The driving range can be a curious place. If you think about it, spending an hour or so in the same stall hitting balls from a flat artificial mat mimics the real game of golf only so much. But if you get a little smarter about how you practice, it can still provide one of the best ways to improve your game and can also be a lot of fun. I’m going to list some common faults that I see when I visit ranges followed by what I think you should try instead.
You have a broad idea of where you want the ball to go -- straight. You are working on the form of your technique and trying out a lot of “swing thoughts.”
When you first get to the range, and hopefully after you have stretched, I think it is a good idea to hit a few soft easy swings without any care of where the balls end up. But once you have felt the weight of the club swing and get you blood pumping, it’s time to start to aim. Aiming is a learned skill, and I advise using alignment sticks to reassure you’re lined up where you think you are. You should change your target often, maybe once every 5 swings, sometimes maybe every other swing. Being random in this way mimics the real game, and while it can seem tedious, it will prepare you to take your range session to the course.
Now that you have a target and know what you’re aimed at it, what does your ball do through the air? Were you trying to hit it dead straight? Is it starting on line, then tailing to the right or left? Start to better diagnose what the ball does with a target in mind and try making changes in your technique that could affect the ball in different ways. If you come to a lesson with information on what your ball tends to do, I can diagnose some swing faults and make suggestions to improve your technique much sooner.
You keep your head down during your swing.
This may be the most common tip given by amateurs to other amateurs that I hear on the range. While the intentions are good, most people tend to misconstrue “keep your head down” with “keep your eyes on the ground where the ball just was.” A good idea instead would be for the head to stay relatively level in a swing, and to try to minimize the movement from side to side. I also like giving the advice to “keep your eye on the ball.” By keeping your eye on it, I want your eyes to release to the target as you swing through the ball so you can go find it and finish in good balance. Look at some of the ways tour pros finish their swings, and try to imitate them. Straight on the left leg, balanced, eyes on the target.
You grab another ball while the one you just hit is still in the air.
Usually when I see someone do this, they didn’t have a specific enough target to begin with, but there are a few other reasons to watch what the ball does. It may seem obvious, but one of the most important reasons to watch the ball is to determine what just happened. This is called reading your ball flight, and it is a critical skill to build on the range. It means knowing whether the ball started right or left of the intended line, and knowing how the ball then spun through the air. Like I mentioned, it is a huge help for me as a teacher when one of my students tells me about the last range session, and says something like “my good irons seemed to start left and curl right, while the bad ones start right and go more right,” or “I keep hitting my driver too low or high.” If I know that, I know what to look for in their swing, and can point out what may be the cause of that pattern. I can then also develop strategies to show how to make the ball curve the opposite way the student is used to, which will start putting the player in command of their ball flight. The simulator is excellent for showing these patterns and takes out any guess work on what is going on with the club.
You spend the vast majority of the time “trying to hit the driver straight,” hitting upwards of 30 consecutive shots with the same club.
I’m having the most fun on the golf course when I am hitting my driver long and straight, no doubt about it. Knowing this, I suggest using the driver on the range more like you would use it on the course. Try taking more time to approach the shot and visualize a very specific fairway or landing area. Hit the driver anywhere from 1 to 5 times in a row, then switch to an iron for a shot or two before hitting another driver. Get comfortable going from one club to the next and slow down your pace in between swings. I also advise getting some face tape to see which part of the face the ball tends to strike. Sometimes crooked shots happen because of a mishit, not a crooked swing.