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and Players Learn to Improve

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Golf Range Synthetic Mats – To Hit Off Them or Not ?

mats-leftDoes practicing off those green rubber astro-turf-type synthetic mats help or hurt your game?

While being interviewed by Golf Digest, Lee Trevino has said:
“Synthetic practice mats are the worst thing for your golf game that I know of.
You can hit six inches behind the ball and not even know it, because the ball still gets airborne.
Practice nets are awful, too.” – Lee Trevino – Professional Golfer

Synthetic Mats – Does practicing on those green synthetic mats actually help you?
The short answer is IT DEPENDS.

There are only 4 instances I would ever support a golfer practicing off mats.

1 – You’re practicing golf, not to improve, but merely for the exercise only and you never intend to take your swing / game onto a golf-course.

In my opinion golf is so much more enjoyable than almost any other sport. For starters, with every other sport it doesn’t matter where in the world you play it, what you play it on never changes. Travel from the U.S. to across the world?… Same tennis-court / baseball-field / football-field / bowling-lane / basketball-court… etc. However, every golf-course is different.

That being said, swinging a golf-club hitting golf-balls off mats with no intention of playing golf on a course can be acceptable exercise. It gets the body moving, can get the heart pumping, and can increase mobility without the body taking a beating. Friends can have a conversation during practice sessions, etc. So if the golfer is merely hitting off mats and not worried about improving their technique or has no intention of taking their golf-swing technique onto a golf-course… hitting off mats is fine.

2 – Practicing hitting Drivers only… or any other club teed-up.

If you’re practicing hitting Drivers, which do not require the golfer’s club-head to hit the ball before the ground, hitting off of mats is acceptable. In fact, if the range / facility you are practicing at has both grass and mats and you are practicing off grass and intend to finish up your practice session hitting Drivers, take a look around and see if there are any golfers waiting to hit off grass (where you’re at), and whether there are mats open. In this instance I would recommend taking your balls and clubs and going over to a mat and freeing up a grass range section for a golfer wanting to improve their game by practicing off grass. Generally, the tees with the rubber synthetic mats are too high to hit teed up 3-woods, but some facilities offer shorter tees that you can change out. But if you’re stuck with the taller tees, I’d recommend only practicing Drivers off of those mats.

mats-right-top

Face-on view (target is to the Right in this pic)

mats-right

Golfer’s view looking down
(right-handed golfer – target is to the Left in this pic)

3 – No other option.

There are times when there just is no grass range provided, or it’s full.

If there is no other option, then hitting off mats might be acceptable IF done correctly. One of (if not ‘the most’) important goals in a correct golf-swing technique is to hit the ball before the ground. To deliver a ‘descending’ blow to the golf-ball. To keep the golfer from ingraining poor technique of hitting ‘behind’ the ball, (thereby hitting ‘ground’ before the ‘ball’ as s/he moves through impact), the “Towel Behind the Ball” drill is the best way to practice off mats.

To do this the golfer merely places an average ‘golf’ towel or hand-towel (make sure it’s one your significant other won’t care gets dirty) approximately 4 to 8 inches behind the ball. (see images to the Right).

Hitting off ‘grass’ the golfer gets feedback when s/he uses an incorrect technique that makes her/him hit behind the ball… the grass gets in-between the club and the ball and the golfer experiences a ‘fat’ shot. Hitting off mats there’s no such feedback and it’s easy for the golfer to lull her/him-self into a falls sense of confidence s/he is making a swing with correct technique delivering a descending blow to the golf-ball. The towel behind the ball should continually remind the golfer that s/he needs to practice the correct technique that will result in hitting ‘ball-the-ground’ instead of the opposite.

If the golfer uses incorrect technique, then the club-head catching the towel and flinging it a few feet is a great reminder that s/he needs to stay focused on the correct technique.

4 – They Start Making Golf Courses Out of Rubber Synthetic Mats Instead of Grass.

The only other time I would support the golfer practicing off mats is when / if golf-courses start replacing the grass on a course with the same rubber synthetic astro-turf material as those mats on the range. Then it might make sense to practice off mats instead of practicing off grass. Till then, practice of grass when possible.

A few related questions my students often ask me – addressed here:

Q: Do those rubber tees affect my driving?

