How a major league bullpen can help you … on the driving range 

Former major league pitcher David Wells, left, in 2020.

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Earlier this week on the driving range at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, in advance of the American Century Championship, former left-handed pitcher David Wells had just completed golf’s version of a bullpen session.

“In baseball, I was blessed,” Wells said. “I could hit a gnat’s ass from 60 feet, 6 inches nine times out of 10.”

If only hitting greens were as easy as painting corners.

“I get so frustrated out here sometimes,” he said. “This game will drive you crazy.”

Still, he added, his long tenure on the diamond has taught him lessons about practice that transferred nicely to the driving range. Here are four.

Reverse psychology

During his 21-year-career, Wells was often wary of spot-on bullpen sessions. 

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“I’d get nervous,” he said. “To me, it meant I was going to have a bad game.” 

A lot of superstitious golfers can relate: Hitting pure shots during warm-ups somehow seems like a bad sign. The solution, Wells said, is reverse psychology. 

“I would tell myself that I’d sucked in the bullpen so that I could have a good game,” he said. “Even if my coaches were telling me how good I’d looked, I’d tell them I’d been terrible. It was just a way I had of getting into the right mindset.” 

Nowadays, when he pures his irons and driver during practice, he plays the same game on himself.

Remain in the moment

In baseball, Wells found, future-tripping was a good way of getting shelled. Dwelling on past pitches was unproductive, too. 

“I was an emotional player,” Wells said. “I had to work hard on not getting too far ahead of myself, and not beating myself up for stuff that already happened.” 

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In the bullpen, he worked on staying in the moment, which helped keep him level-headed. One pitch at a time. One shot at a time. 

“You know you’re going to have some good ones and some bad ones,” he said. “All you can do is focus on the one you face right now.”

Work briskly

Everything came naturally to Wells in baseball. Golf requires a lot more work.

“Whenever I’m standing over the ball too long, I know I’m in trouble,” he said. “That’s when I start getting lost in swing thoughts.” 

On the range, he tries to channel his inner ace from baseball. Pick the target. Set up. And go.

Stay loose

In baseball, as in golf, tension is the enemy of speed, power and precision.

“When you choke a change-up with your grip, you’re going to spike it,” Wells said. “If you choke a fastball, you’re going to throw it four or five mph slower.” 

On the mound, Wells knew that he had to stay loose. He tries to do the same when he’s on the range.

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A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.