How To Get Better At Golf Without Lessons

Written by Michael VanDerLaan 

Smiling After a Good Golf Shot

In the world of golf, you won’t find many players who aren’t trying to get better. The journey takes almost every avenue, and there are actually a lot of answers to the question, how to get better at golf without lessons.

The value of a lesson cannot be overstated but ultimately an instructor is only going to be with you for a very short time. There are countless ways to fill the gaps between lessons and build a bridge from where your game is now to where you want it to be. 

Some of what we discuss in the article you can do at home. All of it you can work on whenever you want, rain or shine!

Our experts here at Golf Gear Advisor have immense experience playing golf at a high level. 4 NCAA National Championship rings and too many made cuts on tours to count on your hands and feet have taught us a lot about getting the ball in the hole. These are our best suggestions to help you understand how to get better at golf without lessons!

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Become A Great Putter

It doesn't matter whether your goal is to break 90 or become a tour pro, everyone can get better at putting!

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The fact is that for any golfer - amateur or professional, roughly 40% of your shots are going to come on the putting green. Think about the fact that if you have 14 clubs in your bag, if you used the rest evenly that means you are using each of the other clubs less than 5% of the time or that you use the putter almost 10x more than any other single club in your bag.

From that view, it’s staggering how important putting is as a base skill, and it is the easiest way to get better at golf without taking lessons.

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How To Get Better At Putting In Golf

Golf Ball Falling Into Hole

If you break down putting, it really comes down to just three parts: start line, speed, and green reading. These are the three essential skills which you need improve in order to get better at putting in golf.

A lot of the latest research and common sense says that getting really good at putting speed will actually make the most difference, if you can only practice one. A putt hit at the right speed has the best chance of going in, even if the start line or read are slightly off, and a putt hit at perfect speed rarely puts you at risk of a three-putt even if the read is bad.

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It should be noted that the thing that allows you to have repeatable speed is hitting the center of the face consistently, so this is very much related to practicing speed or “touch” in putting.

While you're practicing, don't be afraid to experiment with putting grip styles to find the one that works best for you.

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Putting Drills

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The best thing to do in order to get better at putting is to pick three drills, and fall in love with them. One drill should be for the start line, one drill should be for speed control, and one drill should be to just play a game where you practice going through your read, your routine, and putting the ball in the hole without thinking about the skills you’ve practiced in isolation.

Putting Drill For Start Line

Putting Drill For Start Line

Tiger Woods is famous for doing his “tee drill” his entire life since childhood. At home and on the course before every round he’s ever played, this drill is one of the best drills for practicing start line and center-face contact (which also, remember, is the #1 way to develop proper speed control). 

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A common mistake amateur golfers make when putting is to stand too close to the golf ball. This makes it very difficult to hit your start line consistently. Luckily, it is a very easy fix!

Putting Drill For Speed Control

Putting Drill For Speed Control

For speed, we love a drill called the "end zone". Here's the idea; place a club or alignment rod flat on the ground about 18 inches behind the hole. Your goal is to hit putts from different distances and get them to stop between the hole and the stick. To turn it into a game, simply give yourself 1 point for a successful putt, 0 for a putt that hits the stick and stays in the end zone, and -1 for any putt that is left short of the hole or rolls over the stick.

Another one of the best drills you can do is called “leapfrog” and there are many videos showing different variations of it online.

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The basic premise though is you hit one putt - say to 10 or 15 feet, and then you take a second ball and try to hit it past that ball but not more than one yard past it. And then repeat. This can be done with 3 balls, or 5 balls or more, and can also be done in reverse by putting a ball to 15 or 20 feet and then practicing stopping your next ball as close as possible to the previous one without going past it.

Putting Game For Practice 

Play putting games to simulate on course situations

For combining it all, it’s good to remember that the emphasis for your third drill should be strictly non-technical, and let those other drills bleed into the results.

Here we are going to simply play a game that practices reading the green, going through your routine, being COMPLETELY process-oriented, and simply rolling good putts at varied targets and hopefully making some. One great drill for this is a “5-5-12” or “par-par-birdie” game.

The gist of this game is to set up a 5 foot, 5 foot, and 12 foot putt, representing a challenging-but-makeable par, par, and birdie putts. Do this three times for 9 putts total at different holes on a practice green. A professional player can shoot under par. An amateur near scratch can shoot around even par. Shooting +1 or even +2 is very good for any amateur.

