By Tom Dorsel

One of the least known, but most important skills that Sport Psychology offers golf (and other sports) is how to make practice more “effective, efficient and enjoyable.”  That is, how can a player (a) get the most out of practice, (b) in the least amount of time, while (c) having fun doing it?

Driving Range Practice is Worthless

Okay, driving range practice is good for the beginner to intermediate player in learning the basics.  But once a player is skilled (say, 15 handicap or better), the driving range is for warming up before a round, not for extensive practice.

Think about it.  If you were preparing for a mountain road race like the Grand Prix, would you do your training on a flat, short, straightaway drag strip?

Well, then, why prepare for all the curves, undulations, uneven lies, obstacles and other demands and distractions of a golf course by hitting balls on the range from a flat/improved lie to a wide open field with virtually no trees, bunkers or water to negotiate, nor even any meaningful targets where you want the ball to land?

The point is that you want your practice area to be as much like the field of play as possible.  Football, basketball, baseball, tennis, bowling, ping-pong are all practiced on the precise surfaces where they play.  But golf practices one place and then plays in another!

Let me go so far as to say that even the mechanics of the swing need to be worked on in the face of the challenges of a golf hole.  What good does it do to be successful with your swing keys on the range, only to be distracted from those keys and fall apart when you look at all the elements of a golf course out there in front of you.  In more specific psychological terms, your swing “response” needs to be associated with the “stimulus” elements of the golf course, rather than merely the stimulus elements of the driving range.

How to Practice on the Course

Let me remind you that there is nothing particularly revolutionary about this psychology-sound recommendation.  Golfers have been practicing on the course for ages.

Nonetheless, no golf course wants its members or customers digging up the course or slowing down play.  Therefore, practice during off times with fewer players around.  Let players who come up behind you go through immediately.  Furthermore, don’t stay in any one place too long — you have other holes ahead to continue practicing similar shots.  You also want to keep the flow of a round going, because the feeling of playing a round is part of the on-course stimulus elements that you are trying to associate with your swing.

To ease any stress on the course, when you have a shot in the fairway to take over, consider dragging it over to a reasonable lie in the nearest short rough, rather than using the fairway.  If you do use the fairway, put repeated shots at the back of your initial divot, so you basically repeat that divot and, therefore, leave only one sand-filled divot, just like would remain for any single shot.  Of course, tee shots and putts do no damage, while bunkers can be repaired good as new.  And, lastly, repair twice as many ball marks that you make on any green, which will be to the superintendent’s delight!

Finally, there is no need to broadcast that you are practicing on the course.  Do it quietly by yourself, take care of the course, keep out of other players way, and nobody will complain except for the fact that you are now beating the tar out of them, despite their endless, futile pounding of bags and bags of balls on the driving range!

Dr. Tom Dorsel is a sport psychologist on Hilton Head Island and is also affiliated with John Hughes Golf of Orlando, FL.  His best selling book is, “GOLF: The Mental Game.”  Dr. Tom can be reached through his website,, and also found on Facebook at “Sport Psychology of Hilton Head.”