12 tips to finally take your offseason golf practice to the next levelWritten by John Gordon
Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in southern British Columbia, most Canadian golfers are looking at a golf season of about six months. That leaves us the other half of the year to … do what?
Watch golf, think about golf, dream about golf, do just about everything except play golf.
But if you’re serious about hitting the first tee next spring in mid-season form, there are many ways to do that: Eating healthier, getting or staying in shape, improving your swing, practicing your putting and short game and more.
No matter where you live across the country, there are experts in all of these areas. Golf Canada reached out to a few to get you started on the right track. Have a look at these along with the many other opportunities offered online and do more than just dream about next season.
Whether you have an indoor facility with nets or a dome or are limited to your basement or garage, you can use the off-season to ensure your game stays sharp or maybe even improve!
1. The Joy of Flex-ibility
Strength training is usually the first thing people think of for exercises to improve their swing. However, improved flexibility allows you the range of motion needed to fully implement any power gains you get from that added strength. Here are some exercises I recommend to improve your flexibility.
Straight Leg Hang with Flat Back
Stand with your feet no more than shoulder-width apart. Keep your back perfectly flat and bend forward as far as possible. The benefit is an increased range of motion through the hamstrings, allowing your hips to tilt forward more easily to help achieve a proper golf stance. I would suggest two repetitions, holding each for 30 to 60 seconds.
Torso Twist Against Wall
Stand up straight facing away from a wall. Turn to the left, placing your right hand on the wall and pushing your torso around. After holding the stretch, repeat, turning to the right. The benefit is an increased range of motion around the torso, allowing more rotation in the wind-up and follow-through of the golf swing. I would suggest holding for 30 to 60 seconds in each direction, twice.
Shoulder Stretch Against Wall
Place your hands on a wall at eye level. Bend over at the hips, pushing your chest and head down toward base of wall. This stretch increases the range of motion in the shoulder joint, resulting in less restriction throughout the swing. I would suggest two repetitions, switching which foot is leading each time, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
Standing Chest Stretch Against Wall
Stand perpendicular to a wall. Press your hand closest to wall at shoulder height with your fingers facing back. Use small steps to turn your chest away from the wall until a stretch is felt through the chest and arm. This increases the shoulder joint’s range of motion, improving range of motion through the golf swing. I would suggest repeating twice on each side of the body, maintaining the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Calf Stretch Against Wall
Place the toes of one foot up against the wall. Push the heel of that foot into the floor with the other foot slightly behind. Push yourself forward into the wall until you feel your calf muscle stretch. This exercise gives you more range of motion through the ankle which improves your balance and stance. I would suggest two repetitions on each leg, with at least a 30-second hold.
Kneeling Hip Stretch
Kneel on a mat. Push your hips forward. Drop down towards the mat until you feel a stretch through the front of your legs with your knees on mat. The benefit is increased flexibility in the front of your hips, allowing a more complete follow-through with the golf swing. I would suggest repeating twice on each leg, holding for 30 to 60 seconds.
Bio: Phil Kavanagh ventured into the golf industry in 1983 as a back-shop attendant at Indian Wells Golf Club in Ontario. He moved up to first assistant at Trafalgar Golf and Country Club, followed by four years as first assistant at Burlington Golf and Country Club. Phil’s first Head Professional position was at Dundas Valley Golf and Curling Club from 1997 to 2001. In 2002, he became the seventh Head Professional in the 84-year history of Islington Golf Club. In 2020 and 2024, Islington Golf Club will play co-host to the RBC Canadian Open.
2. Start in the right direction
We all want to shoot lower scores but we sometimes direct our limited practice time towards areas of our game that provide little return. You must have a plan for your practice session so you can make better use of your time and see improvement along the way. A good practice session can be divided into technical work, skill development, a challenge, and then reflection.
Putting is a multiple-piece puzzle so let’s take a look at just two important pieces—alignment and start direction— you can practise at home or at the course.
