You grab a small bucket of balls from the driving range and head over to the short game practice area to spend 30 minutes practicing your short shots around the green. You may be messing up your short game without even knowing it, and the mistake happened before you hit your first shot. How? You are practicing your short game with range balls.

Range Balls Are Very Different

Range balls play differently than the higher-quality balls you play on the course. They are designed to be durable, and their one-piece construction spins less and reacts differently on the club face. For full swings, range balls tend to go farther on shots under 125 yards, about the same for medium-length shots and shorter on shots longer than 200 yards. They fly higher with less spin.

This range ball performance variation is even worse for shots around the green. A finesse wedge shot (a.k.a., pitch) that flies 15 yard may launch at 42 degree and spin 2500 rpm. This same swing hitting a Titleist ProV1 launches at 32 degrees and spin 4000 rpm. Upon landing the range ball may roll 12 feet, while the ProV1 would only roll and stop within 3 feet. That’s a huge variation and is likely the difference between one and two putts. Even the cheapest, buy-by-the-dozen balls some players buy perform better and more consistently than range balls.

Perhaps more important, the performance of range balls varies tremendously from ball to ball. Because they are manufactured cheaply (they cost on average 30 cents per ball) even a new range balls have a lot of variation from ball to ball. More important, a range ball that has been hit 200 times and has been worn down or sat in a puddle soaking up water for two days is going to play very differently than a new one out of the carton. Ever been hitting your driver consistently on the range, and suddenly you hit a shot that goes forty yards less. Chances are it wasn’t you; it was the ball. You never know what you are going to get, and players should never take the how far they do or don’t hit a range ball seriously. This variation is equally a problem on the short game shots. Older or inconsistent range balls will fly less and roll more.

Range Ball Should Never Be Used for Short Game Practice

Someone who practices their short game with range balls is subconsciously teaching herself bad information. For example, a 15-yard pitch shot that normally would only roll 5 feet may roll 10 or 15 feet with a range ball. The player then learns in practice to hit these shots 15 feet short of the hole. When she actually plays on the course with a regular golf ball, everything ends up short. “Why is my short game so bad today when I was doing so well in practice?” It was the ball you were practicing with.

Even from a 50-yard wedge shot most range balls will only have between 5500 to 6500 rpm, while premium golf balls average 7500 rpm. Based on the condition of the green the lower spin of range ball could be the difference between staying on the green or rolling off it.

Range balls also feel different at impact. Even a clean hit on a range ball may feel a bit clunky vs. the crisp impact of a premium ball. During our short game practice sessions we want to focus on developing the right feel, which is difficult if the type of ball is not cooperating. Most of your short game practice should be on skill development – learning the touch, feel and distance control from a variety of distances and lies. It’s nearly impossible to build proper touch and feel if your ball behaves differently when you practice with range balls vs. when you play on the course.

Practice Short Game with the Same Type of Balls You Play on the Course

Does that mean you need buy a bucket of new Titleist golf balls for when you practice? No. I keep five or six extra premium balls in my bag and use these when I warm up before a round. A side benefit is warming up with only six balls is that with so few it discourages me from just whacking away without thinking and encourages me to focus on each shot, just as if I was playing on the course.

For more extended short game practices, save your older scrapped, chipped, blemished or even cracked balls from the course. Note that you probably don’t want to play or practice with a chipped or scrapped ball for the full swing as the it will change the flight characteristics. However, because aerodynamics is much less of a factor these abrasions will have virtually no effect on the shorter shots.

I use a clear shag tube that holds a little more than 20 balls. Mark all sides of your ball with a special marking (e.g., 3 red dots) so they don’t get confused with other players’ balls.

Equally important, use the same type of ball for all your practices. Don’t mix ProV1s, Chromesofts and Bridgestones. Stick to the same ball. While performance differences between an ProV1 and a Chromesoft will, for example, are minimal compared to a range ball, they will still feel quite a bit different.

Give yourself the advantage of consistency when you practice. Develop your feel for shots. Then take it to the course, play well and have fun.

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