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How to make the most of your practise time

One of the highlights of the IJP Invitational is the hour-long clinic Ian conducts on the range for all competitors (and parents!) at the end of the tournament day. This year was no exception and the highlights of an informal and absorbing session provide invaluable insights into the mind of a world-class professional

Poults…on stretching and warming up

No matter how old you are, or how frequently you play, you run the risk of pulling a muscle if you go out to play or practice without first warming-up for a few minutes. I use a variety of exercises to warm up my arms and shoulders every single day – I might even do this workout with elastic bands at home on days when I’m not playing golf.

Those of you who watched the Open at St George’s may have seen Darren Clarke using a special stretching pole, with a spring at one end, to help him with his exercises before he began hitting shots. I prefer to use these rubber bands (right) – relatively cheap to buy and easy to use providing a simple range of exercises that help you warm up your muscles and strengthen the ‘core’ groups of muscles you need to make a good golf swing.

Some guys on tour out there go through a full gym session, others will simply warm-up on the range with the type of exercises you see me rehearsing here. Whatever your preference, make sure you get in to the habit of regular exercise. Seek advice from your local PGA professional who can help you devise a series of exercises that will quickly benefit your golf. The fitter, stronger and more supple you are the better you will swing the golf club and the better you will hit the ball.

Poults on…taking care of the fundamentals

It has become quite trendy these days to carry a pair of alignment rods in the golf bag and I was impressed today to see so many juniors using these canes to check alignment and ball position. If you don’t have a pair of alignment rods, I urge you to invest in them. This is invaluable. I recently bought this one, which can either be used as two separate rails or attached to create a T-square, which gives you a reference for alignment and another for ball position. I use this T-square every single time I practice for no other reason than I want to be 100% certain that my alignment and ball position is exactly as I want it on every shot I hit. Once I have my target fixed, and a visual image of the shot in my mind, I think of nothing else other than that image – I have zero technical swing thoughts.

If you don’t have alignment rods, just do it the old fashioned way and place a couple of clubs on the ground to give you alignment. I cannot emphasis this enough: it’s all about taking care of the basics.

Poults on distance control – and the importance of the ‘scoring shots’

My configuration of wedges, the scoring clubs, is 48-degree pitching wedge, 54-degree sand iron and 60-degree lob wedge. For me, that’s an easy system to work with and six degrees between each of these clubs gives me a good span of distances. I love gadgets and in recent years I’ve come to rely heavily on the Trackman system, which I’m sure many of you have seen at your club or on TV. It’s a radar-based launch monitor that measures every conceivable piece of data about the flight of the ball – including ball-speed off the clubface, backspin, sidespin and of course landing distance. And that’s the key number for me – I work with Trackman to keep accurate data on how far I fly the ball with all of my clubs. My lob-wedge flies 100 yards, sand-iron 115 yards and pitching- wedge goes 135. So I know from that make up that if I have 120 yards to go, a sand- iron is not going to get there. It’s an easy wedge, perhaps gripping down the shaft a little. Ultimately, it’s all about your control over the flight of the golf ball. And you get that through making and repeating a sound swing and changing clubs to suit distance – not forcing a club to make a distance.

Poults on visualisation – ‘seeing a shot’…

We never ever see a straight golf shot. Every shot has some element of movement in it. Say the wind is off the right, as it is here, I want to hit the shot with a little cut-spin to hold the ball against the breeze. There are a couple ways to do this. Say my ultimate target is the 150 post. I would aim everything else (feet, knees, hips and shoulders) to the left of that target and then open the clubface a fraction so that it points at my ultimate target. If I then swing along the line of my feet the ball will move with a leftto- right spin. That’s the easiest way to work it. And, naturally enough, I’d make the opposite adjustments for a draw.

I don’t have any swing thoughts when I stand over the ball – visualisation is the key for me. That’s why out on the course today I asked a lot of players ‘what are you seeing, what exactly are you looking for when you stand over a shot?’ Jack Nicklaus, the greatest player who ever played the game, called it ‘going to the movies’ on a shot. He would stand behind the ball and stare down the shot facing him until he had a perfect picture – a movie image – of it in his mind.

If you cannot visualise the shot you want to play I don’t really know how you can hope to hit it. And it’s no use putting these alignment rods on the ground when you practice if you don’t have a specific target in mind. Make a point of surveying what you have in front of you on every single shot: where is the wind, what shape of shot do you need to play? How much green do you have to work with? Exactly how far is your landing area? Where is the best side to ‘miss’ so that you do not leave an impossible up and down?

Poults on coaching…

I see David Leadbetter from time to time but I don’t have a full-time swing coach. I have the odd lesson every now and then. I am fortunate that in my pro shop days my boss had a camera system and I could video my swing and see whatever was going wrong. Thanks to my PGA training, which I am very proud of, I know how I want to swing the club and I carry a camera all the time so that I can monitor my technique.

I believe the more you understand your swing, the more you look at it on video, the quicker you will learn. And so the final piece of advice I am going to leave you with – and there will be plenty of teaching pros out there who won’t like this – is, when you take lessons, ask to see your swing on video. For both your insurance and his, your swing should be on video. Otherwise a coach could stand behind you all day long and say: ‘Oh yeah, lovely swing, great shot’ and you have no idea whether or not you have made a positive swing change. Lesson on lesson, seeing your swing on video enables you to see real improvement. I download my camera on a weekly basis. To see where the clubhead is, make sure it is where I want it.

Q. Do you always aim at a target?

Absolutely…and so should you. If you stand on the range hitting balls without a distinct target in mind you are practising without a purpose. Wasting your time. It’s not good enough. You have to have a target and you have to go through the same procedure before every shot to develop a pre-shot routine you can trust out on the course. Remember, you are practising to play – and when you play you will be hitting towards a target on every single shot.

Q. Do you have a sports psychologist?

No, because if I had a psychologist he’d be a nutcase after a couple of days with me! Seriously, we are all different. A lot of people do get a lot out of working with a sports psychologist – Darren Clarke has certainly reaped the benefit and he looked incredibly relaxed all week at Sandwich. Has it held me back? I don’t know. Self belief has never been a problem an issue for me. I’ve done alright, I’m pretty stubborn. But not everyone has that self confidence and it can be a hard thing to give to somebody. There are people who respond well to the specific techniques that are used, others do things better on their own. I talk to my agent quite frequently – he, to me, is my psychologist.

We talk things through, analyse things. Talk to your mum and dad after a round of golf. When they ask how you played after a tournament, don’t just shrug your shoulders and say, ‘I played rubbish’ and then disappear to your room. That’s not good enough. Ask yourself the questions that need to be addressed: Why did you have a poor round? Why did you play well? What shots worked out, which ones didn't? Clarity of thinking and clarity of information gives you a positive direction. And remember, just because you have a bad start to a round of golf doesn’t mean you have to have a poor finish. Live on positive vibes and I guarantee, no matter how you play, you can always take something positive out of every round of golf you play.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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