There are countless drills out there, it’s worth checking out the advice of Brad Faxon as well as Dave Pelz for two of the most classic putting gurus of the modern era. It doesn’t matter so much which drills you pick, as long as you are covering the three basic skills and you come back to the drills to develop consistency in your game.

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How To Get Better At Short Game In Golf

So you think you're already a great putter, and you're still wondering how to get better at golf without lessons. Let's talk about short game.

If putts make up 40% of your shots on average, there are many other statistics talking about how short game can take up to 50% or more of your shots, especially for amateurs. For the sake of argument we can call “short game” as anything inside 100 yards, but an even more key area is anything inside 30 yards. Focusing on shots inside of 30 yards will be one of the fastest ways to improve.

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Learn A Basic Chipping Motion

How To Get Better At Chipping Without Lessons

By far the best way to learn a basic chipping motion and get better at golf without lessons is to use alignment sticks to create chipping stations and do drills.

Creating a chipping station is a great way to begin to teach yourself how to develop you short game. The key is to put two alignment sticks shoved into the ground at the same angle as your club. One is one pace behind your ball and the other one pace in front. Both should be just a few inches closer to your feet than the ball, or “under” the perfect shaft plane.

You can definitely give yourself more room to start and then make it harder as you go. Place another stick on the ground pointing at the target to give yourself a path to swing on that is pointed at the target. The placement of these sticks makes it so that you will have the perfect path every time, and build a solid baseline chipping motion.

The other key is to make solid ball-first contact. This is best accomplished through setup, and then staying centered on that point throughout the motion. The best basic chipping setups have the weight more on the lead foot than trail foot. A good idea is to set up with the low point of your arc at the front edge of the ball.

One way to accomplish this is to set up with the ball directly below your belt buckle, and then shift your hips about 1-2 inches closer to the target so the weight is stacked about 60/40 on the front foot, and stay posted up on that front foot as the trunk and arms rotate on that point as a stable pendulum. 

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Chipping Drills

Chipping Railroad Tracks Drill

Once you have that baseline motion established, you can work on drills within that same station in order to really get better at chipping. One great drill is called “railroad tracks” where you can take clubs, alignment rods, or credit cards and lay them down on the ground 3 paces, 4 paces, 5 paces, and so forth away from your ball.

Then hit chip shots from your chipping station and try to land the ball in each of the landing areas you have created, working up and down the grid, working towards hitting every box in a row without missing one. This drill helps you learn how to hit your landing spots, and by extension how to get better at golf without lessons!

While doing this, watch how each ball rolls out and do this with different clubs. Learning to hit bump-and-run chips with gap wedges, pitching wedges, and even 7 or 8 irons is by far the best way to get better at golf around the greens. When you master this, chipping becomes as simple as “putting with loft” and you can have just as much control with your chip shots as you could with a putt.

How To Get Better At Pitches In Golf

Hitting a Pitch Shot

A basic pitch shot is going to be one of the most important weapons for a beginner or intermediate golfer. After chipping and putting, learning to pitch the ball is going to be one of the best skills for getting better at golf.

While the fun of pitching the ball is that there are almost infinite variations of pitch shots and specialty shots that can be hit around the green, the most important thing is to develop a “go-to” pitch shot and learn to develop a feel for it and use it any time it can possibly be used.

In order to do this, you basically want to use a slightly larger version of your chipping motion. The important things are choosing whether you want to hit a high, low, or medium flight pitch shot as your stock shot. This is determined mostly by ball position and release pattern, and to a lesser extent is related to swing plane. For a standard pitch shot it is recommended to keep the club on-plane the entire time.

We accomplish this by adding a little bit more hip and shoulder rotation to our chipping motion to make a slightly larger swing. Then we can either cock the wrists and return them to our original angle by releasing smoothly through the downswing for a slightly higher pitch shot with more spin or we can lean the shaft forward at address and put the ball back in our stance slightly for a lower shot, but more dependable contact, and then keep the hands “dead” through the shot while rotating the body.

A good feel is to keep the shirt buttons moving through the shot for either approach and finish with the hips and chest opening up towards the target as if you were under hand tossing a ball down the target line.

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Pitch Shot Drills

Using alignment sticks at 5 yard intervals to practice pitching is a great way to get better at golf without lessons

A basic pitch shot drill an extension of the train tracks chipping drill. Use this technique to hit flags or markers that are 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 yards away and you will start to make a lot more pars on par 4’s from off the green and birdies on par 5’s.

