I am a fairly passionate golfer. You might even call me obsessed given that I spend a lot of times reading and writing about golf. I don’t actually spend as much time on the course as you might think though. In the Summer, I certainly golf more but it is not actually that uncommon for me to go for a couple of weeks (or more) without actually playing any ‘proper’ golf at all. How to practice golf at home becomes pretty important then, both to fuel my golf passion and also to keep my fairly average handicap from sliding into double figures when I do get to play.
How to Practice Golf at Home: Putting
Of course, when we think of the different ways of practising golf at home, we all think of putting. This is unsurprising really because it doesn’t take up space, you can do it all year round and danger of either annoying my wife or breaking something are actually quite limited which is a definite win! What could be easier than rolling a few balls across the living room floor to keep your putting stroke working nicely?
I actually don’t do this as much as I should. I am also a little bit wary of making sure this sort of practice is actually worthwhile. Although you might think that putting on the carpet is the same as putting on the green, it isn’t always the case. This is also true even if you use a putting mat. The reason is principally to do with the speed of roll. I find that if I spend too much time putting on a carpet, I get used to hitting the ball at a very different speed than on the green and it doesn’t always do great things for my already sketchy putting. Trying to speed up or slow down the stroke on course is something that I find difficult and I think this true for a lot of golfers.
The best way I have found to practice putting at home without it causing more problems than it solves it by concentrating on relatively short putts and on my stroke rather than what actually happens to the ball. I have made some reasonable progress in fighting against the yips by simply rolling short putts on a bit of old carpet in the garage and concentrating on a very smooth stroke back and through the ball. I don’t worry if I am hitting it too hard/soft.
Better Putting, Better Aiming
The other thing that I think can be improved easily when putting at home is aim. I don’t like the idea of trying to work on mid to long putts because I don’ think it feels like reading a putt on a real green. However, trying to putt the ball either into a hole or better yet to hit another ball at about 1m or so (maybe 3-4 feet) is great. I can see if I tend to miss in one particular direction and also it has helped me see the difference between where I think I am aiming and where I am really aiming.
So putting is definitely a golf skill than can be practised easily enough at home, even though it is still important to keep it relevant to what actually happens on the course. But what about the rest of the game? One of the annual “pleasures” of most golfers is trying to find that swing that seems to have disappeared completely over the Winter. How do you do this at home?
Home Practice Budget
Well, obviously this is going to depend on two things: space and budget. If you have that giant man cave with a high ceiling and a full launch monitor set-up, firstly you really don’t have any problems doing whatever you want to improve your game at home and secondly, can I come round and play from time to time?
For the rest of us, home practice tends to be a game of compromise. As an example, I have a garden so I can get outside and swing a club as long as the weather lets me. However, this garden isn’t big enough to hit anything longer than a short pitch or a chip and run. I do try to spend a bit of time hitting these shots for two reasons. Firstly, I think that contact is key for good chipping. Working getting perfect contact with a variety of clubs is really important for me to be able to chip well on the course.
I don’t honestly worry too much about what happens to the ball. I often try to get it to land on a particular spot, say a clump of grass (or a flower/plant if my wife isn’t around!) My back lawn is far from putting green standard, so what happens to the ball after this become pointless.
Secondly, I think that there is a transfer between short game and long game. I am not completely convinced that a chip shot is just a smaller version of a full swing. However, some of the key points are the same. As said above, I really work on contact and this comes through the key to hitting the ball way at any distance, ball first then turf.
Working on the Full Swing at Home
This still leaves the full swing in order to have a complete home golf practice regime. There are actually quite a few solutions here. Obviously, you might want to invest in a hitting net, with or without swing monitor. I have written about a few versions on Fairway First golf already. If you are going to buy one of these, I suggest you buy something that is high quality. Whether hitting inside or out, the idea of a ball going straight through the net and into the neighbour’s greenhouse (or worse) isn’t a pleasant one.
The solution I have used is actually to make my own hitting net. The reason I did this is that it is cheap, easy and can be made exactly how I want it. I can put up a more detailed explanation if anyone is interested, but I basically used lengths of pipe and then a double thickness of fishing net and tarp. Never say never, but it is difficult see a golf ball getting through this set up. It might not be the most aesthetic but it does the job. I also added in a few things like a lower section on the right side of the main net, essentially in front of me, just in case I am afflicted by another case of the dreaded shanks and the ball shoots off at right-angles outside the intended hitting area.
There are two more solutions that I have used quite a bit. The first is simply swinging without a ball. I will have an imaginary spot on the grass where I have placed ‘the ball’ and I simply swing and hit. I can see a ball or feel an impact but it does help me quite a bit I believe. I can see my divot and work on making sure that it is after the ball. Also, I feel like it keeps me swinging during the off-season.
It might just be me, but when I have been outside doing full swings with a club a time or two a week during the winter months, it feels like my period of getting back into hitting the ball when the better weather comes around seems to shorten dramatically.
The last option outside is using limited flight balls. I hate the plastic air balls with holes in and would rather not practice at all than use them. However, I get a lot of value out of the hard foam balls. It doesn’t feel exactly like hitting a real ball, but I can tell when I hit it well and it does, it my opinion, give some clues about strike etc because it tends to exaggerate things like slices and hooks (obviously with vastly reduced distance.) Last but not least, there is the element of safety and these can also be fun to chip around the living room without risking the wrath of whomever else lives there!
Practising Golf Indoors
Apart from putting, all this is, for me, outside practice. I am not against practising inside at all. I hit some chips and little punch shots off a mat in the garage, generally with a limited flight ball. I don’t do full swings simply because I am too tall but your mileage will of course vary. I know plenty of people have a lot of fun playing virtual golf through the winter with a launch monitor connected up to a computer. I am not sure how well this translates to “real” golf, but if it is fun, then I am all for it.
The clubs that I don’t tend to practice off course are woods and especially my driver. I could certainly swing it in the garden, but I don’t. The reason is that, at least for me, the driver is something of a particular club. I might feel like I am making great swings into a practice net or even without a ball but it isn’t always the case. Sometimes, when I think I am working well with the driver, the results when I hit it on course are just terrible and I have been ‘getting better’ at something which really doesn’t work!
I find that I need to see the ball flight with the driver to know if what I am doing is actually working so leave this for my time on the range or actually playing.
So can you really practice golf at home? Of course. There are plenty of ways to enjoy golf when you can’t get to the course and if you are smart about it, it can also be a way of getting better without having hours every week to actually hit balls or play.