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Alan Comeau Alan Comeau
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At home on the range Chip Shots

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My first column of the season highlighted the opportunities to play golf early this year, thanks to a mild winter. Since then conditions have been slow to improve, but as you read this column, local courses have opened for play; that's great news for area golf enthusiasts. I'm excited for what will hopefully be a long and fun golf season in Maine.

While the more rabid of us will want to get on the courses right away, others will want to spend some time getting the golfing muscles back into condition. For those more patient players, the best early option may be to spend time on the driving range. Personally, once golf season is in full swing, I spend almost no time on the range. I will practice putting and chipping on my home course's practice green, but the rest of my time will be on the course playing. However, at the start of the year, I hit some range balls in order to get my body used to swinging clubs again (I do play indoor golf some during the winter, but there's nothing like seeing your actual ball flight on an outdoor range).

But buying a bucket of balls and stepping up to a range mat with no plan may not be the best thing for you to do. I checked in with a few local pros and asked them for some tips regarding early season range time.

Joe Perdue, co-owner and certified PGA teaching professional at Hidden Meadows in Old Town, was the first to reply to my request; his thoughts are below.

'When you dust off your golf bag for the first time in the spring, it's important to keep your expectations in perspective. Remember, unless you spent your winter in a warmer climate and had your golf clubs along, you probably haven't swung a club since October or November, which was several months ago (and no, Xbox does NOT count!).

'More often than not, I see people pulling a driver out of their bag for their first swings of the new year, which is a bad idea. For most, it's the toughest club to hit, you're not stretched out or loosened up, and more than likely your timing isn't going to be dialed in. Combine all of that and your chances for being successful are slim.

'I will always spend my first couple of range sessions hitting a lot of wedge shots, which include my pitching wedge, gap wedge, sand wedge and lob wedge. I start out with some partial swings, hitting towards targets from 20 to 50 yards. Then I will gradually lengthen out my swings until I'm hitting full shots with each club. By the time I've worked through all four of my wedges, going from partial to full swings, I will have hit at least two or three buckets of balls (225 - 330 shots) over a period of days. After that, I focus my next session or two on my mid and long irons (after first warming-up), hitting 10-15 shots with my 9-iron and progressing from there to my longer irons.

'After doing this, my muscles will have started to get used to swinging a club again, and will start to get stretched out. My range of motion will have increased, I will have started to get a good feel for hitting a golf ball again, and my timing will have started to come back. After these initial sessions, I can now start hitting my hybrids, woods and my driver. Now when I pull out the driver, I've given myself a better chance of hitting it better and I've reduced the chance that I'm going to hurt myself by taking too big of a swing before I'm ready.

'While I may take this many swings in one range session, I recommend to most individuals that they start out hitting just one bucket per session at the start of the year, so as to not incur injury. This means you might spend your first two to three range sessions hitting only irons, beginning with wedges and moving to longer irons as you warm-up. After that, you can spend less time with the shorter irons and you can progress to hitting your longer clubs (fairway woods and driver).

'Think of it this way: If a runner takes four or five months off and does no running, will he/she run anywhere close to a competitive time when they start to run again? Probably not. But give that runner a few weeks of training, and they won't be that far off. It's no different for a golfer.'

Nearly every course in the greater Bangor region features a driving range, so if you haven't done so already, get the clubs out of storage and get the new season off to a great start by visiting one of them. Remember, start slow. You will have more fun and you will decrease your chances of an early season back or shoulder injury. Here's to a great 2016 golf season!


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