The driving range - it's a love/hate thing
The new range has opened at our golf club, Bearwood Lakes, and it has all the bells and whistles that a golf practice area could wish for.
Mizuno have adopted and adapted it as their national ‘Tour Performance Studio’ and duly furnished it with competition balls and mats that seem to replicate the best lie on the best fairway at Augusta. It’s a no excuse facility. It’s got everything bar valet parking.
And yet there are still some members that make a point of telling you that they would rather visit the local dentist. When you ask them what they think of this state-of-the-art addition to our club, they look at you as if you’ve suggested they check out the club’s ventilation system.
Luke Donald formally opened the new range and as the first shot flew out to one of its many targets, I mused that it was one more shot than some members will ever hit on our wonderful new range.
Now, either Nick Dougherty is telling porkies or the very best players in the world of golf all visit the range regularly.
Ok, a round of golf can already take around five hours and there are many days when the traffic is bad, the workload is heavy or the hangover is heavier still. A few brisk loosening swings for stiff joints and a couple of practice putts is all we have time for ahead of most rounds. But wouldn’t you like to warm up like the pros do if you had the time and the ‘tour performance studio’ to do it in?
I like hitting golf balls. When I visited our chipping and short game area recently I struck up a conversation with a young guy who was knocking it close more often than not.
“What’s your handicap?” I asked politely (as you do).
“I’m a professional,” he replied modestly.
It was Oliver Fisher, who came 2ndat the Qatar Masters a couple of weeks earlier and hardly chunked it at all. Now, if he thinks he can get better by practising this damn game, I think I might just give it a go too.
The question for me is not IF you should use the range but HOW you use the range.
I try to draw a distinction between ‘bay time’ spent trying to find the perfect swing plane and the minutes we spend on the range warming up before a qualifier or knockout match. I try, but I often fail!
It is difficult to separate the continuing quest to improve from the pressing need to consolidate when you are hitting the same shot repetitively. After all, it doesn’t really matter where your ball ends up – it’s not even your ball, it’s Mizuno’s!
My husband tries to get me to focus on making every ball matter on the range. He advises me to change club every five or six shots in order to replicate the variety of a round.
But then he is a man who likes to visit the mats before a competition to loosen up but won’t practise his weakest suit, his chipping, because he says it will only undermine any confidence he’s gained elsewhere through the bag. Should I really listen to him?!
The moment that the blind start leading the blind in this game, we are all in trouble. One luxury that is missing from our 23-bay covered facility with its Huxley grass and studio shot tracker is partitions!
There is nothing more certain than that the moment I begin to audibly sigh and curse my ‘fats’ and ‘thins’, some kindly double-figure handicapper will wander along from his neighbouring booth to try to correct my alignment. Range bays should be like confession boxes: solitary and enclosed.
The range is actually the very place that we should be able to suffer the shanks and hooks that are part of the painful process of putting the sage theories of our trusted teachers into practice on the course. You havn’t learnt to drive until you have stalled at traffic lights. It’s just best not to do it with a line of impatient cars waiting behind you.
Once I start to understand the text of the lessons that my pro has given me, I don’t mind hitting through basket after basket in search of muscle memory. On my own! It’s quite therapeutic as long as you know when to stop and don’t continue until you’re tired and ragged.
Warming up for a comp is a separate process. Same range but different priorities. The key is less stress and less balls. Take your favourite clubs out of the bag and make a few smooth swings with each, then reach for the driver if all is well and sweep a couple away. No more. Then get that confidence to the putting green. You’re going to hit more shots with the short stick than any other.
So as you walk up to the 1sttee and Mrs I Never Go To The Range falls out of the clubhouse still finishing her breakfast bap, tell her you’ve just bumped into Oliver Fisher on the range.
If she says ‘who?’, just smile. You’ve done all you can to prepare like the very best prepare. You can do no more than that.