Practice Swings in Golf

The Art of the Practice Swing

If you’re like most golfers, you probably wonder do you need a practice swing? Are practice swings really beneficial? Should you do them before every shot?

The short answer is yes – you should and today I’ll explain all the benefits from them. The simplest reason is that they prepare your mind and body for the upcoming shot.

However, there are a lot of mistakes you can make and might actually hinder performance. Not to mention slow down pace of play.

Continue reading to understand the art of the practice swing so you can prepare yourself better for every shot and hit your golf goals. 

Practice Swings in Golf 

Practice swings are an essential part of the golf swing. If you watch golf on TV, you’ll notice that before every shot, each pro has their own pre-shot routine to get them ready for the upcoming shot. 

Some take one deliberate swing, almost incorporating a swing thought they’re working on. While others are more free flowing and focused on the target in the distance. 

On the putting green, some golfers are very deliberate about one or two practice strokes. While others vary their amount and some golfers even skip them entirely. 

Key Takeaways 

  • Practice swings are useful for both the mind and body. They are sometimes called rehearsal swings as you’re rehearsing a motion for the upcoming shot. 
  • A good practice swing can help you direct your mind for what you want out of the upcoming shot. It’s a time to focus on where you want the ball to go and where you want to avoid.
  • A good practice swing can also help get your body ready to execute a specific type of golf swing. 
  • But too many practice swings can slow down the pace of play and actually hurt your performance.

Keep reading to ensure your practice swings are useful and done with intention to see the benefits in your game. 

Practice Golf Swings

Practice Swing Benefits 

First off, what are the benefits of a practice swing? Side note: I like to think of them as rehearsal swings instead of practice swings. 

Why? 

Because sometimes it’s easy to get lazy and go through the motions without any real intention. When in reality, you want to rehearse the shot and this term can help keep you focused and not get lackadaisical.

Some of the benefits of practice swings include:

  • Improve tempo and rhythm.
  • Better understand uneven lies
  • Identify the firmness of the lie with chip shots. 
  • Feel the proper backstroke length when putting.
  • Feel the proper backswing length for all shots (from the tee box to around the green). 
  • Mentally prepare yourself for the upcoming shot and get clear on your long range target.  

Tiger Woods is a perfect example of someone who is very intentional with his pre-shot routine and practice strokes. For example, let’s rewind to his epic 9-iron slice from a fairway bunker in 2019. He hit a shot that no one else in the world can hit and his practice swings told us exactly what he was planning to do.

In the fairway bunker, he was feeling out the swing to hit a massive slice with a 9-iron – which is extremely difficult to do since it’s such a short club. He was making very exaggerated moves that gave him the feel of slicing and cutting across the golf ball. 

Once he had the right feel, he gave it a waggle or two and executed the shot with absolute perfection. Even though he didn’t make the putt, it was still one of his most iconic shots and proves why he’s one of the greatest shot makers of all time. 

Tiger used his practice swings to rehearse the upcoming motion while visualizing the ideal shot. This is something you should, too. 

3 Common Practice Swing Mistakes and Quick Fixes 

While there are tons of benefits to making rehearsal swings, not all of them are created equal. Avoid these three mistakes to make the most of your rehearsal swings. 

Not Taking Practice Swings (or Being Lazy With Them) 

The first mistake is the most common among everyday golfers – not taking any at all. Or, taking ones that aren’t similar to your upcoming shot.

For example, let’s say you have a tricky 50-yard pitch. To set yourself up for success, you want to choke up, make a shorter backswing, accelerate, and maybe even open the face.

But so many golfers take a full swing like they’re going to hit it 75 or 80 yards. This is confusing to your mind as you know it’s a partial swing, not a full shot. This could lead to decelerating on the downswing and chunking the shot.

You want to take rehearsal swings that are similar to the upcoming shot. 

Practice Golf Swings

In this example, you’d want to choke up on a wedge, try to clip the grass, and make a half backswing. Once you take 1–2 rehearsals and feel good about it, step into the shot and execute it. 

The other version of this mistake is being too lazy with your practice swings. You can’t “go through the motions” and expect your mind to figure it out. Be very intentional with your grip, swing, and target selection to get your mind and body working together. 

