It’s every golfer’s lament: There aren’t enough hours in the day to play or practice. Now that days are starting to get shorter, there’s less daylight to take advantage of after work, be it for nine holes or a dedicated practice session. And the short game — the facet of most golfers’ game that needs the most consistent attention — will deteriorate if it doesn’t get it.
Which begs the question: How can you still keep your short game sharp even when other things seem to get in the way? Here are three ideas:
Obey the One-Ball Rule on the Putting Green
Go to any golf course in the world, and chances are that 99% of the players practicing their putting will have tossed down two or three golf balls, hitting multiple putts to a hole from the same location. Conventional wisdom suggests that this is a good idea because repetition makes you more consistent. But you may not have time to go along with convention. Instead, bring one ball with you to the putting green, along with your favorite coin (or ball marker). Toss the coin down on the green, pick a hole, and go through your routine as you would during a normal round. Putt everything out. Yes, you’ll end up hitting fewer putts, but instead of the simple physical act of putting, you’ll be practicing the mental side of that skill — which, if the greatest putters of all time are to be believed, is its most important aspect.
Be Hard on Yourself
So many golfers, when they practice their chipping and pitching, set themselves up with a small pile of golf balls and chip from a flat lie to an easy hole location on the green. On the course, however, shots around the greens are rarely so straightforward — so why not simulate the more challenging shots? Find uneven lies, deep rough and nasty bunker shots, and temper your expectations in practice. This will help you prepare for any situation you face on the course, and it will help you be more comfortable in playing safe and taking your medicine from bad lies when necessary.
Use the Buddy System
Finally, whenever possible, get yourself a practice partner and compete against one another. For chipping and pitching, closest-to-the-hole contests are excellent: 18 or 36 holes, winner of the previous hole picks the shot for the next one. Play for a dollar, a beer, push-ups, whatever — the key is to put something on the line, or else the fear of losing won’t be enough to help you truly improve.
Give these suggestions a try, and even if you only have 15 to 30 minutes at a time to devote to short-game practice, you should see some improvement.