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I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, "I hit the ball well on the range, but I cannot take it to the course." Let's analyze this problem. Why is it that someone's driving range performance does not carry over to the fairways?
After thinking about it, I have come up with a simple but accurate answer: we do not practice like we play.
Golf courses present uneven lies and challenging terrain. Most ranges are essentially flat (you never have a side-hill lie). On the range, a player will take a seven-iron and swing it over and over. It's easy to get into a rhythm when you use the same club repeatedly and your lie does not change. In contrast, on the course, you rarely hit with the same club twice in a row (except the putter). You might hit driver off the first hole and nine-iron to the green. A couple of putts later, you are off to a par three hole that requires a four-iron. Next, you use your sand wedge out of a bunker; one putt later you are on a narrow par four with a three wood in your hand.
There's a significant difference in length (about 10 inches) between a driver and a pitching wedge; but we still hit the same club repeatedly on the range. On the course, you only get one chance per hole to hit a solid drive. On the range, when you are flushing drives one after another, bad shots are immediately forgotten. Your self-image improves and your confidence grows. But it's difficult to sustain those positive vibes on the course, where a few bad shots can ruin a round. Hence, the idea of hitting the ball well on the range, but not carrying it over to the course plays out easily.
The remedy is simple: on the range, change clubs frequently. Change both the length of your club and your lie. Your hand-eye coordination will improve, and the range will seem more like the course.
To lower your scores, there is no substitute for playing the course. But when you only have time for the range, vary your club and your lie every shot or two. You might see improvements that will transfer to the course.
Mark Rummings is a golf coach and business manager at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He is a PGA Class “A” Member, Senior Certified Leadbetter Instructor and author of instructional articles for golf websites and foreign golf magazines. He has a bachelor’s degree from Webber International University.