\r\nWell, the point is, my practice routine has nearly always been to head out on the practice range and start off hitting a 7 iron to loosen up before reaching into the bag for a longer iron and then ultimately for the driver. Why? Because I’d never really thought about how I was practicing, I wanted to hit balls and I’m not ashamed to say it… we all feel good when we crack a sweet drive off the tee to the plaudits of our playing partners! But with hindsight and a different mind-set was that time practicing beneficial in actually reducing my scores? I don’t believe so, and that’s because it was in effect the least important part of the game to be practicing.\r\n\r\nBearing in mind the above, I should have been starting off with the 7 iron to loosen up and then reaching into the bag for a shorter iron and ultimately the putter  and therefore concentrating on 73.2% of the game which is played within 155 yards of the hole. After all it has so many more benefits to your score than the other 26.8% of the game…\r\n\r\nWhen was the last time your drive got you out trouble? I bet it never has right? It’s only ever put you in trouble! When was the last time you were realistically looking to hit a 4 iron to within a few feet or yards in order to get up and down to save par? You haven’t have you?!\r\n\r\nThe benefits of practicing the shorter aspects of your game always pay greater dividends; your skill around the green is where you get yourself out of trouble, where you get up and down from 50 or 100  yards to save par or to make birdie. The more accurate you can be to the pin from 150 yards the greater chance you’ll have of holing your putt, and the more you practice your putting the greater the chance you’ll have of holing the longer putts.\r\n\r\nWhen you consider the implications of the breakdowns illustrated and how you approach the way you practice your game moving forward it is also worth considering how it may impact your course management when playing a round. Do you really need to be hitting your driver through the narrow entrance to the green and running the risk of ending up in the trees? Or would you be better lying up short of the trouble knowing you’ll still only need to play a 7 iron in as opposed to a 9 iron?\r\n\r\nPractice the elements of the game that get the ball in the hole from 150 yards and you’ll notice how you can keep yourself out of trouble from the tee when your driving isn’t quite the be all and end all of shooting good scores. Not only that be I’m confident you’ll begin to knock shots of your score simply by improving your ability to get your ball closer to the hole more often, your ability hole out with just one putt and to sink longer putts more often than you currently do.

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