The lie, your ball position and release, and the angle of the green where the ball lands are going to determine what the ball does after it hits the ground, but learning to land the ball in a specific area when you need to is going to be the biggest skill in pitching the ball. Then analyze what it is going to do after it hits the ground separately.

After you can do that 70-90% of the time you can start experimenting with changing the speed and the length of your swings. Faster swings will produce balls that come out with more spin and can be used if the club head needs to keep moving through the rough or if you want one to come out a little lower and skippy. A long, slow swing will tend to produce a higher, softer shot which can still stop quickly because of the trajectory.

When you add opening and closing the face at address to these combinations, there are almost infinite variations try. Building around a stock pitch shot and learning to make slight variations is the best way to get better at golf, faster. Then only change your technique if it is absolutely impossible to hit a safe shot with your baseline technique, until you get really comfortable with the different combinations.

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Practice From 100 Yards And In

Use a clock system to dial in your yardages inside 100 yards

The best thing about practicing shots from 30-100 yards is that it is not only good for your “scoring” shots during the round, but this basic practice will also pay dividends in your full swings as well. Learning to hit a shoulder-to-shoulder wedge shot is always going to hone your full swing skills as it is just a smaller version of the most important part of your full swing.

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The key to these shots is what most golfers call the “clock system.” You will hear Tiger Woods and Bryson Dechambeau talk about this a lot.

You can learn this system by taking your favorite wedge, and don’t aim for a specific distance, but just take the arms back to shoulder-height (9 o’clock) and swing medium speed and see how far it goes. For many players this might produce a shot that carries 50-70 yards depending on their natural speed and which wedge they have, but it doesn’t matter if it’s farther or shorter than that as it is just establishing a baseline.

From there you can take the hands slightly past shoulder-high (10 o’clock), rib-height (8:30), belly-button height (8 o’clock), belt-height (7:30) or pocket-height (7 o’clock) and see how far that shot travels on average. 

Once you have that then learn the distances that your other wedges and you will be able to hit every single yardage between 30 and 100 or so yards. It might sound complicated, but just start with your favorite wedge and a 9 o’clock position, and it will be very intuitive to build a variety of shots from there.

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Short Game Drills

Playing short game drills is a great way to get better at golf quickly

Honestly, the greatest short game drill ever was made famous by Harvey Penick in his “Little Red Book” of golf wisdom. This is one of the masterpieces of golf literature and is filled with gems.

While you will find countless short game drills out there, one of the keys of the short game is to be more of an artist than a scientist. Touch, feel, and imagination are far more important than technique around the greens.

This drill puts all of that together and is the best way to blend all of the skills you’ve been working on. And it’s incredibly simple.

Harvey said he always taught all his students to practice their short game with only one ball. First chip or pitch it on the green, and then go putt it out and try to get up-and-down with it over and over again from different locations and different pins. By doing this rather than dumping out a pile of balls and hitting a dozen chip shots in a row to the same pin, you start to emulate golf course situations. 

Learning how to get better at golf without lessons is all about taking your skills to the golf course!

How To Get Better At Golf At Home

While home practice is quickly becoming more and more effective, especially since it came to the forefront in 2020, there are a few things that can make it dramatically more efficient, especially if you are trying to learn how to get better at golf without lessons.

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Use Training Aids

Using training aids properly can help you get better at golf without lessons

These are just a few of the training aid options out there that can help you get better at golf without lessons

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Training aids can be as simple as golf tees, alignment sticks, golf towels, an extra glove or head cover used to set up stations or keep you from moving in the wrong way during swing drills. They can also be elaborate modern inventions and there’s no shortage of quirky items you’ll see at your local driving range or even your local PGA Tour event practice range.

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The key to any training aid is to know how to use it properly. Many training aids today will come with short instructional videos or a step by step process printed on paper. And if you're still unsure, you can always google your specific training aid!

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Whether it’s a towel-under-the-arms, a head cover on the ground to avoid while striking the ball, or something more involved like the Hanger or the Chiliwacker, combining these with a practice net and/or foam golf balls can turn any high-ceiling room or backyard into a home practice area, and you’ll be well on your way to getting better at golf.

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Use A Mirror

Even if you cannot actually hit balls at home, you can use a mirror to practice swing feels and train your brain what the proper swing positions look like, such as coming from the inside or having a full turn in the backswing.

If you can hit balls, it is still even better to combine it with a mirror. If you know what to look for, a mirror can be one of the best ways to get better at golf without lessons or a coach. It helps solve the conundrum of “feel vs. real” that every golfer faces by showing you exactly what your feel actually looks like.

