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Working at Practice

Golfers' Short Game Could Use More Time to Improve


Just looking at the public driving range at Saddleback College reveals the basic flaw in the thinking of most players working on their games.

From early in the morning until 10 p.m., players line up and whack away at bucket after bucket of striped balls on a range that looks like a giant aviary because of the net that covers it from end to end. Meanwhile, there are only a handful of players chipping or putting despite plenty of room to do both.

On a recent weekday afternoon at the public end of the range, about 25 players were hitting off mats and only three were on the putting green.

One said he could only sneak his putter into his company car because his boss was at work that day. Otherwise, he would have been hitting his driver.

All this helps illustrate the point Gary Player recently made to spectators watching him roll putt after putt and hit near perfect chip after chip before a round at the recent Toshiba Senior Classic in Newport Beach.

Player pointed out that about 70% of the shots in golf are from 100 yards or closer but few people work enough on those shots.

At the other end of the Saddleback College range, which is used by the college for classes, golf Coach Bill Cunerty said many people should overhaul their practice methods.

Cunerty is also the author of "Sequential Golf," a no-frills manual that teaches all aspects of game from the grip to swing.

"Statistics show that 43% of the shots in golf are putts," Cunerty said. "So that means people should practice that shot 43% of the time but I don't see people doing that."

Roger Teel, head professional at Anaheim's Dad Miller golf course agrees that putting is the one thing people don't work on enough.

Teel, who said putting is 46% of the game, suggests going to the practice green and laying two parallel clubs just wider than your putter blade. This drill is designed to help get the ball started on a straight line. Teel also suggests that people get their eyes over the ball.

"People usually just hit a few putts on the practice green before a round to gauge the speed of the greens and that's about it," Teel said, "and it's not enough."

Cunerty, who teaches several golf classes at the college, sees other mistakes repeated day after day.

"Guys come skidding into the parking lot here after work," he said, "grab a bucket of balls and play home-run derby. . . . If you want to go to the range and take your aggressions out after work that's fine but it's not good for your game. You're not going to get better doing that."

What Cunerty and several other teaching professionals recommend is a practice plan that calls for a player to hit a predetermined number of shots with certain clubs.

Cunerty said one of the most helpful things professional players do that most recreational players don't is follow the same pre-shot routine every time they hit a ball.

This was one of the things that Earl Woods drilled into his son Tiger well before he was 5.

The pair talked about it recently on a television talk show and Tiger said he was too stubborn to agree for a long time but now calls on that same routine before every shot.

Another common mistake is practicing too rapidly.

"Don't rush in practice," Cunerty said. "People out here sometimes hit a bucket of balls in 10 minutes, then leave thinking, 'I must be better.' "

Of course, one of the main reasons for rapid-fire hitting at the range is boredom. Sometimes practice sounds a lot more fun than it turns out to be and a player just wants to get rid of the bucket of balls. Because they paid $6 or $7 for the balls, they feel obligated to hit them, no matter how poorly.

Another reason is the lack of time. Many people have only an hour or two each week to practice, but that's enough time if done right.

There are many methods to make better use of practice time. Terry Titus, head professional at Cypress Golf Club, has an easy answer for those hitting too quickly--change clubs after every shot.

He also recommends that players start with a sand wedge then go to seven-iron, then five, and so on. The idea is that since a wedge is the easiest club to hit well, it also helps build a player's confidence and they can carry it to the more difficult clubs.

Many golfers complain that they are great on the practice range but struggle once they get on the course. Titus said this is often because players don't feel pressure at the range.

"You have to create some way to determine what your performance level was on the range," he said. One way to do this is with targets.

At first, players should pick a target with an imaginary circle around it about 50 yards away. Try to hit five shots and keep track of how many end up in the circle. Then move the target and circle back farther and farther. Counting good shots adds just enough tension to simulate on-course anxieties.

"If you create the pressure to perform on the range," Titus said, "and learn to deal with it, then you can carry it out onto the course.

"Plus, people need to concentrate on the positive things more."

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