Last month I was playing in a 2-day best ball tournament with my friend Eliot. As we warmed up on the range among some very talented players, I overheard one of them remark that before most rounds they “hit three balls on the range” and then go play. Obviously, a tournament round requires a bit more preparation, so the range was lined with players finding their swing for the day. Ultimately though, we all want to play well when we tee it up on the first hole, and there’s nothing worse than standing on the fourth tee and cracking the “Well, the first three holes was the warm-up” joke.
Throwing away shots early in a round sucks, you’re immediately under pressure at best and super pissed off and ready to sprint off the course at worse. However, hitting balls at the range sometimes just isn’t an option. You might not have enough time or the course just doesn’t have a range. There’s also those days when you rush up to the range and try to warm up, but you do it too fast and your rhythm is destroyed because you’re raking balls over and firing them off as fast as you can without any thought but, “I’ve got 7 minutes to loosen up.”
If loosening up is what you’re really looking for, then skip the range completely and partake in the more tranquil part of the pre-round routine. Visit the putting green and find a groove with the club you’ll be using more than any other for the next 4.5 hours. When you putt, the ball interacts with the grass on the green. Understanding that interaction and knowing the speed of 20 and 30 foot putts might be more valuable to shaving a few strokes than slapping some 5-irons and drivers at the range for 6 minutes before hustling down to the first tee. Golf is all about putting the ball in the hole, so why not give yourself a mental boost and hit a bunch of 4-footers that rattle the pin and fall into the hole (that’s a CoVid image right there.).
About 70% of courses also allow golfers to chip at the practice green (some explicitly ask golfers to only putt). Chipping is another way to loosen up, get a feel for the club head, and make contact with something other than a putter. During an average round, a golfer will probably putt the ball 30-35 times and chip the ball another 10-15 times. That’s 45(ish) shots per round or half the shots in a round of 90.
Sit on a clubhouse patio for an hour and eavesdrop on players as they recall their round, between sips of beer and bites of a club sandwich, a lot of them will moan about their putting and short game. Particularly the speed of the greens and how it took them nine holes to figure out how hard to hit those longer putts (amateurs have A LOT of long putts per round).
Another small benefit to loosening up without a range session is it forces you to swing within yourself early in the round. A range session might give you the feeling that you can let it rip on that first tee. But if you spend five minutes stretching and loosening up your body, you’ll feel comfortable enough to start your round and swing within yourself. You might even hit the ball a little it better. If you’re lucky and the first hole is nice and easy, even better.
If I’m arriving at a course 45 minutes early, I’m not going to pass up a chance to hit a few balls on the range. If you play twice a summer, go nuts on the range before the round. This isn’t what I’m writing about. I’m writing about those rounds when you have 15-20 minutes before you’re due on the first tee. That awkward chunk of time that might lead to a rushed warm-up, embedding a bad rhythm into your swing from the jump. A calming session on the putting green to watch the ball fall into the hole and learn the pace of the greens, paired with some chipping and a light stretch (there are a million pre-round stretching routines online) will likely serve you very well heading to the first tee.
Or, just order a couple beers and go launch it off the first tee without a thought in the world. That can work, too.