To me, there are two basic pieces of practice, no matter what part of the game you are talking about. The first is that which we all do, that is to go to the range and hit balls. We might be working on a particular swing mechanic, maybe timing and tempo, maybe just trying to work out a few kinks. Most of the time what I think golfers are doing on the range is just beating balls for fun, not working on anything in particular. I enjoy that as much as the next golfer, but I really don’t consider that “practice”.
In my practice regimen, I have two aspects. In my “range time”, I’m always trying to explore and work into my routine some new move, feeling or position that I think will get me to a better place throughout the swing. I always hit range balls with my alignment sticks on the ground, as that way I am always reinforcing proper set up and alignment. To do otherwise, in my opinion, is just a waste of time.
On the range, I take a tip from the legendary Harvey Penick, whom I had the privilege of watching give a lesson to Tom Kite on one occasion. He would not let Tom hit more than 6-8 shots with the same club before he would have him switch. He did not want Tom to get in some kind of groove with a 5-iron, he said, but his work was to help Tom get in a groove with all his clubs. That sure made a lot of sense to me, so I follow that practice most of the time.
The exception is when I practice my short wedge shots. I’ll take a bag of 35-40 balls and just my 58 or 55 and hit all kinds of shots. All distances, from 10-15 feet to 30-50 yards. All trajectories, from high flops to low runners, sharp spinners to normal routine pitches. That lets me work on the mechanics and the creativity of my short game.
After any wedge practice session, I then go out to the course and play just a few holes, spending 10-15 minutes around each green executing those various shots I was just practicing. I call it “real practice”, because I have put myself in a “game day” situation. It’s like the football scrimmage, I guess. They practice hard to get ready for the season, but you have to get in something more closely resembling game conditions to really fine-tune it.
If you want to improve your short game performance, I suggest you try my routine to see if it doesn’t help. Some range time to work on technique, then some “real practice” on the course, hitting “real” shots to “real” pin locations.
I think you’ll find that it is time well spent.