Golf is the only sport that I know of where you don't practice on the field where you play.
On the range, you can have a flat, perfect lie every time and hit balls into a field with few targets. Golf courses, however, feature uneven lies and different conditions on virtually every shot.
In addition, golfers will hit shot after shot on the range from the same lie with the same club to the same target. Go to the short game area and you can observe a golfer practice a bucket full of chips or pitches to the same hole.
To improve your on-course performance, simulate different shots as much as possible when you practice.
• Full swing. When practicing your full swing at the range, rather than hitting the same club to the same target, hit a different club to a different target for each shot. Pretend you are playing golf on your favorite course. Hit the same club that you would hit from the first tee, and, based on the result, choose your club for the approach shot and hit that club. Play nine holes or play as many holes as you can in 30 minutes. If you have good targets on your range, try hitting 10 balls to the same target seeing how many out of 10 you can get within 20 feet of the target. Better yet, alternate targets with the same objective.
• Short Game. When practicing short game, I love games. Playing games makes practice more fun and also allows you to keep score, making it more similar to golf. According to Sian Beilock in her book "Choke," practicing under mild levels of stress can prevent you from choking when you are under high levels of stress. Find games that simulate pressure to improve performance.
• Putting. Find a few short putting games as well as some intermediate and long putting games. You may be familiar with the circle putting game that Phil Mickelson plays. He will put 10 balls in a circle around the hole 3 feet from the hole. He then attempts to make several in a row. Try this and set a goal. Try to make 10 in a row, or even 25 or 50 in a row. My favorite long putting game is to set a tee at the edge of the putting green and attempt to 2 putt from that spot to every hole on the putting green. If I 3 putt, I must start over from a different spot. You can also play nine holes on the putting green with one ball. Par is 2 on each hole, and set a goal of scoring 18 or better.
• Chipping. My preference here is that you hit chips to different holes often if not every shot. I also like to play games that require me to finish out the hole by putting the ball. Play nine holes and keep score. Play a two-ball scramble taking the best of two each time or taking the worst of the two each time. Play a game I call Scatter. Take five golf balls and with a marking pen number them one through five. Toss the balls in the air and play the ball with the number 1 on it to the #1 hole, the ball with the number 2 on it to the #2 hole, etc. After you have played all five balls, go putt them in and keep a total score for all five balls.
• On course. Have you ever noticed that after hitting a ball out of bounds or in the water when you drop a second ball you usually have a great result? I think golfers tend to try too hard at times and don't swing free and easy. The secret to the second ball is that you will tend to swing free and easy. Play the mulligan game. Play nine holes with the goal of swinging free and easy every time. Anytime that you allow tension to creep in, you get a mulligan.
Simulate golf as often as possible when you practice and your performance when you play should improve.
For more tips from Golf Channel to help you improve your practice, click here.