Winter Golf Week practice balls in snow

Winter golf tips to get your handicap down in 2018

If you're serious about improving your game, Duncan McCarthy's winter practice programme will give you the best chance of making next year a success

For golfers, New Year’s resolutions are not made on January 1. They’re fashioned in November – as one season comes to an end with another not following for six long months.

You’ve got all that time – from now until April – to work on your game.

How many times have you heard someone say ‘I’ll get down to single figures next year’ or ‘I’m going to win the club championship’?

winter golf tipsJust as at New Year, we’re full of hope. But how many of us actually achieve our dreams?

Is it down to lack of motivation, or effort? The chances are it’s because we don’t actually know what we’re doing.

“Everybody says ‘I do want to get my handicap down. I do want to put practise in through the winter months’,” says Duncan McCarthy, performance coach and founder of Leeds-based Ignite Sports.

“But then they don’t know how to go about doing that. Why should you know? It’s not something you do for a living. This is a hobby for most people. That’s why you have coaches who can help guide you down that journey.”

McCarthy’s worked with athletes and golfers of all abilities – from European Tour professionals down to beginners.

So if you’re going into the winter determined to improve but not quite sure how to go about it, follow his practice tips to give yourself the best chance of coming out of the cold with your game in good shape…

Winter golf tips: Be realistic about the time you can put in

The first thing you have got to look at is what time you can put into practice on a weekly and monthly basis.

Then it’s not overdoing it – not saying ‘yeah, I can do five hours of practice a week’ when, realistically, you can only manage two.

I’d rather somebody say ‘I can do two hours, comfortably’. Then, if they can do three or four that week, they feel a bit better about themselves.

People jump in with two feet and go ‘I’ll do five, yeah’ and it’s lovely to hear that – because they are motivated and inspired to improve.

But after the first week they’ve only done three hours and they are beating themselves up and saying ‘what’s the point? I might as well leave it’.

Winter golf tips: Practice in smaller chunks

Look at it and say ‘I am going to put x amount of time in a week’. If it’s two hours, it’s a lot easier to find four chunks of 30 minutes than two chunks of one hour.

It doesn’t matter what standard of player I work with, I always want them to work in smaller chunks of time. Just do 20 minutes of high focus. That’s better than an hour of 20 minutes high focus, the next 20 minutes so-so focus and the last 20 of beating the balls and getting out of there.

Winter golf tips: Don’t beat balls on the range

winter golf tips

That’s what golfers unfortunately do on a regular basis. They go into the shop, get their token, get 50 balls and go to the mat. They never leave the mat. They stay in the same position and go bash, bash, bash.

The only ball they might contemplate focusing on is the last one – because they want to finish on a good one.

You can put simple rules in place. You could say ‘I’m not going to tip my balls out of the basket. I’m going to get one ball out at a time’.

That gets very mundane and boring but it’s going to heighten your focus a little bit. You take your time and you’re in control, which is exactly what we want to be doing on the course. You’re training good habits without having to find extra time.

Winter golf tips: Practice is about development and performance

If you’ve had a lesson and worked on something, you might say ‘right, my 7-iron is my game improvement club’ so I’m going to hit 10 balls working on that move.

You could then have five balls, for example, where you’re going to go into your full pre-shot routine to different targets and test that move.

What do are doing is working on how to do it and then testing it in a game-like situation. It’s not on the course, so it’s okay to not achieve what you want because you can go back for the next 10 balls and you work on that move again.

I call it development practice and performance practice. You’re working on the ‘how to’ but you are also working on just doing it.

Most people just practice the how to. They will go out on the course and they are thinking about how to swing it, which is not the objective of the golf shot.

The objective is to put the ball as close to the target as you can. If you don’t do that in practice, it’s not going to happen on the golf course.

Winter golf tips: Have a plan – and execute it

winter golf tips

Create a purpose for every session – and a focus. The bare minimum, if you really want to improve, is when you walk through the front door of the range you should know what you are going to work on.

Some golfers will continue to play, all the way through winter, and you might get two practice sessions in on a Monday to Friday.

If you are having lessons, the first (practice) session could work on improving your swing, your putting stroke or your chipping and so on. So you are working on the ‘how to’.

For the second, have a performance session. You have your 50 balls and you loosen up with 10. Then you have 10 shots where you say ‘I’m going to hit my 9-iron to 7-iron to different targets’ and see how many times you can hit the target.

Then hit the next 10 balls, with wedges and just pitching, to the target to see how many times you can hit it. Hit the next 10 balls with driver and 3-wood. Choose two targets for the fairway.

All of a sudden, you’ve got 10 balls at the end just to have a bit of fun.

You can score. Most people go to the same range so the targets don’t change. You can always go to the same targets. Some people still have notepads, some have their phones and record the scores.

If the scoring’s not improving, you know there’s something wrong. But at least you can do something about it.

If the scoring is improving, you take genuine confidence from that and there’s a big difference between confidence and genuine confidence. Genuine confidence is based on facts.

Winter golf tips: You can learn from the top players

winter golf tips

I always look at the top players and what you can learn from them. People who play golf for a hobby are not going to hit the ball like the top players in the world but there are certain key principles you can still learn.

I was at the Lyoness Open, in Austria, and I was rooming with Danny Willett’s former caddie Jonathan Smart. We were talking about Dan’s good habits and about what he did in his practice – the reasons he won the Masters.

The two key things were that every practice session, and every shot in every practice session, had two things: purpose and focus. He (Smart) said not many people had better purpose and focus than Danny.

You might not be able to hit the ball like Willett but you can take his purpose and focus and implement it in your own game – your own half hour sessions.

That’s the beauty of looking at the top players. Don’t look at how they hit it, or how many putts they hole. That’s their job. They are meant to do that. But you can learn key principles and fundamentals from how they go about their business.

Walking through that door, even if you’re leaving the office and have a 15 or 20 minute journey, you can still create that purpose of ‘what am I going to do at the range?’

Winter golf tips: You can do a lot at home

winter golf tips

Imagery and visualisation are massive things. A lot of people overlook them. Even just taking five minutes out – when you get into bed before you fall asleep or in the morning when the kettle is brewing – and picturing five great shots at your home club, or playing a hole well, has an impact over time.

Sometimes we can’t always get to the range but we can still do certain things at home.

You can also work on swing movements at home. I love putting practice because it’s fun and it uses your imagination.

It could be something as simple as having a tee peg stood up on its end and trying to knock it over three times from three feet, five feet, seven feet and so on.

For me, that’s fun and enjoyable. Imagine how many tee pegs you can knock into a hole. You’re getting confident knocking a tee peg over and (when you go to the course) the hole looks like a bucket.

It goes back to the adage: train hard, play easy. Most people train easy and play hard.

For more information about Ignite Sports, visit their website.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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