“Step right up, folks. See if you can outdrive the amazing golf ball, uh, whacker guy!”
That quote is from Adam Sandler in the 1996 movie “Happy Gilmore,” about a failed hockey player who tries his hand at golf. He routinely drives the ball 400 yards and even makes a hole-in-one on a par 4.
Luckily for Happy, he has a coach — Chubbs, played by Carl Weathers — who works with him on his short game.
Without a decent short game, most golfers who can drive the ball far might simply be golf ball whacker guys.
“It’s just not something that in their mind is as much fun as banging balls down the range,” says Howie Pruitt, head golf professional at Aspen Lakes Golf Course in Sisters, about short-game practice. “If you figure that you play a regulation par-72 golf course, and you hit drivers on all par 5s and all par 4s, you’re going to hit driver 14 times. Versus, if you two-putt every hole, that’s 36 putts. So if you can cut down two or three two-putts, there’s two or three strokes off your game, without worrying about where your drive went.”
Zach Lampert, head professional at Meadow Lakes Golf Course in Prineville, says most golfers have only a limited amount of time to play and practice, and the area that gets overlooked the most is chipping and putting.
“We see a lot more activity on the driving range than we do on the putting green, and that’s probably not necessarily the best way to go about things,” Lampert says. “Close to half of your strokes are chipping or putting, if not more. They think if they pound balls that will be the best way to go, but that’s not always the case.”
Lampert recommends that when golfers are practicing, they break the session up into a third of the time on the driving range, a third of the time on the putting green, and a third of the time chipping.
Pruitt and Lampert agree that there is a difference between practice and warming up before a round. If someone is coming out to play a round and spends 45 minutes on the range, Pruitt says he would classify that as a warm-up and not practice.
But of the players who do have a defined practice schedule, maybe two or three times a week, most of them hit a large bucket of 60 or so balls and that’s it, Pruitt says.
“They don’t spend any time on their short game, practicing chipping and putting,” Pruitt says. “A lot of people overlook the value of practicing short game.”
When they do head for the driving range before a round, Pruitt says, golfers should start with their wedges and work their way up to longer clubs, ending with their driver. Starting with shorter clubs will allow the player to assess his or her rhythm and tempo.
“If you start out with your driver, you start out trying to swing out of your shoes,” Pruitt says. “It’s hard to figure out what your actual rhythm and tempo is going to be for that day. If you start with wedges and work your way up, it’s easier to develop a rhythm and keep that same rhythm all the way through your swing. It really gives you an opportunity to just work on your timing and your feel.”
For practicing the short game before a round, Pruitt recommends dropping one ball in various places around the green for chipping. For putting, he suggests starting with long putts then finishing up with 3-footers and trying to make a few of them consecutively. Putting on the practice green will generally give the golfer a feel for the speed of the greens on the course.
Pruitt says that if golfers are working on something specific — such as generating more clubhead speed or learning how to hit a draw or a fade — then they should spend their practice time focusing on that.
They can also grade themselves with the use of targets.
“Pick a target out there, hit 10 balls, and see how many times you hit your target,” Pruitt says. “And keep track of that for a week and see if there’s improvement. If it’s declining, then it’s probably time to go back and see your club professional.”
But no matter what, always make time for chipping and putting practice.
Otherwise, you might be just a golf ball whacker guy, and not a golfer.