I enjoy time on the range as it allows honing your skills without the pressure of performance that playing presents. The range provides a significant level of privacy that we often don’t get in everyday life. You’re usually alone in your own hitting station, absorbed in your swing, your body’s reactions, how you’re doing, and how many balls you have left in the bucket to accomplish your goals for that day. For most of us go to the range with goals in mind. There are times we just go for a form of catharsis, or therapy, of sorts, of a need to unwind and relax and release tension that has built from the prior moments of that particular day. Of course, during the extended pandemic shutdowns, the reopening of ranges and courses offers relief from the boredom of sheltering in place, a chance to get out and enjoy ourselves some, to exercise in nature, even a chance to chat with someone from outside our own family. It offers a chance too for respite from the news of the day, to take a break from the intensity of it all. As much as my body can take, I use the range a lot these days in that way.
But does the range actually help us play better golf on the course? In theory, it should. But in practice, the jury is still out. For after a good range session where I seem to have worked out a good result to whatever I was working on, I often go to the course the next day and play like I’d never had that good range session. It’s peculiar. I seem to revert to a comfortable default on the course that puts me back to a place where I’d been before that place where I thought I’d got to! Have any of you experienced that as well? I suspect Jordan Spieth has; as has Mike Donald; as has Bobby Clampett; as has even Ben Hogan in his early days when he considered giving up the game. What we think we learned at the range often just doesn’t stick on the course. Is there anything we can do to correct this frustrating pattern?
Having a psychology background, I think the basic problem lies in a kind of performance anxiety. On the range there are no such worries: We get a bucket with many tries. But on the course, we get just one attempt at each shot. The brain goes into a kind of alert status. It then send a corresponding message to our muscles and nerve endings which tighten with anticipation of the uncertainty of what is to come. I’ve tried a variety of techniques to calm the thinking mind, but a golf shot has a way of superseding any attempt of quieting the anticipation of approaching shots. I have a lot of meditation experience but golf takes most such techniques and tosses them aside like an Aikido master would a disciple. So are there any answers to this conundrum?
I presented this question via email recently to Dr. Joe Parent, a well-known psychologist and author of an excellent book on the mental game. Known informally as Dr. Joe, he is a long-time coach of the mental game who hosts a YouTube channel, offers a regular golf-related mindfulness session via the Shivas Irons Society, and sees students privately. He had several helpful ideas and suggestions, listed as follows:
- The best way to take your range game to the course is to trust it. The best way to trust it is good preparation.
- You’re not as good on the range as you think you are: You’re not as bad on the course as you think you are.
- Try to avoid working on your swing in a warm-up session. Do it in a practice session after the round or on another day.
- Change from a range rhythm where you hit shot after shot with the same club to a course rhythm where you change clubs and targets.
- Near the end of your range session, practice your pre-shot routine where you stand behind the ball, picking out your target and aligning your body properly. Do that for several practice shots.
- Play a few imaginary holes that you’ll be playing next .
Dr. Joe also advises, if you have access to a grass range, to find a place at the far end that has some longer grass, or that might offer a varied lie. Or choose a less than perfect lie. In other words try to simulate possible conditions you may encounter on the course. The key to golf is confidence when confronted with the many combinations of conditions you’re likely to face. On the range there is usually only one lie we’re facing. So we’re not really fully preparing ourselves for actually playing the game. And that includes the weather. Go to the range, either grass or mat, when it’s windy or hot or drizzly or cold–any condition you might experience when playing. Nicklaus used to hit just a small bucket, taking a couple minutes with each shot to go through his pre-shot routine ball by ball. That takes patience, perseverance, and persistence. And perhaps that takes a certain passion to improve. For to improve in this game takes calculated practice–practice that simulates as much as possible your actual experience on the course.
Give it a try, and pick up Dr. Joe’s book, Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game. It’s packed with great information to make you a better golfer.
Congrats to Webb Simpson for his impressive win at the Heritage. Twenty-two under par! And the previous week’s winner Daniel Berger in third at -20. I liked Simpson’s posture, in particular, both at address, and striding down the fairway. There’s no hang-dog in this guy. Even after a less than perfect shot, he kept his spine and head erect. Impressive! And…there’s something to be learned from that. Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, the runner-up, was impressive as well. And these average drivers beat out some of the biggest bombers on tour. There’s something to be learned from that, as well!
PGA pros Nick Watney and Cameron Champ both recently tested positive for Covid-19. Wishing these guys a speedy and complete recovery.
This week, The Travelers at TPC River Highlands near Hartford, Connecticut. Enjoy!
Stay healthy, y’all.
Jeffrey M O'Neil says
Hi Stephen, Thx for sharing some constructive thoughts on maximizing our time on the range. Here in MA we were the last state to open them. Our pros must feel like our barbers trying to fix all these “do it yourselfers”! Stay well & enjoy being out in the fresh air.
Stephen Altschuler says
Thanks for your comments, Jeff. I used to live in MA and remember some memorable rounds at Ponky in Canton. Good to hear the ranges are back open. I assume courses are as well. And you’re right about teaching pros having to be like barbers: Plenty of shutdown-impaired swings to repair.
Here’s to a great summer of golf ahead!