Use the mirror to rehearse positions and then hit partial shots or even just swing with no ball or no club at home or in the office. It might be hard to consider yourself a real golfer until you’ve had the thrill of almost being caught rehearsing your swing in the mirror of a public restroom!

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Use A Golf Specific Exercise Program for Flexibility And Conditioning

One of the best ways to get better at golf without lessons or going to the course is to focus on exercise and conditioning. All the best golfers do some kind of workout program, and the average golfer can probably benefit from it more than anyone.

Whether it’s something as intense as throwing kettlebells or doing deadlifts to increase raw power in the swing, or something as gentle as yoga to increase flexibility and balance, or using exercise bands to feel some resistance while doing simple core exercises, exercising at home can help a lot. You’d be surprised too how much easier it is to train certain body motions when you take away the challenge of hitting the ball at the same time. You might even progress quicker than you imagined was possible.

Our preferred method exercise program currently is the GOLFFOREVER system that you may have seen advertised on Golf Channel. Click our link for free shipping and start getting in golf shape today!

How To Get Better At Golf Quickly

Getting better at golf quickly is one of the hardest things to do, but there are definitely a few ways to not waste any time. Aside from focusing on your scoring shots and finding ways to practice even when you can’t get to the course, by far the best thing you can do to advance your game is to become obsessed with the fundamentals, such as your setup, grip, and shot routine.

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Use A Proper Golf Grip

Proper Golf Grip

The proper grip is the most fundamental aspect of hitting a golf shot, as it is our only connection to the club and therefore affects everything about the shot. A proper golf grip can come in a lot of varieties such as strong, weak, neutral and interlocking or overlapping, but there are some commonalities that cannot be avoided.

Grip Pressure

Feeling the correct grip pressure by gripping an open tube of toothpaste

One of the biggest struggles for amateur golfers is gripping the club too hard, but gripping it too soft can also be a problem. It’s a subtle thing to explain, but finding the right grip pressure can be one of the most important things you ever do as a golfer!

Remember that not all club grips are created equal. Finding the right grip for your hands and style will make a huge difference in your ability to execute day in and day out!

The Right Grip For You

Ultimately a grip is somewhat of a personal choice. Whether you use interlock, overlap, or some other grip style, something slightly different works for everyone. You will see golfers with grips at all ends of the spectrums playing on the PGA Tour and in the golf hall of fame. A lot of it has to do with just matching what their hands are doing or not doing through impact to produce the shot shape they prefer.

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Work On Alignment

If you talk to PGA Tour golf coaches they will all say that nothing matters unless you are lined up correctly, and they still regularly work on this with their players. PGA Tour players also work on alignment more often than anything else in practice because it is one of the hardest things to get right day after day, year after year.

For a professional, it might mean being slightly offline and the difference between hitting fairways and making cuts or not. For an amateur it can mean miss hits and lost balls even when your swing feels perfect. The good news is it’s one of the easiest things to work on at home in order to get better at golf without taking lessons.

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Alignment Drills

Working on alignment using alignment aids pointed to your target

One of the most basic alignment drills is to simply place an alignment stick or golf club on the ground, pointed towards your target. In your setup position, make sure that your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders are all parallel to that line. Once you do this, do it again and again and again!

On the driving range you can use smartphone camera to check your progress. Be sure when taking videos of yourself to have the camera always pointed squarely at your hands. This applies whether it’s a face-on or down-the-line video, it should be centered on your hands and not angled at all.

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Develop A Pre-Shot Routine And Stick To It

There’s a great truism in golf that a “fully committed shot with the wrong club to the wrong target always ends up better than having the perfect club and the perfect target and hitting an uncommitted shot.” And the best way to hit committed shots is to fully dedicate yourself to the club, target, and type of shot you are going to hit, and then completely go into a routine that executes that shot, and worry about the results later (or never).

It sounds simple, and it is, but it is one of the hardest things to do in golf but also one of the things that good golfers do better than anyone else.

Work On Your Mental Game

Arnold Palmer once said, "Golf is a game of inches. The most important are the six inches between your ears." This is one of the wisest things ever said in golf. Arnie was one of the most mentally skilled and tough player to ever pick up a club. There are relatively fewer teachers who are able to teach this side of the game, so taking it upon yourself to seek out resources is one of the best ways you can get better at golf without lessons.

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How To Get Better Mentally At Golf

One of the best resources for getting better mentally at golf is featured in Scott Fawcett’s work on the D.E.C.A.D.E. system as the Mental Scorecard system developed by Dr. Lardon.

