How to Spend Your Time at the Driving Range - Indoors or Outside

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.


On-Course Video Help

This is kind of a cool thing that I am able to offer to all of my students. Through the video analysis app I use, Hudl, one of my students, Leigh, was able to send me a swing he made on the course. I saw him earlier in the week and we worked on a few elements of his swing, trying to work on hooking the ball less and really keying in on his finish. I had saved a swing I liked from that lesson and was able to quickly compare it to the video Leigh sent me so I could get it back to him while he was still playing. I’m careful not to give too much information in this scenario, getting cluttered with swing thoughts when you’re playing is never a good thing, but being able to quickly see the difference from an earlier lesson gave him a quick reminder of a good feel he had developed.


What to Expect from a Lesson with Mike?

I have a few objectives with every lesson even though it can be such a moving target and no two people or swings are alike. I want to create a relaxed environment, and show how much fun and rewarding improving can be. The game can be frustrating, so making people feel comfortable and making sure they are ok with trying new things, hitting some wacky shots, and learning more about their own swing is always a priority.

Usually the first thing for me to figure out is what your familiarity with the game of golf actually is. Do you know the difference between a pitching wedge and a 7 iron? How about the difference between a hook or a slice? What would the optimal launch angle for a driver be? These are three random questions, but you can see how certain questions wouldn’t be worth approaching before a solid foundation is made.

To go along with your knowledge of the game, I want to know what your goals as a golfer are. The goals can mean both what can we accomplish in an hour together and what you want out of the game longer term. Player’s goals are constantly evolving as they improve and it is up to me to help identify milestones, suggest certain paths and monitor progress. Any adjustment or change I would suggest will have a clear reason behind it, and would go hand in hand with shared goals the student and I have agreed on.

I like to send a swing video recap with a voice-over after lessons to give a run down of any adjustments we made and to keep a file of students' progress. I want to show a few examples of some different golfers and a taste of what these recap videos can look like.

Ed has played golf a handful of times in his life and doesn’t spend much time working on his game (though I hope that starts to change!), but he has a company outing coming up and wanted to feel a little more confident over the ball. Ed is a strong natural athlete, but he basically had the wrong idea of how the club should be impacting the ball. Once we got the concept nailed down and he realized how the club was actually designed to work, things started to change in a hurry.

Jared is a more avid golfer, playing anywhere from 15 to 25 rounds a year, who also loves to practice and take lessons. He is a talented athlete, but struggled to diagnose his own swing and wondered why he wasn’t striking the ball cleanly often enough, sometimes shanking it. As a visual learner he got a lot out of being able to see his swing on video. Once we identified his tendencies, we rehearsed exaggerations of what felt like the opposite of what he’s used to. A little video confirmation gave him confidence he could make a more reliable and repeating move with a few focused adjustments.

Ellingston, a golfer who just recently began to find his swing was hitting the ground before the ball too often, and when he did make decent contact the ball tended to go high and right. By being able to watch the launch angle the ball took, we decided to try and do things to hit the ball lower. Just by trying to affect the ball and bring down the launch, he was able to start to change his body positions at impact and move more athletically through the swing.

Glenn plays a fair amount, but can struggle making solid contact, often relying on a ball with too much slice. The length of the backswing and the steepness of the shaft took some time to get figured out, but by the end of the hour, he was noticing he could hit the ball further and more consistently on the sweet spot by actually shortening the backswing. It’s a common realization for many golfers and being able to see it on video is sometimes the only way to make players believe that such a short backswing is actually better for their game.



My First Post

My name is Mike Doyle and I’m proud and excited to introduce I’ve been teaching golf professionally for 8 years now, with the majority of my time spent teaching indoors in midtown Manhattan on golf simulators. I’ve started this blog to share my experiences teaching in this unique environment and to offer advice and ideas for any golfer trying to improve their game. I have developed creative strategies using the simulator to accelerate learning and to maximize the limited time and space that most New Yorkers are dealing with.

It would seem that, with all the technological advances, available ball data, and slow motion video, golfers should be improving as a whole and golf instructors should start to look for new jobs. Most students I teach have watched some amount of YouTube videos, the Golf Channel or other golf blogs and while more information than ever is available, choosing the concepts and ideas that will fit your body, athletic ability, and available practice time is becoming way more difficult.

This is where I come in. Having seen as many swings as I have, from golfers of all levels, I help my students set achievable goals and give them (1) a time frame for achieving those goals; (2) a set of skills to practice; and (3) the ability to track progress.

Tapping into every player’s individuality is such a moving target, but it’s the most fun and rewarding part of my job. I spend a lot of time in lessons trying to draw comparisons to other sports and movement patterns that the student may already be familiar with. The instant simulator feedback gives players confidence that what they’re feeling is actually what’s happening, and using slow motion video is one more way to reinforce confident swing thoughts and ideas.

Going forward I plan on posting before and after video analysis from individual lessons that  demonstrate different students’ struggles. I’ll aim to present ideas and concepts that typically challenge players and demonstrate how knowing your own swing tendencies is more valuable than trying to fit a mold and have the ever-elusive “perfect swing.”