The game of golf, as I’m sure you know, is one that rarely leaves you satisfied. There is always the competitive drive to break personal milestones, win more tournaments, and take your game to the next level. After any round, you can pick apart shots and holes that could’ve been better, and this analysis gets you up early the next morning to engrain what you couldn’t execute a day prior. If you don’t feel that intrinsic hunger to go lower and play better and win more often, then this is probably not the best sport to dedicate your youthful athleticism to chasing. That being said, if you do want to improve and get to that next level (which I assume you do because you are reading this), I will impart my advice and personal experiences that I believe can take your game, as it did mine, from nowhere to now here.
I did not start out being the best player in my state, area, or even neighborhood. I was finishing middle of the pack in junior events, shooting rounds in the mid 70s up to the low 80s, and playing the kind of mediocre golf that makes for great weekend scrambles. This certainly wasn’t where I wanted the ceiling to be for my game. So, I set out on a campaign to improve my game across the board, a campaign that culminated in winning the Optimist International Junior Golf Championship my senior year, finishing my junior career in the top 50 in the world rankings, and playing at the top line-up of the Yale University Men’s Golf Team in every event. I will attempt to outline here how I did it, and how you can do it too.
First, it must be known that these kinds of transformations do not happen overnight, and they do not happen easily or comfortably. It requires a great deal of diligent practice, both on and off the course, but the rewards are more than worth the sweat that goes in. The biggest thing that must be examined and changed is how you practice. For me, my practice routine once consisted of hitting some range balls, a few lazy chips and putts, and going and playing on the course until I had to leave. This is ineffective practice, and it is passive. In golf, unlike other sports, there is not necessarily a direct correlation between hours logged and game improvement. There is, however a correlation between diligent and disciplined practice hours logged and game improvement.
When you are on the range, you should have alignment sticks down 95% of the time. You should be going through your full pre-shot routine on every shot, unless you are making a mechanical change, in which case you should be taking care on every repetition of the drill. Always mind the fundamentals, like grip, setup, alignment, etc. Also, it is always better to take an hour to hit a bucket of balls than 30 minutes to hit three buckets. Remember, practice doesn’t make perfect, disciplined practice makes perfect.
Short game and wedge practice is probably the most important part of your time spent with a golf club. Find a wedge configuration that you like, and stick with it. This is where the great majority of all of your practice time should be. Having a strong short game and wedge game will make your good rounds even better, but more importantly, it will turn 80s into 75s. Saving pars and taking advantage of your wedge opportunities is what keeps you in tournaments. If it had to be quantified, I would argue that at least 75% of your practice time should be with a wedge. For me, it is more qualitative. If after six months there is not a noticeable grooved out center in my wedge face, then I haven’t spent enough time with that club. Practicing with wedges doesn’t need to feel like work, either. The key to good wedge practice is to find importance in each shot. Don’t drop 100 balls 3 feet off the green and hit them all to the same flag. Play games with yourself, play games with your friends, but find a reason to care about the results of each chip/pitch/wedge that you hit. Drop 100 balls all around the green inside 50 yards and make yourself get 70 of them up and down. And chart your progress! There’s nothing more encouraging than tangible improvement.
The putter is unarguably the most important club in your bag. There are several facets to successful putting practice. The first, and most important, is short putts. 80% of my putting practice is between 2 and 8 feet. These are the putts that you inevitably face at least 10 times per round, the ones that matter most when the pressure is highest, and the ones you most often face for par and need to make for birdie. Go through your full routine on every putt, but hit thousands of these. In addition, there is the feel/speed side of putting practice. There are countless games for this, but make sure you are keeping your speeds consistent. Your eyes see breaks based on the speed you are accustomed to hitting your putts. Do all the speed work in practice so your subconscious can kick in when you need to perform. Finally, in putting practice, there is the pressure side. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood over a 5-foot putt on the last hole and been barely able to hold the putter. Only through years of hardcore pressure practice was I able to roll those putts into the hole. The way to put artificial pressure on putts is by playing games with yourself. Force yourself to make 10 6-footers in a row around the hole, or any other of the million putting games from inside 12 feet. Trust me, the 8th, 9th, and 10th putts will feel like they are to win the Masters. Last, if you start a game or drill, do not leave the putting green until it is finished. That sense of completion is where you will draw your confidence, and putting is 95% confidence.