Start Direction: It is important to get the ball started on or as close to your start line as you can. Combine that with good distance control and more putts will end up in the bottom of the cup. The putter face has the most influence on the golf ball’s initial direction.
Let’s do a personal assessment of the direction you start the ball. Take two coffee cups or water glasses, a length of string and some tape. Tape each end of the string to the top of each cup and spread the cups 10 feet away from each other on a flat smooth carpet. Place one ball between the cups, under the string and about two feet from one cup. (Stick a small piece of masking tape to the floor behind the ball so you know where to place the ball each time.) Then take another ball and place it under the string two feet in front of the first ball. Now take two batteries and stand them up on either side of the second ball with just a little space between each side of the ball and take the ball away. Now you can begin the test!
Move the one cup that is closest to the balls off to the side and hit 10 putts from the masking tape mark on the floor, between the two batteries and toward the far cup. Go through your normal routine for each putt and once you complete the 10 putts, ask yourself how many putts went between the batteries without touching them, how many putts hit the left battery and how many hit the right battery?
Let’s take a closer look at how you align the putter and get set up. A great tool is a metal yardstick. Place the cup with the string back into place and place the yardstick under the string. Using the string be sure that the yardstick is pointing in the direction of the far cup. Remove the string again and place a golf ball in the small hole in the end of the yardstick. Place your putter behind the ball and line up the putter face with the straight edge of the yardstick. Take your grip and stance. Look down at the putter face, then down the yardstick and towards the hole. How does this alignment feel? Repeat this setup process a few times to see if you can get comfortable with how this has you aligned. Now practise hitting putts down the yardstick.
If you can roll the ball down the length of the stick and towards the hole without it falling off the sides you are properly delivering the face of the putter at impact. Repeat this process, aligning the putter face, grip and stance for every attempt. This practice is to help you properly align the face at setup, learning visually how this alignment feels and then rolling a putt in the desired direction.
Challenge: Now that you have had some practice on your alignment and starting the ball on line, take away the yardstick and the string and hit 10 putts going through your full routine and see how many putts you hit between the batteries and that hit the cup. Your goal is to try to beat or tie your record every time you do the challenge before you finish your practice session.
Reflection: Write down some notes, answering the following questions: What did I do well? What could have been better? What will I work on next time?
Bio: Adam Werbicki grew up in Stony Plain, Alta., and has worked at the Derrick Golf & Winter Club in Edmonton since 2007. He has been named to the US Kids Top 50 Instructors and was the 2011 PGA of Canada Junior Leader of the Year and the 2015 PGA of Canada Teacher of the Year.
3. Improve your impact through the ball
Equipment needed: Elastic resistance tubing with handles, alignment stick, something stable to hook the elastic about waist height
Purpose: To understand and feel the transition sequence to and through impact as well as the routing of the club head before impact.
The lower body pulls the upper body. Your weight goes onto your forward foot first, followed by an unwinding body motion from the ground up. Your arms get back in front of your body with a flat front wrist at impact.
Below plane: The alignment stick in yellow represents the golf club and follows under and behind the elastic (picture 1) all the way to impact position (ball position inside front foot).
The upper part of the stick touches the front side (left for right-handed golfer) of the body with the back arm bent, front arm extended and wrist flat (picture 2). If the stick does not touch your side, you will miss the release of the club head through the ball and leave the club face open.
Over Plane: This is a major fault!
The hands and arms start first from the top of backswing. The club head travels over the plane (the elastic) which causes a pull and/or cut shot where the weight of the body falls back.
The is a great exercise to make you feel the proper trajectory of the golf club before the striking zone and through the impact area.
Bio: Denise Lavigne has been teaching and coaching golf for more than 25 years. A member of the Coaching Association of Canada, she is director of instruction at Golf Le Mirage and Pinegrove Country Club in Quebec as well as at Quail Ridge Country Club in Boynton Beach, Fla., in the winter.
