Prep Like the Pros

Warmup drills used by golf’s moneymakers can work for you, too

BY TOM MACKIN — Winter 2018

hile hitting a bucket of balls just before heading to the first tee may get your blood pumping, doing so without a specific purpose may not be the most effective use of your practice time. Truth is, how you practice is much more critical than how much time you spend on the range. In other words, focus on quality over quantity when it comes to getting ready. The following drills used by top instructors and players address key issues such as green reading, swing balance, point of impact, chipping, and tempo. Each will help you maximize your practice time right before each round, leading to better results on the course.

Seeing Straight

Instructor Derek Uyeda: Lead instructor at the Grand Golf Club in San Diego, he ranks among the top 50 golf instructors in California in Golf Digest’s “Best Teachers in Your State.” He works with PGA Tour golfers Charley Hoffman and Xander Schauffele.

Xander Schauffele. PHOTO BY JENNIFER PEREZ/PGA TOUR

“Not many golfers know what a straight putt looks like,” Uyeda says. “I test golfers and ask them to find a straight putt just by looking at the green. I’d estimate that 99 times out of 100 what they see as a straight putt would always curve to some degree. Even the PGA Tour pros I work with need to calibrate their eyes for putting before every round. But due to their skill and the amount of putts they hit, their eyes can read greens much more quickly and efficiently than the average player. Their vision isn’t necessarily superior, it’s just that they have more highly trained eyes when it comes to putting.”

The Drill: “Stand 10 feet away from a hole and roll some balls toward it with your hand until you find what you think is a straight putt. Then put a ball down 8 to 10 feet from the hole on that line. Use a level (digital apps are available on smartphones) to confirm if the putt is truly level. Place the level in a straight line at three spots: on the edge of the hole, 3 to 4 feet from the hole, and 8 to 10 feet from the hole. If the level reads zero at each spot, you have a straight putt, even though your eyes may still think it will break left or right. Putt some balls along that line to calibrate your eyes on what is a straight putt.”

Purpose: To improve your green reading, and therefore your putting accuracy, by helping your eyes understand what a straight putt looks like.


Finding the Right Balance

Instructor Jim Suttie: Recognized by Golf Digest as one of the “50 Best Teachers in America,” he instructs seasonally at Twin Eagles Country Club in Naples, Fla.; Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill.; and Jeremy Ranch Golf Club in Park City, Utah. He works with Kevin Streelman on the PGA Tour and with Loren Roberts on the Champions Tour.

Kevin Streelman. PHOTO BY JENNIFER PEREZ/PGA TOUR

“Without good balance in your swing,” Suttie says,  “the chances of successfully executing any shot are greatly decreased. There are two types of balance: static and dynamic. The former is your setup — you have to be in the proper toe-to-heel, right-to-left position to reach the correct static balance. Dynamic balance means you have to feel your weight moving from the inside of your right foot on the backswing to the outside of your left foot coming through the swing. Streelman uses this drill to improve the latter.”

The Drill: “Take a normal stance with a wedge, but then move your feet together so they are touching. Doing so prevents you from overdoing a weight shift with your legs. You’re going to swing your arms and body more equally instead of having either the arms or the upper body dominate the motion. Don’t worry about what happens to the ball after you hit it; just focus on maintaining a good balance through the swing. You don’t have to hit balls during this drill — just take 10 to 15 swings in that stance to find your balance. Then slowly spread your feet apart on additional swings before returning to your normal stance.”

Purpose: To reinforce good dynamic balance in your swing and to help avoid excessive sliding of your hipson your downswing.


Chipping It Close

Player Ryann O’Toole: Since joining the LPGA Tour in 2011, she has logged six career Top 10 finishes. The UCLA graduate and Southern California native also played on the 2011 U.S. Solheim Cup team.

“A lot of amateurs will just hit chip shots aimlessly before a round, only thinking about getting the ball close to the hole,” says O’Toole. “But while warming up, you should spend at least five minutes of chipping trying to hit specific landing areas without worrying about where the ball ends up. Doing so will force you to use your imagination and enhance your touch around the green. Chipping is one of the harder parts of the game to improve. A lot of times amateurs don’t know where to use their imagination, or what kind of shot to use around the green. You need to get creative because not every chip is the same.”

The Drill: “I use the Elevator Drill. You will need five balls but just one club — ideally one of your wedges. Standing 3 to 10 yards from a green, in the rough or on the fairway, hit the first ball as low as you can toward the hole and then hit each remaining ball progressively higher. The last ball should have the highest trajectory. This drill forces you to change the landing area a little bit on each shot. You go from a bump-and-run shot to almost a flop shot on the fifth ball, all while using the same club. Then move to another area around the green and repeat the drill.”

Purpose: To improve your chipping skills from specific areas around the green and to get a feel for how the ball will release from different trajectory heights. Plus, it helps build your imagination and helps you learn which shot to use when.


Adjusting Your Tempo

Instructor Lynn Marriott: Based at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., she ranks only behind fellow Vision54 golf school co-founder Pia Nilsson among women on Golf Digest’s “2017-18 America’s 50 Best Teachers” list (No. 24 overall). Her students include Ariya Jutanugarn, Russell Knox, and Brittany Lang.

“Every day is different when it comes to the golf swing,” Marriott says. “Before some rounds, you may feel like your body can do anything, while on other days you may feel sluggish or tight. That’s why it’s important to establish a good tempo during your warmuptime. Of course, tempo is an individual feeling — only you know when it feels right. But it does affect the sequence of your upper body, lower body, arms, and hands during the swing. If you have any restrictions, such as tightness in the hips, then usually a less than 100 percent tempo will give you a better sequence (i.e., getting to impact with the sequence of lower body/upper body/arms/hands).”

The Drill: “Using a wedge and then a longer club, hit a ball at four increasing swing speeds: 25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent, and, finally, 100 percent. Do three sets, hitting a total of 12 balls with each club.”

Purpose: To dial in the appropriate tempo that enables you to sync your swing before the round. Be mindful of that tempo during your round, especially if a slower tempo seems to work best that particular day.


Making Proper Impact

Instructor Chris O’Connell: Director of instruction at Friar’s Head in Riverhead, N.Y., and the Plane Truth at the Courses at Watters Creek in Plano, Texas, he has found a berth on Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers list every year since 2013. On the PGA Tour, he works with Gavin Green, Matt Kuchar, and Hunter Mahan.

Matt Kuchar. PHOTO BY STAN BADZ/PGA TOUR

“Do you know why golfers have a favorite club? It’s largely connected to their particular impact,” says O’Connell. “Golfers who sweep shots off the ground, or have a shallow impact with the ball, usually prefer roughly half of their clubs — likely short irons with more loft, hybrids, and the driver. The opposite is true for golfers who produce an impact that’s too steep; they usually prefer their middle to long irons (not hybrids), and fairway woods when not teed up. Being in a neutral position helps golfers hit all of their clubs effectively.”

The Drill: “Hit three or four wedges followed by three or four 3-woods off the ground. If you can’t reliably control the trajectory of your wedge shots, your impact is likely too steep. If your 3-woods are not flying high enough, your swing is likely too shallow. Either way, adjust your swing accordingly to reach a neutral position, where you have enough angle to get the 3-wood in the air but not too much angle to where you can’t control the flight of your wedge shots. Another hint: If you are making deep divots with wedges, your swing is too steep. If there’s no mark on the ground, or if there’s a shallow one behind the ball when you hit 3-woods, then it’s too shallow.”

Purpose: To ensure your swing is in the proper position at the point of impact.

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