No. Although the rubber tees provide a bit more resistance to the club than a proper wooden tee does, it does NOT cause your bad shots. Chances are, if the ball flies a bit weird, it was a beat up golf ball, not the tee.

The only pseudo-exception to this is if the rubber-tee is not the correct height. (See my article “Correct Tee Height”).
If the tee is too high/low it could affect you mentally. If it’s too high, you might think you need to swing ‘up’ at the ball in order not to ‘sky’ it. Or if it’s too low, you might think you need to hit ‘down’ on the ball drastically. The tee to high/low could negatively affect your golf-swing technique.

Q: Why do I hit a draw off the mats, and a fade on real grass?

Likely it’s because you are releasing too early and throwing with your right hand while you’re hitting shots off the mat. Your club-face has begun closing early enough so that it makes contact with the ball closed in relation to its club-head path. However, likely when you’re practicing off mats your club-head is hitting the ground before the ball and bouncing into the golf-ball. And since there’s no grass to get in-between the club-head and ball and the ball is making contact with a club-face that is closed in relation to its path, voila… the golfer is able to hit ‘draws’ off of mats.

When it comes to hitting shots off ‘grass’, the golfer likely is moving his/her head forward in an effort to hit the ball before the ground and the club-face is not closing enough in relation to its club-head path. Therefore, the club-head is making contact with the ball with an open club-face (in relation to its path) and the golfer ends up hitting fades/slices off grass, and draws off of mats.

Q: Should I wear golf shoes on the mats?

No.. because you shouldn’t be practicing off mats (see above). However, if you’re going to practice off mats, I’d recommend wearing a sports-shoe that provides a great deal of ‘lateral’ support and stability (like a ‘cross-training’ or ‘tennis’ or even a low-top ‘basketball’ shoe). The reason I don’t recommend wearing ‘golf’ shoes is because most golf-shoes have some sort of rubber/plastic-spikes or nubs or something on their bottom that digs into the ground to give the golfer traction. If you’re practicing off mats however, the spikes or nubs don’t dig into the mat but rather stay ‘on-top of’ the mat. This can add as much as a quarter-inch to a half-inch to the golfer’s height while not doing the same for the golf-‘ball’. This can make quite a big difference to the swing the golfer ingrains on the mat. Additionally, golf-shoes can get too much traction on mats. When a golfer is making swings in golf-shoes on the grass and twists his legs or feet, the grass can give. The unforgiveness of mats may lead to knee or other injuries.

Q: When I hit off mats, I have a tough time aiming left or right of where the mat is aimed.

Yes, mats are generally ‘squares’ and are set down to basically aim straight ahead. If the person practicing of it wants to aim at a target that is left or right of where the mat is (basically) aimed, since s/he can see out of the his/her peripheral vision where the ‘mat’ is aimed versus where s/he is attempting to aim, it can look or feel odd/weird to the golfer and he’ll have a tough time trying to hit at a target that is left/right of where the mat is aimed. Answer, if you’re going to practice off mats, only work on swing mechanics versus ‘distances’ or aiming at specific targets. Find the line the mat is aiming at and make swings that make the golf-ball land on that line, regardless of the distance.

Q: What parts of my game should I focus on when hitting off mats?

Since you’re not going to be practicing of mats, you won’t need to worry about this. However, if you’re stuck practicing off a mat, I’d recommend putting down alignment rods and doing the “Towel Drill” and/or making sure you video your swings from both Face-On as well as Behind-Down-the-Line. If hitting off mats is (likely) going to negatively affect your technique through impact, at least the rest of your swing will be solid. Check the video to make sure your alignment, ball-position and swing-technique is correct

Conclusion

Although I recommend always practicing off grass and staying away from practicing off mats at all costs, the truth is, at least the golfer is practicing. And as long as the golfer is not allowing him/her-self to ingrain poor technique, at least it’s ‘some’ practice. And some practice is better than ‘no’ practice… if done correctly. So to re-cap. Try to always practice off grass. However, if mats are the only option, opt for sport-shoes that provide lateral support but not golf-shoes with spikes/nubs. Do the “Towel Drill” as well as video your swings to make sure your practice is building the ‘correct’ technique as opposed to building ‘incorrect’ technique.