Will Hitting Off Mats Hurt My Golf Game?
For the majority of golf players around the world, their first interaction with the golf ball happens over a mat. It’s just easier and more practical to practice the moves on a mat before hitting the real turf.
The question is, do mats mimic the real feel of grass? Or, will it harm your gameplay in the long run?
In this post, we’ll try to answer this age-old question. We get questions from curious golfers all the time whether it’s good or bad to hit shots off the mat. At the end of this post, you’ll be able to judge for yourself.
Why Are Golf Mats Used?
You won’t be wrong if you think about why mats exist in the first place. If every practice range had grass patches for the players, the question would never have raised, right?
Well, it all comes down to cost. Both course owners and driving range authorities are trying to maximize their profits while accommodating as many players at once as they can. Making people come costs money.
And upkeeping real grass can create a huge hole in their bank accounts. You’ll be amazed if you ever have the chance to go through the bank statements of one of the golf courses. They spend huge amounts of money to keep the grass nice, smooth, and tightly mowed for the players.
When it comes to driving ranges or practice grounds, the cost just doesn’t make sense. If there were real grass at the driving ranges, you’ll have to pay a lot more for your practice sessions. For the majority of the players around the world, the extra cost would be a pain.
So, is hitting off the golf mats good or bad? The real answer is, it can be both.
How? Let’s find out.
Golf Mats vs Real Grass
Think of the mats as simulators. Just like there are driving simulators, there are golf simulators.
In driving simulators, you can control the car with realistic physics and introduce many variables which will, in turn, help you on the road. But it’s just not possible to incorporate other factors like asphalt grip coefficient, wind resistance, micro bumps on the surface, suspension feedback, and so on.
As a result, when you actually go out there to drive, you’ll find that the experience is quite different from the simulator. However, if you spend enough time at the simulator, you’ll get the basic idea of driving and will be better able to handle the newly introduced situations.
The same law applies to golf mats. You work on your game on the mats and the shot simulators, but the real experience is always going to be different.
Now, we’re going to look at some obvious differences between real grass and mats.
The Club Face and the Ball
The majority of the golf mats on the market have smooth grass-like textures. The high-quality ones are often known as real-feel mats and they are great for beginners.
However, when you switch to the real course, you’ll notice that the shots will feel different. It will be subtle in most cases, but you’ll certainly notice it.
Why is that?
It’s just because real grass doesn’t respond as fake grass. When you’re hitting from the fairway or the tee box, there will be grass blades, dirt, moisture, etc. coming between the face and the ball. It’s just not possible with the golf mats.
When you hit off the mats, there will be practically nothing between the club face and the ball. It creates crisper feedback to the players. So, if you’re having spectacular driving range sessions but they’re not translating well in the course, the golf mat you practice on might be one of the culprits.
The firmness of the surface you stand on plays a huge role in the feedback of your club. Real grass is hard but it has a certain give to it. Many high-quality mats on the market have tried to mimic the firmness but failed.
Mats are often harder than real grass. And over time, they become even harder. As a result, you can never create the divot you would have created at the course on a mat.
Also, the hard nature of the mats has a great chance of damaging your clubs over time. The hard surface and the feedback from it will put extra stress on the club head and the shaft. It will dramatically reduce the lifespan of your precious irons or wedges!
The Injury Risks of Mats
One of the prime reasons behind why the debate of whether grass mats are good or bad exists is the risk of injury.
You already know that the golf mats are harder than real turf. What does it mean? It means that you’ll be putting more stress on your clubs. Especially if you play with longer clubs off the mat, you’ll notice that your joints, arms, and wrists start to feel sore. Because the harsh feedbacks are received by your arms through the shaft.
It’s not rocket science to understand why that’s bad. Anything that creates discomfort or even imposes a chance of creating discomfort is bad.
When the mats are new, the injuries are not so prominent. It almost feels like the real thing. However, as time progresses, it becomes harder and harder to control your swing to stop hurting yourself.