4. Want to hit the ball farther?
I have seen very good results with players wanting to increase their distance through more club head speed. Although I’m not generally one to endorse products, I believe using SuperSpeed Golf’s product over the winter is both the easiest and quickest method. www.superspeedgolf.com.
Simply follow the simple workout protocol of three times per week and see the yardage gains. Added bonus: the protocol (workouts) can help improve swing technique without you even being aware!
5. Pitch into a laundry basket
I love this winter drill for players to improve contact, land angle of the ball and visualization. Simply use your sand wedge and from a tight lie (e.g., short carpet), chip balls into a laundry basket from three, five and seven yards away in the air. No windows behind the baskets may be another great tip!
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Bio: Derek Ingram is Team Canada’s national coach, He is the head coach for the national amateur and Young Pro teams and is a two-time recipient of the PGA of Canada’s Teacher of the Year award.
6. Throwing Darts 🎯
When I want to emphasize to golfers the need to elevate their ability to focus, I often reference Phil Taylor, world-champion dart player. I’ll have them watch YouTube videos of some of his perfect games and take note of his incredible ability to focus. His laser-like stare at his target is the same every time.
While focus is not really measurable with TrackMan technology or even slow-motion video, it is possible to look at the pupils of an athlete and make a determination as to whether their visual focus is “narrow,”’ which is ideal in a target-oriented game like golf—and darts.
The benefits of learning and improving your play in darts are many and several are certainly transferable to golf.
Self Control/Self Awareness/Proprioception
Proprioception is defined as the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body. Gaining a sense of body control while focusing on the dartboard will heighten your awareness of your body’s position and its movements. While the movement of throwing a dart has much less velocity than swinging a club, there is still a requirement of balance and coordination which is improved upon through a discipline of controlled body movements.
Just like there is an immediate respect factor among golfers if someone mentions they are a single-digit handicap, there is the same level of admiration towards an elite dart player. Getting better at darts requires discipline in developing a physical routine in getting yourself ready physically before each throw. This is complemented by a mental routine which involves making tactical decisions as to what is the next target on the board, focusing on that target and then reacting to that target.
Getting better at darts is not an easy task and it requires the same traits and dedication if you want to get better at golf. With practice, you can gain competence and understand what you are trying to do. With experience, you can grow your confidence and self esteem, knowing that it wasn’t easy and you earned it.
Chances are if you can learn how to “double in and double out” with regularity playing darts, you’ll have improved upon some of the skills and traits necessary in avoiding those “doubles” on the course next spring.
Bio: As the director of golf at Rideau View Golf Club in Manotick, Ont., along with assisting golfers of all abilities to improve their game, Matt Robinson says he is most proud of being presented with the Order of the Good Bear by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Foundation for which he has raised more than $500,000 through his fundraising efforts.
7. It’s as easy as 1-2-3
Another off-season is upon us, and you’re probably deciding what you should do differently this winter to produce different results for the summer.
The first two tactics that come to mind are improving your overall strength and conditioning as well as your technique. Get in the gym and grab your PGA pro to get some swing technique work under your belt. If there are technical flaws occurring, this would be the best time to address them and to make the necessary changes.
As we enter into the New Year and create off-season goals targeted towards our golf game, it also creates a great opportunity for us to reflect and reframe our habits that directly impact your game. The reality is that we all have bad habits but here I will highlight three goods habits you can integrate into your off-season program.
Commit now to a higher level of discipline with your mental game for 2020.
Objective post-shot routine
We are quick to criticize what we did on a particular golf shot instead of identifying all the things that went well. Make your first two thoughts after a shot solely on objective data; Where did it hit the clubface and where did it land relative to where you planned? This objective analysis habit delays the emotional reaction and gives your mind time to organize everything that’s just happened.
For an athletic motion as complex as a golf swing, we need to incorporate breathing. Start with a simple breath before you swing and a breath in the finish as a basic template. Build on this and gain control over your breathing in your golf game.
