In this article we’re going to look at how to build an annual golf training program to improve your game and reach your golfing goals. The details in this article are what I’ve found works best after many years of building and refining training programs for elite players.
If you’re already a full-time player (lucky you) I’m sure you will find this article useful. However, if you only have 2, 5 or 10 hours a week to practice I’m sure you will still find some golden nuggets to help optimise your golfing performance and development.
4 micro seasons
A great training program starts with clear aims. Before you begin, work out what you want to achieve this/next year in terms of wins and/or handicap improvements. Then work backwards to create key metrics (Score Average, FIR, GIR…) you need to hit.
If you have a handicap goal in mind, but don’t have an idea of what playing stats are needed to reach that goal then check out this handicap stats dashboard.
When you have these targets you can begin to break down your annual golf training program into four chunks:
- Off-season (Dec – Jan)
- Pre-season (Feb – Apr)
- In-season (Mar – Sept)
- Break (Oct – Nov)
Each sub-section has simple targets and aims that should all fit together to help you achieve your annual goals. Think of this as your roadmap to success.
Golf training off-season (Dec – Jan)
Key aims: Technique development and conditioning
A key aim in the off-season is to make any technical changes to your golf swing, short-game and putting. Begin with any setup changes (grip and posture), before you focus on any in-swing changes. The golf swing is a sequence of events, therefore any set-up changes take a couple of weeks to bed in but often solve many in-swing issues without any extra work.
Be really focused on what needs to change in your golf swing to hit your performance goals, and steer clear of making swing changes for the sake of making swing changes. Golf is not about having a textbook swing, it is about accuracy, reproducibility and adaptability.
This period is also the time to hit the gym (4 – 5 times a week for an elite player). If you’re not a full-time golfer do your best to make three gym sessions a week for measurable improvements in strength. Check out this post for more details on golf fitness. For improving your mobility and stability yoga is also a great option for golfers.
Golf Insider note
Gym work isn’t just about hitting the ball further. Having great mobility, stability and strength will allow you to: swing more effectively, reduce strain on unwanted areas, practice for longer without fatigue, feel fresher and recover quicker.
In the off-season I often see players working hard, but rarely are they investing time in the areas that need work. Great players, who perform well in-season, have laser-sharp focus even during their off-season.
If your golf evaluation suggests you need to hit more fairways, dedicate the time to make swing changes that are relevant to this area. Sit down and really work out what practice and technical changes you need to make.
If you aim to average 1.5 fewer putts next season, please dedicate enough time to refining your putting technique and use these putting drills to focus on the weak areas.
Pre-season (Feb – Apr)
Key aims: Skill development, conditioning and mental prep
During the pre-season you are aiming to make your swing changes feel natural and make them more adaptable and ready for the golf course. Keep using swing drills that you find useful, but also add in more variable practice. Mixing up the shots and clubs you hit in practice sessions will lead to more errors in practice, but a better transfer of skill onto the golf course (motor learning is a complex topic).
This period of golf training is also the time to implement some highly challenging practices. Make your targets smaller in practice, and challenge yourself by trying to hit more accurate shots in a row without errors. This small change in expectations will help your body refine how you hit full golf shots, chips and putts. It will result in fewer misses with smaller errors from your intended target.
Skills games, such as this short game challenge and these driving range games, will automatically provide you with a high level of challenge and a fun way to practice. I’ve also put together a special set of skill games for all areas of your game, allowing you to benchmark your current performance and find weaknesses. Click the link above to download free pdfs.
Gym and conditioning work should still be carried out as much as possible. Twice a week for regular golfers and three times a week for elite players. This will keep giving you some small but steady gains ready for the in-season phase. Remember to be consistent with your golf stretching alongside any conditioning work.
During your pre-season you should set aside some time to optimise your golf psychology skills. Begin 4 – 6 weeks before your tournaments are scheduled. Improving your thinking is similar to making technical changes – It will take a few weeks before you will start to see performance gains from better thinking.
In-season (Mar – Sept)
Key aims: Optimise performance, technique and maintain conditioning
This is the stage of a golf training program where many good players go wrong. The theory says that as you move into your playing season you need more variable practice, more challenge and less time on the range. However, from my humble experience, this is the wrong approach.
If you are already playing 2-4 competitive rounds a week, you’ll be getting lots of highly challenging, variable practice during competition. You need to balance this out with simple repetitions and drills on the golf range and short game area in between playing.
Every week during the in-season set aside 30-minutes to keep on top of your golfing basics, such as your golf grip, alignment and posture, and chipping and putting basics. A weekly check in a mirror, or on the range is so simple but highly beneficial.
If you have implemented some golf psychology skills in your pre-season, then you should also set two dates in your diary to video and refine your pre-shot routine. A pre-shot routine tends to become a bit rough and blazé if it is left too long. Keep it sharp and simple throughout your golfing season.
If you are a full-time pro, aim to take a full week (possibly two) off all competitions after 4 – 6 weeks on the road. It’s really important to have a block of time to refresh, keep on top of your swing mechanics and sharpen your performance with skills games. I know this concept is challenging for mini-tour players who are trying to scrape together earnings from events, but the break will be well worth it in the long run.
If you’re not a full-time golfer, but you play many competitive events, I would offer the same advice. Give yourself mini-breaks from competing.
During this time, video your technique and play some skills games to get sharp. Pay particular attention to your basics – alignment, grip and posture. Playing competitions week-in-week-out leads to a slow decline in your basics, which results in you losing your form.
During your in-season, you are trying to maintain your golf strength and fitness. It’s tough, I’ve had professional players lose 6kg (14lb) of mass during a full season of playing (this was predominantly muscle mass). Try to get 1 to 2 sessions of strength training each week. Aim for fewer exercises, but focus on key compound exercises (Trap bar squats and pull-ups are two great examples.
Break (Oct – Nov)
Key aims: Rest, recovery & reflection
I don’t think I need to give you much guidance here. If you are a full-time player, take a break (4 – 6 weeks), even if you don’t feel you need one. Before you put your clubs away reflect on your stats and achievements. As an amateur, it is still a good idea to take some time away, just so you miss the game even more.
When you return, begin planning your goals for the following year. This really will help you get ready for another year of fine progress….and the cycle continues.
Golf Training Program – Summary
Everything in this article is pretty basic and obvious, and yet so few players do it well. If you want to maximise your progress – set annual goals, break down your season into the mini blocks listed below and devise a plan for each.
- Off-season – Technique development
- Pre-season – Skill development
- In-season – Performance focus
- Break – Then have a rest
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Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider
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