Speaking of swing, using mats for too long will have a negative impact on your swing. How? Let’s find out!
How Mats Can Ruin Your Swing?
When you start to hurt your body without knowing, your body will readjust your movements to compensate for the damage. That’s the natural law of the human body.
It’s very dangerous territory for golf players. When you spend too much time on the mats, your body starts to notice the harmful effects of soreness on your muscles and joint pains. As a result, you subconsciously change your swing path so that the joints don’t hurt anymore.
The most possible way of getting injured is when you come down on the ball. So, to prevent it from happening, your swing will become more and more shallow over time. A certain bit of shallowness on the attack angle is good, but nothing of too much is ever good.
The accuracy of shots with complex clubs like irons or wedges is only possible to achieve when you come down on the ball. The downward attack angle causes the ball to create a backspin and as a result, it lands near the target with appropriate height.
All of these go to waste when you hit off the mats too much. So, in this case, at least, hitting off the golf mats will hurt your game.
Mats Give You Improper Information of Your Shots
It’s a real bummer. And it’s probably the biggest reason why you should stay off of mats as much as possible. Due to the construction of mats, they often provide wrong information about a shot which can negatively impact your performance at the course.
Here are the few most important pieces of information that you may be receiving from the wrong end.
Balls Fly Farther
You already know that the contact between the club face and the ball is crisper on a mat. There are no loose grass blades, moisture, dirt from the ground, or anything else between the two. It all results in a farther distance. If you hit 150 yards on the course, you may hit 170 off the mats!
How does it happen?
Even with lower launch speeds and higher angles, a ball struck from the mat can travel greater distances due to the lack of backspin. When you hit from the grass, the ball gets more backspin that limits the flight.
On mats, that’s not the case.
It has been proven by a study conducted by Trackman, one of the gourmet manufacturers of Radar technology to monitor impacts.
20 yards from our example is quite a dramatic jump. To compensate for the gap, you will need to hit the balls harder when on the course. However, if you don’t process the information well, you’ll suffer from a lack of distance.
Fat Shots Feel Different
Suffering from fat shots is a real problem among rookie players. A fat shot in golf is when you hit the ground before you hit the ball. It dramatically impacts the flight direction and distance of the ball.
Fat shots are more experience with irons because the divot is quite a few inches ahead of the ball position. You set the ball directly under your chest while the divot is closer to your lead foot.
The problem is, when you hit fat shots on the mat, they don’t feel as bad. As mats don’t let you create divots on it, the ball still flies quite fast and quite far. But when you hit the same shot from grass, your ball won’t fly as far and the accuracy will be compromised as well.
Another huge problem is that there is no penalty for fat shots. A player may be hitting one after another without even realizing what the real problem is! It can cause a lot of problems for your golf career if you don’t fix it before it’s too late.
The Lie Angle
The lie angle is a very important aspect of golf clubs but players don’t seem to give it enough attention. It’s true for even some experienced players.
The lie angle is essentially the angle created between the golf shaft and the ground when the sole is laying flat. You may think that it’s going to be a 90-degree angle but that’s not the case.
When the angle is too vertical on the mat, you’ll hit the heel of the club first. It will most definitely get you a pulled shot if not a shank.
On the other hand, when you hit the same shot on the grass, the ground makes the impact far less aggressive and you can achieve the distance and the direction you want. Even if your shots have problems, a PGA instructor can diagnose those by going over the divots you create on the grass.
On golf mats, there are just no divots!
It Damages the Clubs
We’ve briefly discussed how mats can affect your clubs in one of our previous sections. In this section, we’re going to expand on that area.
These damages we’re talking about start with the marks found on your sole. At first, they look like nothing but cosmetic damages. However, with time, as the mats get more baked into the ground, you’ll start to notice more severe damages.
The irons usually take the hardest damages. The lie angle may get altered with the powerful impacts over and over. The club face may start to show cracks here and there. In the worst-case scenario, you may get your club broken entirely!
