Practice is different than training. When you practice, you are working to improve your skills. You can hit all parts of the game and spend time on mechanics, routine or feel. Training is what you need to get ready for competition. When you train, you are working to improve your demeanor. Kids seem to do this naturally and often challenge, taunt and applaud each other to perform shots. Kids also fall into role playing easily and often play for something they imagine, such as the US Open win. Once we grow up, we no longer put ourselves into imaginative situations or needle our friends quite as much as when we were twelve. Since golfers need training as well as practice prior to that first event of the year, here are some ways for you to train.
Play a "worst ball" with yourself. Play two balls and after you hit your two shots, choose the worst. This should put you into some tough situations and test your patience. It is also great for your focus to make a 20 footer and then have to step up and do it again.
If you only have time for the driving range, play a round on your favorite course. Slip back to the days when you used your imagination and go to that course you love. Step to the first tee, imagine the layout, pick your target, go through your routine and hit the shot. Decide on where the result would have rested on your imaginary course and hit the shot called for from there. If it is a par 4, make sure you use both distance and direction when you pick out your target. If you hit it close, you can take a birdie, but anything outside of 15 feet you will need to take a par. If you miss your imaginary green, you can either hit a short game shot on the range or take a bogey. This is a great way to pull every club in your bag, work on your routine and execute with some consequences.
If you have a buddy with whom you can practice, play a game of "horse". This is much the same as when you were playing basketball as a kid. Pick a shot, nail it and challenge your friend to do the same. This is a great way to put some pressure on your game and also to lift you out of your comfort zone to hit shots you normally wouldn't choose. Be creative and make it fun.
Do the same thing in the short game area and include putting out to the equation. Give each other tough lies or impossible shots and see how you do.
The last suggestion for a training session when you want to sharpen your game is to play a match against the golf course. Decide the score that you will shoot for. If you are a five handicap or better, you can use par as your standard. If you par a hole, you push with the course. A birdie is a win and a bogey or more is a loss of hole. You can set this at any level you like to make it work for your game. You can also change the expectation on par 5's for example. Your goal is to get back to the clubhouse with a win or at the least a push.
If you are working toward a goal of playing in the club championship or tournament round that is important to you, remember, don't just play and practice, but also spend some time training. Training will sharpen your focus, your competitiveness and your scoring.
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