October 20, 2021
Welcome to Play Smart, a game improvement column published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday by Game Improvement Editor Luke Kerr-Dineen to help you increase your Golf IQ and play smarter, better golf.
GOLF Top 100 teacher Eric Alpenfels, together with research partner Dr. Bob Christina, Professor Emeritus of Kinesiology and Dean Emeritus of the School of Health and Human Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, spent years doing all sorts of golf-related things. Not so much the intricate details of the golf swing, but trying to come up with an evidence-based approach that actually helps you play the game.
Her new book, Evidence-Based Golf, which you can buy right here on Amazon, contains all of the results of her various studies that have been conducted over the years. It’s the kind of stuff that is exactly my thing that I write about a lot in this column, so I would definitely recommend it.
As I was browsing the other day, there was one section that caught my eye: your insights into the best way to practice, as revealed by a study of golfers of various skill levels at Pinehurst Resort.
The driving range can be a dangerous place for golfers. I’m an avowed ranger, and while hitting ball after ball can be good when trying to change the technique of your golf swing, it isn’t the best way to convert all of the hard work on the golf course into good results. Alpenfels and Dr. Christina found out during her research. To do this, you need what the couple call “transfer practice,” a form of practice that mirrors what is happening on the golf course.
“When you practice the way you play it has a high transfer back to the practice area and to playing on the golf course,” they write.
What exactly is transfer practice? Nice that you asked! Here are some of the recommendations from the book that you can work on next time.
1. Play simulated holes
This means imagining the hole, choosing a target and sketching a fairway or green. It can be any hole – have fun and imagine you’re playing the 13th at Augusta National – but take it seriously. And no mulligans!
2. Play shots at different targets with random clubs
What is the opposite of standing in one place, hitting a target with a club? You may not be able to move, but you can change your goals and clubs.
Pick a club at random, choose a suitable target, and after you hit the shot, rinse and repeat.
A big issue in all of this is not to get too comfortable on the range. After all, teaching yourself to adjust is what you need to do on the golf course.
3. Use a ball
When in the short game area, don’t bring more than one ball. You don’t (usually) have this luxury on the golf course, so don’t allow it on the putting or chipping green.
Use your one ball and putt or chip to target different goals. This means changing the shot length, the shot type, the shot position and the inclination of the shot. If you hit one bad one, move on to the next – it’s more valuable than giving yourself a repetition.
4. Same club, different goals
Once at the shooting range, grab a bat but get creative with your goals. For example, let’s say you typically hit your 7 iron about 150 yards. Pick a target that is 150 meters away, then on your next shot, hit a target that is 140 meters away. After that, try one that is 50 meters away, then mix it up and swing for one 160 meters away.
Sharpening your creativity has all sorts of positive effects on your game. It will increase awareness of your golf swing by allowing you to make minor technical adjustments.
5. Same goal, different clubs
And when you’re fed up with that, flip the script. Choose a target 100 meters away and hit it with various clubs. Wedges, mid-irons, even try a driver. It’s fun – and very useful – to make practicing more interesting.
6. Same club, different ball flights
As you can see, a big issue with transfer training is clutter. So when you are done hitting different clubs and different targets, take a club of your choice and confuse the ball flight: one high, one low, one left, one right. Also, don’t use the excuse “I’m not good enough for this”. You have to start somewhere and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can improve.
7. Use your routine
This might sound boring when it sounds like a fun form of practicing, but using your pre-shot routine before each shot will really help you out on the court. It is a hassle, but practicing your routine by yourself will help you feel comfortable on the course.
8. Practice problem solving
Meanwhile, practice the shots you might need and hopefully never use: chipping, hitting trees, a clogged lie in a bunker. Taking your medication takes a little practice to do at its best.
9. Play games
The goal is to put some pressure on yourself under which to practice playing golf. After all, that’s what happens on the golf course.
So add it to your range. When you train with different clubs to different goals, set a goal for yourself. If your next stroke means hitting a 5 iron on a green 50 yards away, for example, you will receive a reward if your ball stays on the green – and a penalty if it doesn’t.
10. Practice ups and downs
When it comes to creating practice games, there is no easier – or better – than a good old-fashioned up and down. Don’t just practice the chipping, practice the putt afterwards. It will prepare you for when you have to hit the nervous par-putt on the court later.
1. Play simulated holes 2. Play shots at different targets with random clubs 3. Use a ball 4. Same club, different targets 5. Same target, different clubs 6. Same club, different ball flights 7. Use your routine 8. Practice troubleshooting 9. Play games 10. Practice ups and downs
Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Game Improvement Editor for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role, he oversees all of the brand’s service journalism in the areas of teaching, equipment, health and fitness on all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.
An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina-Beaufort golf team, where he put them at number 1 on the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to do his Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and was named in 2017 “Rising Star” of the News Media Alliance. His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek, and The Daily Beast.