Taking Practice Swings Next to the Ball 

Watch pros and amateurs take practice swings (for full shots) and you’ll notice one big difference… where they happen. 

Professional golfers take their practice swings for full shots behind the golf ball, then walk into the shot. While every day, weekend warriors take them next to the ball, then slide up and hit the shot. 

If you want to play better faster than ever, change where you take your rehearsal swings.

Pros take them behind the ball for two main reasons. First, it allows them to see the target better and visualize the shot more effectively than standing next to the ball and using peripheral vision. 

Second, it gives them a clear “think box” and “play box.” 

This is a concept brought on by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott of Vision 54. They’re two of the most successful coaches who have helped top players on the LPGA Tour, including Annika Sorrenstam.

PGA Show Recap

The think box is the area behind the ball where the pros take their practice swings. They think about the upcoming shot using their analytical mind. They’ll go over distances, targets, wind, and other factors to clarify the shot.

Once they’re set on the shot, then they walk into the play box and let the subconscious take over. The play box is a time to play and react to the target, not get bogged down with swing thoughts.

Learn from the pros and change your practice swing location to clearly separate where you think and play. 

Taking a Set Number of Practice Swings 

The final mistake that so many golfers make is thinking they have to take a set number of practice swings. A lot of golfers say something like, “I take two practice swings before every swing.” 

In theory, this sounds good, but typically leads to the first mistake – going through the motions instead of being intentional with your rehearsal swings. 

My biggest piece of advice is to take 1-2 practice swings on most shots, but if you feel good after the first one, get into the play box. Don’t overthink it and make golf even more difficult by adding too many extra swing thoughts.

Another reason you don’t want a set number of practice swings is that what if you end on a horrible swing… do you still walk into the shot, even if you ended with a bad feeling?

Of course not! 

If you take a big divot that doesn’t replicate what you want to hit for the next shot, take another practice swing until you feel good. Then, walk into the shot so you have more confidence. 

Putting Practice Strokes 

What about putting… Do you need practice swings/strokes? 

This is a slightly different approach from putting if you watch the pros. Some have a set number of strokes (1-2), some take them perpendicular to the ball, and some make them next to the ball.

While some pros, like Cam Smith, take no practice strokes. This is more of a personal preference and something you should figure out in practice. Test out different styles and take it to the course so you have more confidence on the greens. 

Golf Practice Swings

FAQs About Practice Swings

Do you have more questions about practice swings and how they might help your golf game? If so, keep reading through the most frequently asked questions and answers now. 

How do you practice swing in golf?

Thinking of them as rehearsal swings is sometimes more beneficial than practice swings. You don’t want to practice for the upcoming shot, you want to rehearse the motion. This will give your body a feel for the type of shot you want to hit.

For example, if you need to hit a punch shot under a tree, you shouldn’t take a normal backswing and follow through like you’re hitting a high shot. You want to take a shorter backswing and shorter follow through to simulate the upcoming punch shot with a lower trajectory.

Consider this a rehearsal for the upcoming shot that is getting your mind/body ready to execute. 

How many practice swings are you allowed in golf?

There is no limit, but always remember to keep up the pace of play. 

Why are practice swings different from actual swing?

Because you don’t want to make them at 100% effort. You want to have 70% effort – with full shots – to feel the shot while looking ahead at your target. 

Does a practice swing count as a stroke?

No, it does not count as a stroke (even if you accidentally hit the ball, just ask Zach Johnson). 

My Experience 

Dialing in your pre-shot routine for full shots, chipping, and putting is key to success. 

When you prime your mind and body for the shot, you’re much more likely to have the right mindset. Not to mention clarify to your body what you need from it to execute the shot. 

The biggest tip is to be intentional with practice swings… don’t get lazy! 

Final Thoughts 

The right type of practice swings can help your game a ton. 

When you avoid the three mistakes and follow the tips provided, I’m confident you’ll have a more efficient pre-shot routine.

Picture of Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard

Michael is an avid golfer of 25 years who played in high school, college, and now competes in Arizona amateur events. He is a full-time writer, podcast host of Wicked Smart Golf, and mental golf coach.