Understanding this system highlights a lot of the key ways that the mental approach to the game can impact your scoring, rather than focusing on a lot of philosophical one-liners. If you look at this system and what the mental scorecard keeps track of, you see the theme: being process oriented, and detached from outcomes and emotions.

This is the nuts and bolts of realizing that the best golfers take a big-picture view and make their game as simple as possible - because they have the experience of knowing that the final score on the card is the result of a lot of tiny margins throughout the day, and getting too high or too low about any of them is only going to distract you from your process.

Learn To Play Your Ball Flight

Practicing ball flights helps you get better at golf without lessons

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The best golfers on the planet have a go-to ball flight. Some will experiment with different shots, but many, such as Dustin Johnson (fade), Zach Johnson (draw), Colin Morikawa (fade), Sungjae Im (fade), or Lucas Glover (draw) hit the same shape the vast majority of the time. The times that they go against their natural flight are usually very extraordinary circumstances where an obstacle doesn’t allow them to. It is even rarer for these players to change shapes with their driver. If they do go against their preferred shape it will be with wedges or irons.

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Needless to say, amateurs should be hitting their natural shape even more often, and focus on avoiding areas where an obstacle would force them to do otherwise. And amateurs should virtually never try to hit more than one shape with their driver.

Check out the image above for a great practice station to practice ball flights. Your target zone in this drill is inside the cone created by the alignment stick and the rope. The goal is to start the golf ball inside the alignment stick, and curve it towards the rope without leaving the cone. In the image, the ball flight being practiced is a draw.

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Don’t Work On Your Swing During A Round Of Golf

Even for good players, one of the worst things you can do is work on your swing during a round. The best players play golf typically without a swing thought. Some great players have a swing thought, but only one!

Any more than this is a disaster waiting to happen. It doesn’t matter if you are in the midst of a swing change or if you’re struggling anyway, you will always be better off saving the analysis for between rounds. 

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Keep Track Of Your Statistics And Track Your progress

Tracking your stats will help you learn what to work on so you can get better at golf without lessons

Aside from the mental scorecard that we mentioned earlier, keeping track of just very basic golf statistics can help you determine what to practice in order to make the biggest leaps in your game and get better at golf without lessons. The basic golf statistics are: total putts, fairways hit, and greens in regulation.

A more advanced technique is what’s called the “Tiger 5.” Tiger Woods used to say that if he could minimize these five stats he would always be in contention:

  1. Three putts
  2. Bogeys on par 5’s
  3. Bogeys inside 150 yards
  4. Blown easy up-and-downs
  5. Double bogeys

Sounds easy right? This is another great way to track your scores and see exactly how many of your over-par strokes come from these categories. You will usually see that if you do one of these too much, it comes more often from a mental error than a lack of ability.

Finally, if you want more advanced statistics, there are countless phone applications that allow you to enter statistics during or after a round and generate simple strokes-gained statistics, which can tell you even more about your game for very little effort. A few examples are the Decade app, the Arccos app, the Golfmetrics app, or the 18Birdies app.

While we wouldn't call tracking stats an absolute essential, it is one of the fastest ways to understanding your game and improvement path!

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Final Thoughts

Ultimately, how you improve at golf is up to you. Whether you want to get better at golf without lessons or with the help of an instructor, what you do in between lessons or rounds is going to pay real dividends.

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Whether it’s focusing on your short game, getting better at ball striking using training aids, practicing fundamentals every chance you get, or just training yourself to stop making mental errors, there are tons of ways to get better at golf without lessons. The key is having a few pieces of good advice and then applying them in a structured, consistent way rather than jumping from swing-tip to swing-tip and over the course of months and years you will slowly chip away at your weaknesses.

Pay attention to the small details! Things like keeping your grips clean will pay long term dividends that you may not even think about currently.

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The tips detailed in this article will help you fix everything from a slice to a hook, even to stop topping the ball! No matter what the flaw in your golf game, you can get better.

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And there is one secret that never fails to help you play better golf... have fun!

Photo of author

Michael VanDerLaan

Michael is an Associate Editor here at Golf Gear Advisor. He is a playing professional with a passion for finding the best equipment through product testing and evaluation. He has an intimate knowledge of the golf swing and a very effective way of communicating his knowledge to those that are interested in learning more. As an Associate Editor at Golf Gear Advisor, Michael shares his knowledge about the golf swing, fitness and finding the right equipment for your game.

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