You’ll never know if you’ve made the right choice or made a great swing until it happens, so practise your commitment phrase. It should be confident but also accepting. “I’ve got this!” or “Let’s goooo!” (thanks, Bianca!), are great examples. Match this phrase to your personality. Make it your own!
Bio: With almost three decades of experience successfully playing and teaching the game, Todd Halpen is the director of instruction at the Golf Canada Calgary Centre.
8. Do the hard work now
The No. 1 request from my students is: “Can you teach me to hit the ball farther?” The answer to that question requires further knowledge of the student: Is the student maintaining or improving core and overall strength? Is the student maintaining or improving mobility?
These discussions with my students during the golf season resulted in the development of an off-season golf-specific program that focuses on strength and mobility training and then skill work. My indoor golf space has four hitting areas with a computer simulator and an area for strength and conditioning work.
As a PGA of Canada golf instructor and a CrossFit and functional movement trainer, I developed multiple strength and conditioning programs suited for each student. Accessing golf skills and instituting drills to improve those skills is the basis of the off-season training offered at my indoor space.
Improvements in a student’s ability to hit the ball farther and make more consistent contact come as a result of adherence to a program that includes work on strength, conditioning, mobility and skill. My motto is to do the hard work at a time of year when there is no access to the golf course so that the student can focus on playing golf, scoring and having fun when the golf season arrives.
I am proud that our indoor facility offers 10-week clinics for junior girls and boys in the winter. Our focus is on skill work, simulated games, mobility and coordination drills. After the winter session, juniors can transition to outdoor lessons, leagues and on-course games.
Bio: Mary-Pat Quilty is the director of golf at Settlers’ Ghost Golf Club in Craighurst, Ont., and a past winner of the PGA of Ontario Championship. After competing on the Symetra, Canadian, Asian and Australian tours, she became a PGA of Canada member and has twice been named the PGA of Ontario’s Teacher of the Year.
9. Keep on pitching
Assuming you’re able to access a sports dome during the off-season, take advantage of the opportunity to hone your short game and improve your scoring when spring arrives.
Setup: Using your sand wedge, place the ball in the middle of your stance with your feet slightly closer together than shoulder width. Then feel your weight shift a little towards the target, making the weight 60-40 on your front side.
Motion: Feeling tension-free in your arms and hands, take the club back with your arms and shoulders until the club is parallel to the ground. The big key for the takeaway is to maintain your 60-40 balance. Don’t allow your weight to shift to your back foot and maintain the width with your arms, not with your wrists. From this position, simply focus on rotating your chest so you finish with your chest on top of your front foot.
Finish Position: You should be completely facing your target (chest and belt), feel that you have moved 90 per cent of your weight to your front foot and your arms and hands are pointing the club at your target. A good key to focus on with the finish is to make sure the club head finished below your hands and the toe of the club is straight up to the sky.
Key thought: You should feel that you are hitting this shot with the movement of your larger muscles (shoulders/chest/hips) and not with your hands. Experiment with distance control by making longer and shorter swings with the same motion, never adding speed with your hands. A longer swing equals longer shot.
Bio: Jamie Moran is the director of golf and head professional of Belvedere Golf Club in Charlottetown. He was the 2019 Atlantic PGA of Canada Teacher of the Year and has received multiple nominations for junior leader of the year, coach of the year and teacher of the year.
10. Taking care of your golf body
The off-season is the time to make changes to your swing, take care of any aches, pains or limitations in your body and work on fitness and strength so that you can crush the upcoming season. Here are a few tips that I have found beneficial over the years for the different age groups of golfers. When in doubt, find a local sport health-care provider and fitness trainer to assess where you can focus your off-season training.
Junior Golfer: Be active in all sorts of sports and activities. Build your athletic abilities that include hand-eye coordination, balance, changing of direction, and rotation. This will help you improve your body awareness and challenge muscle groups and activation patterns that are different from the repetitiveness of golf. Remember to have fun!