Why Are Irons Easier to Hit from the Mat?
For many players and coaches out there, they admit that hitting an iron from the mat is way easier than hitting a hybrid, a fairway wood, or a 3-iron.
That’s partly due to the construction of the clubs. You already know that the mats generate stronger feedback. So, when you’re dealing with long clubs, it’s only normal that you’ll experience harder impacts. The hard surface will create more pain and discomfort in your joints and muscles.
Irons, on the other hand, have relatively shorter club shafts and a thinner sole. What it does is helps glide over the mat without bouncing it all over the place. Also, thanks to the thinner sole, the club head doesn’t stick to the mat as much.
Why Do People Use Mats? What are the Advantages?
If mats have so many problems, isn’t it wiser to pay the price and always use grass on driving ranges? Why do they still have mats?
It’s a very good question to ask. Let’s try to answer it as best as we can.
As bad as mats may sound, they have some advantages that you don’t get with any other surface.
It’s Great for Quick Practices
If you’re a busy individual and don’t get enough time as you would like for your practice, a golf mat can do wonders for you. You can get set up very quickly and hit shots after shots without having to change your position or fetching the ball every time.
Another big reason is the maintenance. As you’re already busy with work, you obviously won’t have enough time to maintain the grass patch. So, for those who like to get on with practice within a few minutes, golf mats are a great choice.
It Helps to Diagnose Wedge Issues
Wedges are a little different than all of the other clubs in your bag. The sole is often quite wide that creates the ‘bounce’ off the ground.
Due to the lack of give on the mats, the bounce becomes even more prominent. So, if you’ve been struggling with your pitching at the course, you may want to try a few shots from the mats to see if you’re digging too much on the ground. The firm surface will kick back on your wedge when you do.
Mats are Great for Indoor Practice
Depending on which part of the world you live in, you may not always get warm sunny weather. Or, it might rain so hard that your local golf course went underwater. In all of these situations, a golf mat will come in very handy.
Most mats are only a few square meters in size so you get to place them at all the convenient locations like your backyard or garage without taking up too much space for practice.
Mats Can Help You Practice Ball Position
Ball position is a fundamental part of any swing setup. There’s no reason to go to a golf course for the sake of practicing golf ball positions. That’s where mats come into play.
You can easily set up a training aid on your mat and practice the golf ball positions all day. You can even take help from alignment sticks to better understand why ball position matters for your flight path.
Mats are Good for Perfecting Your Posture
During their rookie days, many golf players suffer from the proper posture. Let’s admit it, a golf posture is not something that comes naturally to people. Especially when you think about the upper body and lower body isolation, it takes some practice.
What is the best way to practice posture? With golf mats!
Mats are Fundamental Parts of Simulators
For the fortunate and luxurious players, they often set up a simulator in their homes! And a top of the line mat is an integral part of any simulator.
So, if you’re wondering how it will feel to play at Augusta National Golf Club without getting out of your home in California, there’s no other way than a mat. However, you’ll also need an extremely expensive simulator to pair up with it.
The Technology is Changing
The golf mat technology has indeed come a long way. We see more real-feel mats than ever before. Surprisingly enough, they feel amazing as well. The prices are still on the higher side of the spectrum, but they can certainly work.
So, if you’re able to afford a top-quality mat for your home or you know for a fact that your local driving range has one, there’s no reason you should utilize those.
Mats Help with Your Drivers
We all know that drivers are hit from the tees. So, the firm surface often means nothing on the mats. If your target is to get as much distance with your driver as you can, there’s nothing wrong with practicing on a mat. Chances are, you’ll never touch the mat once!
There’s no doubt that golf mats have helped thousands of players to get acquainted with the sport. Rather than asking whether hitting off the golf mats will hurt your game or not, you should become aware of how a mat differs from the real turf.
Awareness is more important than anything else. Just like every other aspect of golf, mats come with both advantages and disadvantages. It’s your job to learn about them and tweak your gameplay according to them.