Practise Like a Pro
So that you maximise the effectiveness of your time on the range, it's important that you make and understand the distinction between warming-up before a game and practising to make technical improvements to your swing.
There's a big difference: the process of warming up 30 minutes or so ahead of your tee-time is all about finding a good rhythm and getting your mind in tune with the swing that you have that day.
In other words you are dealing with short-term goals.
A full-on practise session, meanwhile, may well take a couple of hours, during which time your objective is to focus on your mechanics and work on long-term goals based on the advice of your professional.
Colin Montgomerie is not known for beating hundreds of balls out on the range, but he sets the perfect example for every golfer when it comes to a warm-up routine ahead of a round.
With a bucket of just thirty or 40 balls, Monty runs through a set routine that sees him loosen up with a handful of smooth wedge shots before hitting just two or three balls with every club in the bag. Nothing is forced; for Monty, rhythm is the key.
Countdown to the 1st Tee
Monty's routine is a good one to copy when it comes to your own preparation ahead of a game. And it becomes even more effective if, during those 30 minutes, you focus on just one or two key swing thoughts that help you to repeat your best swing. If you don't already have one, I suggest you get yourself a notepad and keep it in your golf bag so that you can jot down swing thoughts as and when you hit upon certain phrases that work for you.
Try to keep them simple: basic reminders such as 'hands high at the top', or 'turn all the way through impact' will give you something positive to focus on.
Short Term Objectives
The key to a good warm-up session is that as you hit shots, you create images in your mind and get a feel the shape and the rhythm of your swing.
Feel how lightly you can grip the club -that will keep the arms and the shoulders relaxed and help you make the free-flowing swing that maximises clubhead speed.
Study the ball flight carefully and prepare to take that information with you out onto the course. If you find you that are consistently hitting shots with a fade, then fine. Whether or not that is your typical shape, you have to build your strategy around that and play for that fade on the day. Whatever you do, don't fight it.
To settle any 1st tee nerves, spend the last few minutes visualising and hitting the opening tee-shot. Go through your routine from pegging up the ball, to standing behind it to get a good visual in mind and then making your swing. Once you have hit a solid shot, you'll be ready to go and play with confidence.
Time to Get Serious
To make real progress in this game it is essential that you first find a professionally qualified coach who can help you to identify the specific elements of your swing that you need to focus on improving. Regular lessons will actually help you to draw up a long-term plan of action that - ultimately - will enable you to understand your own swing and the tendencies that you have to be wary of.
My own coaching method does not rely heavily on swing drills per se. Instead, I prefer to work on simple thoughts that can help lead a player to identify with certain feelings that we can associate with good technique - hence the value of these cue cards. Any time you take a lesson you are likely to hit on one or two key phrases that nicely encapsulate a particular element of the swing you are working on - so write it down'.
Across these and the following pages I have identified five fairly general swing keys that certainly help me when I get a chance to work seriously on my game, and I hope that some of these ideas prove useful to you.
Just remember that a serious practice session is all about developing and fine-tuning your technical competence. This may sound odd, but the biggest mistake you can make is to stand there trying to hit good shots; the key to long-term improvement is that you focus on making good swings. So let's go...
Hands High on Backswing
As I mentioned earlier, these are my swing keys and they help me to work on correcting certain flaws in my natural technique. My tendency is to get my hands too low and 'narrow' as I complete my backswing, and so this is a practical cue that always pays dividends when I go out to work on long-term improvement. The important general lesson here is that this one simple swing thought brings two key benefits: it gives me better 'leverage' (as it encourages me to create a wider swing arc) and it gets me on a better plane (as I swing into a more orthodox position).
A good guideline is that your hands should be above the height of your shoulders at the top, and - if you were to stop and let the club fall, the shaft would-Strike the tip of your right shoulder.
Left Arm Leads the Backswing
Modern teaching has tended to place so much emphasis on the role of the body that it is easy to forget that the arms are involved. And this can often lead to a fault that sees a player turn his body too quickly, leaving the arms and the club trailing behind. This is certainly one of the faults I have to be wary of, and this simple cue - 'left arm leads the backswing' - helps me to get my arms and body working back in sync.
When I concentrate on initiating my back-swing by swinging my left arm away with a wide sweeping motion, I find it has the benefit of pulling my body around, so that the body-turn and arm-swing match one another.
Of course, some golfers have a tendency to do just the reverse, and lead by just picking up the club with their hands and arms. If that sounds familiar, focus on this same swing key: I guarantee that leading the backswing with a wide sweep of the left arm will get your arms and body working in much closer harmony.
Stay Centred in the Backswing
Not being gifted with Ernie Els' physique, I have always had a tendency to use too much weight shift to get some punch into the ball. The danger, of course, is that this can easily become a sway off the ball, and cause mis-hits. A simple and more consistent source of power is generated when I wind my body up like a spring, turning about a more 'central' axis. There is a little lateral movement (there has to be in a dynamic athletic motion), and so perhaps the best way to think about this is to turn about the axis of the right hip going back. The lower body provides the resistance (there should be a sense of absorbing the weight shift into the right thigh) and from the top you then re-rotate around the left hip as you unwind to a finish.
This is another fairly generic swing key because those golfers who suffer the opposite problem - i.e. of not transferring their weight correctly, turning over their left foot on the backswing before falling onto the right foot on the down- and through-swing - will find they immediately benefit if they focus on staying 'centred', and encourage their weight to flow back and forth in tandem with the natural direction of the swing.
So, for better ball-striking (particularly with the irons), think in terms of turning about that right hip axis going back and the left hip axis on the way through. That will help to clear up any signs of a reverse-pivot, and so staying 'centred' suits both ends of the weight scale.
Stay wide in Change of Direction
Here's a great way to enjoy creating 'width' as you negotiate the change of direction: from the top of your backswing, feel as though your right arm is straightening immediately as you (simultaneously) shift your momentum back towards the target, as I am illustrating above with the right-hand only exercise (by far the best way to get a feel for this). After rehearsing this a few times, go ahead and make a regular swing with these thoughts of staying wide in the change of direction. Tee the ball up and - using a 3-wood - try to replicate that feeling of the right arm straightening as you unwind. When you do you will enjoy a wonderful sensation of free-wheeling and accelerating the clubhead on a wide and powerful arc that enables you to sweep the ball off the tee. [Note: This key can be dangerous for higher handicappers, since they often haven't worked to train the body correctly. But for you mid- to low-handicap players, this key - in conjunction with a dynamic body turn, will help you to deliver the clubhead on the desired shallow angle and with consistently more speed.]
Turn Body Through Impact
All of the cues so far assume the ultimate goal of a turning body and passive hands through impact. So it makes sense that one of the most effective keys is to remind yourself to do just that: to turn your body and keep on turning all the way through impact to the finish. I think there is a tendency in all of us to occasionally flinch, or slow down through the hitting zone, perhaps believing that we can use the hands to shape a particular shot and provide the necessary power.
Wrong! No matter how talented you may be, you will
become a much better player when you focus on (and trust)
the rotation of your body to generate the centrifugal forces
that accelerate the arms, hands and - ultimately - the club
head through the ball. And I mean through the ball. Don't
stop. Good players keep on
turning all the way to a
finish. Make that your
goal on every full shot.