Amateur Golfer: Focus on recovery and building your base: your core and mobility. Many of Team Canada athletes play a heavy schedule over the summer months and then head to university to play more events along with regular team workouts. Having the base to control lifting techniques and prevent injury is very important. Recovery includes various types of exercise, mindfulness, consistent sleep and good nutrition and hydration.
Mid-Amateur Golfer: Life gets busy as you get older but make your fitness, flexibility and stability a priority. Taking breaks from poor posture while we sit at work is an easy habit to get into. Another thing to focus on is any injuries or aches that interfered with your previous season that limited quality of play, practice, or adapting to new swing skill.
Senior Golfer: Focus on flexibility and strength. Regular exercise that is variable just like the junior golfer is very important. Balance, hand-eye coordination, stop-starts and changing direction can improve your body’s ability to create the swing you want and maintain the power to crush it.
Bio: Andrea Kosa has been the physiotherapist for Golf Canada’s women’s teams since 2013. She is a competitive golfer who competed in the Canadian Mid-Amateur and was a quarter-finalist in the 2019 USGA Mid-Amateur. She is accredited by the Titleist Performance Institute at the Medical Professional Level 3.
11. Get hip!
The two main physical areas to focus on over the winter are thoracic mobility and hip stability.
We need the thoracic/trunk area of your body to be able to rotate ideally at least 60 to 70 degrees in comparison to your pelvis and be symmetrical, i.e., be able to rotate the same both right (backswing for right-handed players) and left (downswing). If there is stiffness here, a common swing fault is to be steep in your backswing or, even worse, to have a very inconsistent swing plane.
A great way to improve this mobility is to get a foam roller. Place it on the ground and lay on it perpendicular to your spine with your knees bent and your hands supporting your head and neck. In this position, first roll gently back and forth from your shoulder blades to the middle of your trunk for a minute. Follow this by keeping the roller still between your shoulder blades and pivot over the roller five times.
The most important area of the body to be stable during the golf swing is the hips and pelvis. If we are physically weak here it often leads to swing faults such as swaying and sliding.
To strengthen this area, grab an exercise band and sit on a table. Loop the band around your feet and place your hands either side of the leg you want to strengthen. Keeping the other leg still, rotate the leg you are strengthening as far away from the stationary leg until you can’t go any further, hopefully at least 45 degrees. Hold this position before slowly returning the rotating leg to the start position. Complete three sets of as many repetitions as you can with 30 seconds rest between each set.
Bio: Greg Redman is Team Canada’s head physiotherapist and strength coach who has had success with several Olympic champions and medalists. He competed nationally in canoe/kayak and has completed eight marathons and Ironman Canada.
12. Take it to the mat
Unfortunately, if you’re stuck in Canada for the winter, most of your practice is going to be hitting shots from a mat with less than a full flight. Under these circumstances, there are two things I think are super important to keep in mind.
Careful when using mats
Mats are super forgiving on “heavy” shots or shots where you connect with the ground first. When you hit this shot from grass, you get immediate feedback and can react appropriately on the next shot. However, off a mat, the club will bounce off the mat and the ball will react pretty much like it would for a shot that is cleanly contacted. I like products like the one in the accompanying photo from Eyeline Golf that you can place behind the golf ball to provide feedback on the low point of your swing.
The low point of your swing should be at or ahead of the golf ball for all of your iron shots and this product gives you immediate feedback. Hitting shots heavy all winter off mats is a recipe for disaster. You can also place a piece of masking tape behind the golf ball to give you feedback on the low point of your swing as an alternative. Your shorter irons are going to have steeper angles of attack on the golf course. So when you are hitting off mats, you are causing more wear and tear on your wrists and elbows. So try to limit the amount of full shots you hit off a mat to your 8-iron and higher. (Pitches are great, though, as it helps promote a shallower swing path)
Practice your max
When hitting shots indoors, we tend to be focusing on our mechanics and our contact. That’s great but most of the time, you are not swinging at “game speed.” So try to end your session with at least 10 shots that are at or very near your maximum output.