Editor's note: This is the third installment of a six-week, six-part series with PGA Professional Rob Labritz, offering up tips on how you can become a complete golfer. Each feature will focus on one of six topics: Body, Game, Game maintenance, Mind, Nutrition and Equipment in an effort to help you become the best golfer you can be.
When you have the opportunity to head out to the driving range and work on your game, do you go out there with a plan?
Or, do you just go out and beat golf balls?
In much the same way you approach a shot and a golf hole during a round with a plan, you should be doing the same with your practice, or "game maintenance," if you will.
PGA Professional Rob Labritz has a perfect plan for you to follow and its main point is this: "When you go out and practice, don't hit balls... hit shots."
Do you understand the difference? Don't just drag a golf ball with whichever iron and hit it, or pound driver after driver. Instead, have a plan for the kind of shot you want to hit, the target you want to hit it to and use the same routine to approach every one of those shots as you would on the golf course.
Labritz believes the best way to work on this is to spend 1-1 1/2 hours per day working on each facet of your game, while dedicating an extra 10-15 minutes to the part of your game that may be deficient.
Here's how it would breakdown:
Day 1: Putting
"Start close to the hole and work back," Labritz said. "Cover short, long and mid-range putts. Do 15-20 minutes for each of those starting first at inside 5 feet and covering all four sides of the hole for breaking situations. Then do the same thing, backing up to 10-15 feet. Once you're done that, hit longer putts from all four sides from outside 20 feet. This is where you're really dialing in the speed. Everything is speed-related. You're going to want to make the short putts and a lot of the mid-range putts, but for the long putts it's just important to be finishing the ball close to the hole and getting the speed down."
Just as important as in the putting drills and the drills that follow, Labritz said, is taking 5-minute breaks in between distances to relax and refocus.
Day 2: Chipping
"Same as putting," Labritz said. "Start close to the hole. I like to see students chip from the same spot to different distances. Start by hitting chips to a hole location on the practice green or in the chipping area -- from the fringe -- that's 5-6 yards away with a sandwedge. Pay attention to how the ball is reacting. Then hit chips from the same spot to a location that's 4 yards further away. I like moving in 4-yard increments and changing clubs. If you use the same chipping motion and, let's assume the greens are running at 10 on the stimp, you're going to see about 4 yards of difference between clubs.
"For example, I start with my 58-degree wedge. That rolls out 4 yards. My 52-degree wedge will roll out 8 yards. My pitching wedge will roll out 12 yards, 16 yards for the 9-iron and so on. You want to go all the way to your 4-iron, assuming that's the longest iron in your bag. Hit five balls, per club, per distance. That should take you about an hour. Keep in mind, these increments are for a perfectly flat chip. You'll need to adjust for uphill or downhill."
Day 3: Pitching
"Start at 20 yards and work out to 60 yards," Labritz said. "Hit 10 shots per yardage. in 10-yard increments and focus on what I like to call your 'adjustment skills.' What I mean by that don't hit the same shot twice. Work on different trajectories and focus on how the ball reacts. Remember, these are 'scoring distances,' so it's one of the most important areas to dedicate time. It's where you're either going to save or lose strokes during a round."
Day 4: Bunker play
"Get yourself in a bunker and work on shots from distances of 5, 10, 15 and 20 yards. Hit 10 shots from each spot, so a total of 40 shots in one hour. Once you get outside of 20 yards on bunker shots, it isn't so much that 'blasting out' type around the green."
Day 5: Specialty shots around the green
"Here, we're talking about hitting shots from the fringe, rough and fairway from a variety of lies with a hybrid, fairway woods, toe of the putter, etc. See how the ball reacts. This is all about self-discovery so -- if you find yourself in a precarious spot on the course -- it isn't a mystery as to how your ball will react with one of these types of shots. There's no right or wrong answer here. Try it all. If you're using a hybrid or fairway wood, just be mindful that it's going to roll out a lot more. You'll want to choke down all the way to the shaft for more control over the head."
Day 6: Short irons
"This is going to be 8-iron, 9-iron and pitching wedge. Hit full shots to see how far the ball is traveling. Generally speaking, the average golfer has about 10-yard gaps between clubs. So, hypothetically, if you're hitting a pitching wedge 100 yards, you should be hitting the 9-iron 110 yards and the 8-iron 120. Those are the clubs to work on aiming right at the flag. These aren't the clubs you want to be using to play to the fats of the greens. Go right at the hole. Make these scoring clubs. Hit 20 shots per club -- 60 shots in one hour, one shot a minute. Take your time and apply your focus to every shot. Go through your routine and then get into the shot."
Day 7: Mid irons
"This is 7-iron, 6-iron and 5-iron. Twenty balls per club. Mix this up and hit to a variety of targets. Maybe four different targets, five shots each. Unless I'm working on something specific, I like to mix it up with targets so it doesn't get boring or robotic."
Day 8: Long irons
"This isn't rocket science. Hit 30 balls each with your 3 and 4 irons and pay special attention to your ball position. The ball should move up ever so slightly in your stance the longer the club. If you carry a 2-iron, include that into the session and hit 20 balls with each."
Day 9: Hybrids
"If you carry three hybrids, hit 20 balls per club (30 if you only carry two hybrids). Mix up the shots you're hitting -- high, low, straight, draw, fade -- and mix up the targets."
Day 10: Fairway woods
"Generally, most people carry two of these -- a 3 and a 5. Practice hitting shots both off the ground and off a tee and see how you can work the shot."
Day 11: Driver
"Driver is an interesting one," Labritz said. "This is the most powerful club and requires the biggest motion. I'll generally hit 25-50 when really working on it. The routine is key, because you're going to do the same thing on the golf course. Try to envision the shape of the drives you'll be hitting on the course."
Final tips: "For all of these practice drills, make sure you lay down an alignment stick for every shot. Always, always, always use an aid. I also like to lay down a club perpendicular to the alignment aid for ball position. You want everything to be consistent. And most importantly -- again -- don't hit balls. Hit shots."
Rob Labritz, who has played in four PGA Championships (he was low-Club Professional in 2010 at Whistling Straits), is currently the Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in BedFord Hills, N.Y. He was also the PGA Met Section Player of the Year in 2008, 2013 and 2016, as well as the Westchester Golf Association's Player of the Year in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015. You can learn more about Labritz at www.RobLabritz.com and you can follow him on Twitter, @Rlabritz.