"3...Callaway gets the ball... 2... he turns to shoot... 1... he takes the jumper... he makes the jumper to win the game!''.
That's what I'd practice as a kid shooting hoops in my back yard, over, and over, and over again... mentally pretending and physically preparing for that one chance to take the last-second shot to win the basketball game. It was just a fun thing to do at the time. But little did I know how I was most effectively practicing to prepare for a moment, years later, when that exact opportunity would actually present itself, for real, in a game... the championship game in college when our team was down by one point with 'three' seconds remaining on the clock.
Our coach had called our final time out with 3 seconds remaining in the game to diagram the final play. We needed a baseball pass from one of my teammates to be perfectly thrown from under the opposing team's basket so I could come up off a baseline pick to catch the 3/4 court pass at the top right of key where I would then pivot, shoot and take the 'jumper' to win the game... and the championship... at the buzzer.
I remember feeling both excited and nervous at that the same time. I was excited to have the opportunity to take the last shot of the game... something I'd never done before but had dreamed of doing many, many times as that little kid shooting buckets in the back yard. And, at the same time walking back onto the court after the time out, I felt tremendous pressure from the responsibility placed squarely on my shoulders to take that last shot with the hopes of winning the game... with the vivid realization that 'if' I didn't make the shot, then the game would be over, and the memories of all my teammates, all the fans supporting us, and the story of the game written in the papers the next day would be that we had lost the game on a last second shot... taken... and 'missed' by Paul Callaway.
Well, as the story goes, the ref handed my teammate the ball at the other end of the court, I timed my break off the pick to coincide with the in-bounds pass, and I ran to the spot on the top right corer of the key, jumped up for the perfectly thrown pass, caught and came down with the ball, pivoted to my right and shot a fade-away jumper that banked in off the backboard and swished through the hoop... to win the game as the buzzer sounded! The play was run exactly like the coach drew it up.. and as I had imagined all those hundreds of times when I practiced it in my back yard as a kid.
So what's the message to be learned from this story for you as a golfer! You need to make sure that a good percentage of your practice time on the range is performed with real, imagined scenarios of performance on the course... especially under 'pressure'.
In golf 'HOW' you practice is just as important as 'HOW MUCH'!
One of the best ways to improve the quality of your practice sessions is to simulate the pressure of being on the golf course and taking certain shots... just like I did as a kid, counting down the clock and shooting last-second jumpers to win the imaginary game in my back yard growing up.
And, if you're anything like me, one of the places where you feel the most pressure is on the putting green when you're facing a makeable putt inside of 10 feet.
These types of putts can have a HUGE effect on both your scorecard and your confidence - turning pars into birdies and double bogeys into bogeys.
To help you re-create that pressure you feel when hitting these crucial putts try this simple putting drill I picked up from one of our top teaching pros here at the Cantigny Golf Academy next time you're on the practice green...
- Grab 10 golf balls and drop them at a spot 3 feet away from the hole (about one putter length). Your job is to make 10 in a row, and if you miss one you must start the count over at 0.
- Once you make 10 putts in a row from 3 feet move back to 6 feet (about 2 putter lengths). From this distance try to make 10 putts in a row starting the count over at 0 if you miss.
- As soon as you have reached your 6 foot goal move back to 9 feet away from the hole (about 3 putter lengths) and start again with the same goal in mind - making 10 in a row.
- From each distance you'll find that making the first few putts is easy, but as you reach 6, 7, 8, and 9 in a row you will definitely feel the pressure mount just like it does on the golf course.
If you're having trouble making 10 putts in a row start the drill over and shoot for 5 in a row from each distance. The important part is not to change the required number of putts during the drill - once you set a goal keep going until you reach it.