This is a fantastic little drill that will help you to develop great ball striking when you practise on range mats.
We’d always recommend that students, when not working on drills at home, practise their iron play off grass. But we recognise that this isn’t always possible for many golfers, especially during the winter months, since grass range facilities often aren’t available locally.
The key benefit of practising iron play on grass is that it instantly reveals where you are striking the ground, and the single most important factor in great ball striking is to strike the ball before the ground.
The vast majority of golfers strike the ground before the ball, resulting in poor strikes that lose distance and consistency. All great ball strikers take a divot after, on the target side of, the ball.
In fact, there is a direct correlation between where your club head bottoms out (where your divot is) and your ability as a golfer. The average amateur golfer strikes the ground about 3-4″ before the ball, but they don’t usually realise it. For a low-single digit handicapper, the divot starts at the ball. Scratch golfer, 1″ after the ball. And a world class ball striker takes a shallow divot that starts some 2-3″ after the ball and is at its deepest 5-6″ after the ball.
The problem with range mats is that they can hide a poor strike. You can hit the mat some 5-6″ before the ball and still make good contact with the ball! If you made the same swing out on the course it would be an ugly duff!
Do this too often and, without even knowing it, you’ll be ingraining some very nasty habits that will seriously hinder your progress and damage your performance.
So here’s a simple drill that you should use during every range session where you are playing off mats.
Start by creating your normal practice station on the mat with your setup and alignment sticks – see Golf Swing Drill 102 – Setup: Perfect Golf Stance Width and Ball Position.
Now move the golf ball towards the target by about 5″ (13cm), in front of your lead foot. At address, place the club face behind the normal ball position, as marked by your setup sticks – see Figure 1.
Play some shots from this position, focusing on keeping your weight moving towards the target in the downswing and making a nice, crisp strike.
Try to avoid swaying towards the target, keep your left ear level with the back of the normal ball position.
You will pull the shot (hit it left if you are a right handed golfer), because the club is moving on an arc. That’s fine, ignore it and focus on the quality of the strike.
Once you are striking the ball consistently well, put the golf ball back into its normal position, and place a piece of broken tee in the forward position – see Figure 2.
Make swings focussing on the same sensation of shifting your weight towards the target. Imagine that the ball is where the broken tee is, and make sure that you hit the tee off the mat. Sense the club head moving down and through beyond the ball.
You’ll be amazed at how crisp and solid your ball striking is.
You can even use the concept of this drill when out on the course. Address the golf ball correctly, but before you make your swing try to soften your focus on the ball, imagine that it is a soap bubble that you will collect as you swing through the low point in front of your lead foot.
Work on this drill with your irons in every range session when you play off mats.
You’ll avoid developing bad habits caused by the forgiving (and misleading) mat surface, and your ball striking will improve dramatically.