Q&A with Damien Hamlett, PGA Professional at Raritan Valley Country Club in Bridgewater, NJ
The Importance of Quality Practice
I have had the privilege of working at two very different facilities — a bustling public course with a full learning center and a full–service private club. In both experiences, I’ve watched thousands of golfers practice both before a competitive round and casually. What I’ve learned is that many players hit balls without a specific purpose or plan.
Each time you go to the range, have one or two specific goals in mind. This leads to becoming a more consistent player in all aspects of your game.
How often should a player practice each week?
Players do not need a golf course or driving range to practice, but if they want to improve, they should get a club in their hands 3–4 times a week. Taking swings in front of a mirror or chipping in the backyard will do the trick on days you don’t have an hour to spare at the range.
What is a common mistake that amateur players make in practice sessions?
There are two commons mistakes. The first is players hit too many balls and get tired. When fatigue sets in, bad habits develop. Quality over quantity is important. Second, players hit too many drivers instead of hitting wedges and focusing on ball contact.
Can you provide two examples of practicing with a purpose and what it entails?
Develop a plan based on your typical round and how often you hit certain clubs. For example, if you tend to hit roughly 40% of your shots with your putter, spend 40% of your time practice putting. More broadly, if you are struggling with taking your game from the range to the course, play a round on the driving range. Play the golf course that you know the best in your mind for all 18 holes. Pick out your fairways and aim appropriately. Target greens so that you’re using different clubs throughout the session.
If a player is having a poor practice session, what would you say to them?
I like to tell my students when they are having a bad practice session to stop hitting balls and go putt and chip. Putting and chipping will save a round for players when their ball-striking is not on for the day.
What is quickest way to lower your handicap — practicing shots from 100 yards in, driving the ball in the fairway, putting?
Start with practicing and perfecting your game from 100 yards and in. Once you have developed a consistent “100 yards and in” game, then you can start developing other parts of the game. Players save the most strokes by being able to get the ball “up and down,” whether it’s to save par or bogey. Those strokes that you save by hitting it close and making a one–putt can be the difference in breaking those 80, 90 and 100 barriers that we all want to break.
Prior to playing a round, what plan would you suggest for the practice range?
If you are looking to just get loose, swing as many wedges as you can. This will help you get into a rhythm. Finish your warmup by playing the first hole in a “practice” scenario. Use the club that you’ll hit off the tee and for your second (and third) shot into the green.
Any additional thoughts you have about practice?
Don’t use practice to see how far your clubs are going. Use it to get into a rhythm and make good ball contact. You’ll see more consistent results and more easily take that practice from the range to the golf course.
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