Finally, a portion of the game that is often overlooked but has proved to be invaluable in my transformation is the mental aspect. I was a skeptic of mental coaching, but after diving into the material on the topic, I found it to be integral to the success I enjoyed. I read every Bob Rotella book and worked with Dr. Mo Pickens at Sea Island, and they taught me the value of independence of shots, dealing with bad holes, not only playing but thriving under pressure, and the importance of mental and physical pre-shot routines, among countless other topics that are so dear to my golf game today. I would highly recommend reading Golf is Not a Game of Perfect by Dr. Bob Rotella. If you apply the principles outlined in that book, you will inevitably see noticeable improvements in your scores.
It is my sincerest hope that if you apply these suggestions, you, too, can take your game from nowhere to now here. I know you will enjoy the transformation that occurs, and changing the way you practice and think will be an enjoyable experience because you will be able to see and build on your improvements. Good luck, and play well!
About Will Davenport
I was born in Miami. FL moving up to Palm City at the age of 8. I got started in golf at Martin Downs Country Club when they offered a free junior golf clinic, and I just wanted to go up and check it out. I was immediately hooked. Since then, my parents and sister took up the game, and it has made for an amazing family activity and vacation motive!
As far as influence, I have been blessed with many coaches and advisors along the way, but my grandpa is someone I look up to a lot and has shaped the way I play and think about the game. He was a professional golfer and a real cowboy, and his wisdom and even just his awesome stories have been key inspirations in my golf career.
My grandpa is Bill McLeod, from Sweetwater, Texas. The stories on him are endless, from thrashing Gary Player back in the day to winning fortunes with Titanic Thompson, arguably the greatest player ever, both right and left handed. Check out the book “Titanic Thompson: The man who bet on everything”. My grandpa played for him for many years. He lives on a hunting ranch in Blackwell Texas now, and he is really the hegemonic American golfer/cowboy.
In addition to my grandpa, my friends and family have been the most amazing support system for me in pursuing my hopes and dreams.
Golf Career of Will Davenport
Will Davenport was born in Miami moving up to Palm City at the age of 8. Shortly thereafter, he tried out a free golf clinic at his home club, and immediately became hooked. Since then, he has enjoyed much success in his careers in junior golf and tennis.
His senior year in high school, Will was captain of the tennis and golf teams, playing in position #1 on both teams. He lead both teams to state championship appearances. He was honored to have been named Treasure Coast Player of the Year by TCPalm in both sports.
Will had second place finishes in the FHSAA State Tournaments as an individual and as a team in both golf and tennis. He managed to win both team and individual titles at Districts and Regionals multiple years in both sports.
Outside of high school, Will enjoyed a successful junior career. He won multiple District, Regional, and State tennis tournaments. In golf, he had top 3 finishes at the 2010 AJGA Mayakoba Classic, the 2011 FCWT National Championship, and the 2011 Florida State Junior Championship. He accumulated multiple golf victories, including wins at the 2011 Junior Honda Classic and 2011 Optimist International Junior Golf Championship. His junior world ranking reaching into the top 50 on Golfweek.
Will was named to the HP Scholastic All America Team and the Hugh Cranford All Scholastic Team. He maintained a 4.0 GPA, winning the Biology Award, and qualifying for National Merit.
Since arriving at Yale University, Will has been named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. He has started in the top 4 of the lineup in every event finishing in second place finish at the 2013 MacDonald Cup Intercollegiate Golf Championship.