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Practice Strategies

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Practice Both Mechanics And How To Play

After playing and teaching competitive golf during the majority of my life, I’ve seen lots of different approaches to the game that have or have not worked. It’s safe to say that there are at least two games out there. One is golf swing, and the other is golf. It makes sense to practice both how to swing the club and how to play because they are very different from one another. From the very beginning of this program I want you to start thinking about the concept of how to make your practice transfer to the course.

When you practice your golf swing on the range, you have a number of things going for you.

  • You have flat lies for every shot
  • You have nothing creating any visual stress
  • You have the security of knowing you can always hit another one if you don’t hit this ball well
  • The time delay between each shot is as much or as little as you would like - it helps you get a "groove" instead of a swing for the course

These advantages instantly disappear when you go on to the golf course. Each lie is slightly different. The distances change each shot. There is consequences for bad shots. And you have to negotiate about 5 minutes of down time between shots.

Practicing on the range can be a great thing, but you need to devote part of your practice to mechanics and an almost equal amount to practicing playing. We now know that muscle memory doesn’t really exist as it was once thought. Simple repetitions of the body parts does not transfer a skill to game time performance. You need to integrate the brain in the whole experience.

Here are a few ways to make your range practice more effective.

MIX it up!

Change clubs and change targets often. It will be amazing to you how you can hit 20 seven irons beautifully, but then, if you hit 5 drivers, and switch back to the seven iron, there is a good chance that your next swing won’t be solid. You should practice going from long clubs to short clubs, and vice-a-versa.

Never miss an opportunity to learn

Let me ruin the ending of this movie for you, you are going to hit bad shots. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from them. Before you get emotional and reach for another ball, take a second, hold your finish, and imagine what the club did to hit that shot and what you are going to do differently. Make a single rehearsal of this new correct swing, then approach another ball. This helps with two skills of playing golf. One is visualization, and the other is the ability to recover. Elite golfers, even the ones who get mad and throw tantrums, are able to accept the shot they hit and let go. I’ve played with a lot of GOOD, but not elite, golfers who have a hard time letting go of a single bad shot.

Movement vs memorizing

When learning a skill, you want practice to provide repetitions with specific feedback, but you also want to use it as the chance to experiment with overcoming challenges. Think of learning a movement more like training a muscle than memorizing a list of words. To memorize a list you COULD just read it over and over again and probably do just fine. But to train a muscle, if you want it to keep growing, you have to stress it with increasing weight. You can’t just lift the same 5 pound weight every time you workout and expect to gain a lot of size or strength. The true can be said for a movement.

Think of this skill progression of weight.

  • hitting it well a couple times within a practice
  • hitting it well most of the time within a practice
  • hitting it well on the range with someone watching
  • hitting it well with multiple balls on the course
  • hitting it well with a single ball on the course, by yourself
  • hitting it well with a single ball, on the course, with playing partners
  • hitting it well, with a single ball, on the course, in a tournament
  • hitting it well, with a single ball, on the course, in the most important round of your year.

Mechanical AND transfer are important

When you go to the range, do some mechanical practice, but also focus a lot on transfer practice, like playing imaginary holes or scrimmages with yourself on the range. If the skill breaks down on the course, it could mean that your expectations are unrealistic for where the skill is and you need to practice at a different level of the skill progression.

Playlists: Start Here, Practice Strategies

Tags: Fundamentals, Beginner

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