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A common question that I hear and have had myself in golf:
"Will practicing off mats make me worse?"
In a Golf Digest Printed Interview, Lee Trevino says: "Green 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. Swing a weighted club instead."
Although I would like to agree with a 6 time major champion, the reality is, some of us simply don't have access to grass for several months of the year, and are not willing to bore ourselves with a weighted club!
I don't mean to criticize, but Trevino did grow up playing golf in Dallas, Texas, a region where the golf courses don't close during the winter.
In light of this dilemma, I will be exploring the pros and cons of practicing off synthetic turf in general, as well as answering some common questions regarding synthetic mat practice.
Before I dive in to the meat of the post, I want to cover synthetic putting greens, and some of the things to consider when using them.
If you are reading this, I'm guessing that you have at some point purchased one of those "carpets" that allow you to putt up an incline into a hole that returns the ball to you (like this).
I'm also guessing that you did not have the greatest experience with it, and possibly ventured over to something more realistic (like this).
Although Birdie Ball Greens are much more realistic than the first option I linked to, there is still nothing like putting on real grass.
Over the years, I have spent countless hours putting indoors, and have come to the conclusion that indoor putting greens serve just a few purposes, and nothing more:
- An area to train your stroke via drills
- An area to train your eyes to line up correctly (straight putts)
- An area to go through your putting routine
For example, since the majority of indoor putting greens are relatively/completely flat, I get out my putting tutor, and hit hundreds of putts in a row to the same hole. This trains my eyes to see the correct face alignment, and allows me to check my eye alignment over the ball at the same time.
Another aid that I use is called the "putting arc," which serves the purpose of training my stroke rather than solely face alignment (putting tutor).
Last, when indoors, you can work on your putting routine, which is one of the most underrated ways to practice, yet one of the most effective.
If you want to know more about practicing short game and your game in general indoors, I have written an entire post about it here.
Now that I have covered putting, let's get to the real question.
Does practicing on those green synthetic mats actually help you?
The short answer is YES, if there is no alternative**.**
Obviously, everyone is going to have a different opinion about this topic, but I have spent a large part of my time as a golfer practicing off mats, and have seen dramatic improvement in my golf game.
Instead of ranting on and on about why mats are okay to practice on, I'm going to list off the questions that I most commonly hear or have had about practicing off mats.
How do I know if I am hitting the ball first?
This is probably the most common question when talking about synthetic mat practice, and for good reason. As Trevino says, you can hit 6 inches behind the ball and still get it in the air.
Fortunately, several indoor facilities and driving ranges have upgraded to better mats, which provide more realistic feedback. If you have the choice, try and find the newest mat at the range (I know it sounds obvious, but I've seen golfers hit off terrible mats just so they could be next to their buddies).
If your range doesn't have any quality mats, I would simply ignore the strike that you put on the golf ball. In the grand scheme of things, the strike is a RESULT of a good swing, and thus you have higher priorities than worrying about something that you should never try to manipulate anyways.
Do those rubber tees affect my driving?
I spent a long time thinking that the tees were the reason that I hit bad drives at the range. Unfortunately, this was an unjustified belief.
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.
There is one exception to this though. If the tee that is on your mat is not the proper height, FIND ONE THAT IS. There is no reason to practice with the ball teed up twice as high or low as normal, and make compensations because of it. If you are hitting off an abnormal height, then yes, your bad shots could be because of the tee.
Do poor strikes on synthetic mats result in poor strikes on real grass?
Have you ever gone to the range and hit poor shots off the mats, but then hit beautiful shots at the course?
It certainly is possible to do so, but don't make a habit of blaming the mats for your poor strikes.
The reality is, if you are swinging the golf club properly, strikes off the mats should feel pure. They may not make the pure sound that tight fairways do, but in your hands, a proper strike will feel pure.
For several years, I would hit terrible shots off the mats, yet did just fine on the course. Unfortunately, I was coming way over the top, which was causing deep divots on the course (still felt okay and produced a decent ball flight), and an unpleasant feeling on mats.
Don't be fooled by the mats. They give more accurate feedback than we give them credit for. If something feels off when hitting from mats, chances are, your swing might need some work.
Why do I hit a draw off the mats, and a fade on real grass?
Many golfers struggle to hit the same ball flight on the course that they do on the range.
Most of the time, this is due to improper lie angles on their irons.
You see, when hitting off mats, the lie angles are not quite as important, because the club has no chance to dig into the ground (if you don't understand the concept of "lie angles" PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE read this post - it is important!).
When the club can't properly dig into the ground like it does on grass, you will not experience the effects of improper lie angles to the extent you would on the course.
This could explain why you hit one shot shape with your irons on the range, and another shot shape on the course.
Are there any advantages to hitting off mats rather than grass?
Sometimes, you might want to work on ball position, or a certain drill that requires an unchanging drill station. When I work on my ball position, I have two alignment sticks perpendicular to each other on the mat. For each shot, I place the ball even with the alignment stick perpendicular to my target line. If I was doing this on grass, I would constantly be moving the alignment sticks, and wouldn't get much work done.
In addition, if the temperature outside is above 95 degrees, and hitting off mats allows for some shade, then I would argue they are more effective than hitting off grass. I'd rather hit off mats than chunk my shots due to dehydration.
Should I wear golf shoes on the mats?
Personally, I don't like wearing golf shoes on mats. On certain mats (especially the newer, more realistic ones), the spikes grab a bit too much, which I don't like.
If you feel that golf shoes help on the mats, I don't see a reason why it would hurt your golf game to wear them.
When I aim to the left or right, I don't hit good shots?
This is something that took me a long time to realize.
When you hit off a square mat, it often feels weird to aim right/left of where the mat is aiming. I don't know that everyone experiences this, but when my body is not aligned with the straight lines of the mat, I sometimes feel like I cannot hit a good shot.
I haven't found a great fix to this, but it is worth mentioning, because I used to be so hard on myself for not being able to hit certain shots to certain parts of the range!
What areas of my game should I focus on when hitting off mats?
Since you are not going to get a completely realistic experience off mats, I have found that improving my golf swing via video analysis, and working on wedge distance control to be the best uses of my time at the range.
Also, I always have an alignment stick down when hitting off mats to train my body to line up correctly to the target without having to think about it.
Last, I would say that a big reason why golfers don't get much out of synthetic mat practice is due to their attitudes. Sure, it may not be ideal, but I promise, if you focus on the right things, you CAN get better practicing off mats!
Practicing off synthetic turf isn't ideal, but I think that the golfing world is too critical of it. If you think about it, synthetic mats were invented so we could get some golf in despite poor weather conditions! I'd say that is a pretty awesome :)
About the author: Zach Gollwitzer
Hey, I‘m Zach, the founder of The DIY Golfer! I created this site while playing D1 collegiate golf with a simple mission—I wanted to learn the golf swing and get better at golf myself.
Fast forward a few years, and my “journal“, The DIY Golfer, has been viewed by millions of golfers worldwide looking to do the same with their games. my mission is to make golfers more consistent in just a few hours a week through advanced practice strategies and timeless, first-principle golf instruction.