Playing with a Pro

On-course instruction can bridge the gap between practicing and playing

Five reasons why playing lessons are a must for every golfer.

Unlike basketball, baseball, football, soccer or tennis, golf asks you to prepare on a completely different field of play than the one on which you compete. Golfers take lessons and practice on a flat, manicured range and then play a course with rolling hills, trees, bushes, sand, water and different cuts of grass.Bridging the performance gap between practicing and playing becomes even more pronounced when you leave Colorado to play new courses. Before taking your game on the road this winter, travel-proof your game with some playing lessons.

While range lessons are critical to overlearning your skills, on-course instruction is a critical complement. Working with a trained eye while on the actual field of play will help hone your game so it holds up under the pressure of ever-changing courses and conditions.

1. Aligning and Aiming
The quickest way to ruin all the hard work you’ve put in at the range is to play with poor aim and alignment. You would be astonished at how many golfers aim 30-40 yards right or left of their intended target on the golf course. I believe this stems from two factors. One, many golfers don’t really know how to aim and align themselves; two, they don’t hit balls to a specific target on the range during practice. If you consistently aim 30 yards right on the golf course and you make a good swing, you’ll end up 30 yards right of your target; instead of changing where your clubface is aimed, you change your golf swing to get the ball back on target, undermining many hours of practice. Not only can an on-course instructor help align you properly, but he or she can help develop a repeatable pre-shot routine which includes proper aim for every shot on the golf course.

2. Negotiating Awkward Lies
On the range it’s easy to change your golf swing when the ground is level and the lie is good. However, when you play golf, your ball can wind up on the side of a hill, in a divot, on hardpan, in deep rough, etc. When competitive golfers practice at our facility, they go to the side of the range and put the ball in deep grass, on uneven lies and around bunkers. Good players practice the hard shots as often as they do the easy shots. During a playing lesson, your teacher can show you how to handle myriad lies and show you how to practice them on the range.

3. Making Smart Choices
You may know how to hit a 3-wood on the range, but should you use that skill from the deep rough? You learned the flop shot, but should that always be your “go-to” shot around the green? Your teacher fit you with a new driver, but should you hit it on every par-4 or 5? Should you launch a high shot to clear the trees or just punch the ball back into play? These are the decisions your teacher will help you make during your playing lesson. You need to know which shot offers the highest percentage of success.

4. Playing Golf, Not “Golf Swing”
One of the most common mistakes golfers make during the course of a round is spending too much time on mechanics. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap. When you get wrapped up in swing fundamentals on the course, you’re not playing golf, you’re playing “golf swing.” Instead of worrying about things like staying on plane, focus on the keys to consistency: tempo and rhythm. Both of these suffer when you struggle on the course—your “timing” is off. Tempo is the total amount of time it takes to create your golf swing from beginning to end. It should take the same amount of time to hit a driver as it does a sand wedge. Rhythm describes how you split the total time between the backswing and forward swing—the backswing should take two beats and the combined downswing and forward swing should take two beats. Your golf instructor can help you focus on maintaining your optimum tempo and rhythm.

5. Developing a Lesson Plan
Playing lessons provide a baseline of where your game is and a roadmap going forward. Where are your weak areas? Where are you losing the most strokes? Don’t hit a lot of greens? Do you need to work on your pitching and chipping? Too many three-putts? After your playing lesson you and your instructor should evaluate the state of your game and come up with a strategy for improvement. Don’t confine your golf lessons to full swing instruction on the range. Take your golf pro on the course and get in the game!


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Lana Ortega, a Class A member of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Division and 2005 LPGA Central Section Teacher of the Year, teaches a wide range of professional and amateur golfers at Green Valley Ranch Golf Academy. (; 303-574-0775).

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