"In essence you’re practicing your golf skills exclusively to perform better on the golf course"
You practice so you can become so skilled at playing golf that you make a lot more cuts than you miss - which translates into a lot more money in the bank account and the possibility of winning golf tournaments. So I‘d like to share with you a key distinction I learned about how top tour golfers practice effectively;
“You must practice in such a way that there is a high probability that you will perform better on the golf course."
Another way of thinking about it is like this; “you design your practice sessions solely to improve your playing performances.” I know that this might seem quite obvious to you but this is not what most of the golfers I’ve observed do when they practice at golf ranges. I’m sure that at some level they genuinely want to improve their golf skills to improve their performances, but they don’t think about designing their golf practice for improvement deliberately enough.
When you practice your golf skills you are attempting to modify or adjust an aspect of your physical behaviour by conditioning a new set of behaviours that you can rely on when it really counts, through a large quantity of highly focused repetition.
I’m sure that you can see that this shouldn’t be taken lightly? You need to be absolutely sure that the information you’re using is the perfect match for your particular problem. Also you cannot improve your skill set if you’re dividing your attention between trying to perfect a particular movement and also trying to hit your shot to a target on the golf range.
The Golf Practice Multi-tasking Myth
In the workplace this would be called multi-tasking and a raft of recent research shows that splitting your attention between tasks significantly reduces your effectiveness to perform optimally in the different tasks you’re focusing on.
“It is a myth to think you can work on improving some aspect of your golf swing whilst at the same time you’re trying to hit your golf ball to a target.”
But this is precisely what the vast majority of amateur golfers do.
Relevance then Repetition
When I played golf on tour I discovered that golf practice was really about continually finding ways to improve my bottom line results. So you are always zeroing in on the ideal practice method or drill because you’re travelling continually and you need to make sure that the time you invest in your improvement is highly specific and manageable.
So it’s not unusual to see a professional golfer working on one particular drill for a year or more. Since any physical change requires literally thousands of repetitions in order to build up sufficient memory, changing a weak skill requires a pro tour player to practice the drill whenever he/she gets the opportunity – which is often.
They will practice with a ball and without a ball, and they will practice in front of mirrors in their hotel room or windows at the airport; literally anywhere they can perform the practice task that leads them to a new and desired behaviour.
When they practice, they practice with a level of intensity that closely matches or simulates a real competitive situation.
“Perfect practice makes perfect” is a common cliché in sports, business and life but doesn’t really describe at all what perfect practice is, which just makes it easier for most golfers to perform “practice” without the “perfect” part.
"I believe that the ‘perfect’ component is to perform your golf practice with a level of intensity that closely matches or simulates a real competitive situation."
This means that you make sure that the entire practice routine is exactly the same routine you use when you play on the golf course. Instead of mindlessly blasting away at golf ball after golf ball you thoughtfully and carefully practice each stroke like nothing else in the world matters as much. I have observed this first hand with some of the greatest golfers in the world.
When I was a young assistant professional my idol Jack Nicklaus came to our club to play in our national championship and that week I was fortunate to work at the driving range where I got my first look at how great tour golfers practice to perform.
Jack Nicklaus was a study in concentration and not one golf ball he hit was wasted. He hit each practice shot like it really mattered to him and this practice method required his total concentration. He worked on controlling his ball flight so that the ball flew with a similar trajectory and spin shape nearly every time.
Where I observed other professionals chatting away with their friends on the range, Jack Nicklaus seemed to me to be the one serious figure who although very pleasant when someone acknowledged him was there for a very specific purpose, he was there to prepare to perform to the best of his ability.
He was not there for a social engagement he was there to work at his craft so he could take it to the course and perform. Golf practice is not a social experience, its work and you’re there solely to improve your performances on the golf course, so you never have enough time to waste on idle chit-chat.
This is where I learned an important lesson about practicing like it matters. Never waste my time, never waste a golf shot and make sure that the shot is executed to the best of my ability with my full attention on it.
The next time you decide to go to the range to work on your game, consider that you have a marvellous opportunity to start practicing with real purpose.
You can design your golf practice so that it’s highly specific, highly engaging and highly repeatable and you’ll discover that this shift in the way you go about performing your practice will build a strong and reliable bridge between practicing on the range and performing on the golf course when it really counts.
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