We all want to get better at golf and we know the importance great golf practice plays in our development, but few golfers know the best way to go about this process. In this article we’ll cover three types of golf practice you should use. We’ll explain when to use each and how to master each type of practice.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why read this?
- 2 Three types of golf practice
- 3 Technical practice
- 4 Skill development
- 5 Pressure practice
- 6 Golf practice – putting it all together
- 7 Summary
Why read this?
Over the past 15 years of coaching golf I’ve found there are two key problems that often prevent golfers getting better. The three types of practice outlined here are not golfing secrets, but they are the best tools I’ve found to help golfers get better.
Let’s look at the problems:
#1 Understanding how the body learns to play golf
Explaining how we learn to control movements is a complex topic. We weren’t designed to swing a lump of metal around our body in an attempt to hit a little white ball. The three types of practice in this article approach learning the game of golf in a way that is more natural and fits the way our body wants to learn.
#2 Developing a mechanically sound, natural swing
Golfing performance is dependent on sound mechanics. The better your mechanics, the less you rely on timing to hit great shots. At the same time, the more you think about your golf swing the less effective your swing becomes.
This is one of the most challenging aspects of coaching golf – how do you improve technique, but prevent overthinking. The three types of practice in this article attempt to overcome this conflict when practicing golf.
Three types of golf practice
Use the links below if you wish to jump to a particular section.
The follow sections breakdown each type of practice. I must note – all three types of practice will look very similar to someone watching you. What really changes is your intent and thought process for every shot you hit.
There is no such thing as a perfect golf swing, but getting closer to textbook, or your ideal positions can help you return the club head to the ball accurately and more consistently.
The aim of technical practice
The aim of technical practice is to change your movement pattern, not to hit 30 perfect golf shots in a row.
Long term we hope your swing changes will make you a better player, but short term your body has to work out how on earth to hit the golf ball with this new movement.
Here comes the conflict – you make a great swing technically, but as a result hit a poor shot. The body decides the movement isn’t worth engraining. The following steps outline the best way to practice your technique to overcome this conflict.
Stages of great technical practice
- Make repetitions of your new swing in a mirror or window. Gain feedback on if you can execute the movements correctly. Begin with part practice, and slowly progress to whole practice. Slow-mo golf practice swings are really tough to do but very useful.
- Practice hitting shots in a net. This allows you to practice your new movement whilst having to make contact with the golf ball. However, we’ve removed the ball flight meaning your body cares less about where the ball ends up and allows you to keep engrain your swing change. It can be handy to vary the speed and length of swings you use during this type of practice.
- Block practice on the range. Hit 20 shots with a 7-iron to the 150 yard marker. Follow this with 20 pitching wedges to the 100 yard marker…you get the idea. This stable practice environment allows your body to learn to hit more accurate golf shots with your new swing changes.
- Varied practice on the range. This next step adds more variability and decision making to your golf practice. It involves mixing up your shot selection and clubs you use. You may choose five 7-irons, followed by five Drivers… Or you may keep the same club and hit different shots – low, draw/fade etc. During this type of golf practice you will make more errors, but it will help make your new movement pattern more robust and transfer on to the golf course. You can read more about the contextual interference effect and transfer of learning here.
- Practice on the course – Your aim here is to still focus on making correct movements, but you now have the most realistic of all practice environments – the golf course. What you lose on the golf course is the number of reps, so where possible, try to hit an extra few shots to refine your swing changes in play.
The five steps above make this process sound very straight forward, in reality you’ll find you jump around a little more. During the first few weeks of making a swing change try to spend most of your time in stages 1, 2 and 3. After a few weeks spend most of your time in stages 3, 4 and 5.
The practice structure above is the best way I’ve found (to date) to embed swing changes and help transfer them onto the golf course.
If you’ve spent any amount of time playing golf you will have experienced one of those chunks of time where you disappear down a blackhole of golfing technique. You swing looks better and better on video, at the same time your scores and ability to hit golf shots gets worse and worse.
The good news is you’re not alone. We’ve all been there, before I turned pro I played off a 4 handicap and didn’t break 80 for an entire year as I got more and more lost in perfecting my golf swing.
The reality is that the golf ball doesn’t care about your club face position at the top of your golf swing. Your body doesn’t care about what is deemed correct according to the PGA coaching manuals.
Golf is a game of skill and your body is great at solving problems. Skill development practice focuses on that naked truth – how doesn’t matter, as long as it works and repeats.
Developing your technique is important, but to become great at golf you need a blend of technical practice and skill development practice.
The aim of skill development practice
Solve the problem of hitting accurate golf shots over and over again.
During technical practice your aim is to change your movement pattern. In skill development practice you need to shift your focus to the target and shot outcome. Let your body self-organise the movements and just stay focused on hitting great golf shots.
This is a subtle change in approach, however it is so important. Stop interfering with your body learning to play golf.
What does skill development practice look like?
Fun games – I’ve spent the passed eight years building many of these ‘games’ for golf pros on mini tours (Europro/Challenge Tour). These games represent ‘chunks’ of golfing skill you need to develop to score well.
Some focus on putting conversion rates, others focus on driving accuracy and proximity to the hole with iron shots. All these skills will help you become a better golfer.
A key reason I see so many golfers plateau whether it be at 21 or a +1 handicap is that they don’t practice in this way. They forget what the game of golf is actually about – they stop developing their golfing skill.
Great skills games have:
- A clear performance goal (optimise chipping accuracy, refine iron distance control, reduce wayward drives).
- Have a scoring system that rewards you for great shots.
- Have a set amount of shots or time to complete the task.
- Allow you to repeat week after week to track your progress.
You can even tailor the skills games to punish you for your personal poor shots. Check out the example game below. This is a simple game you can play on the golf range that is ideal if you suffer from a slice or push.
Playing these skills games also improve your ‘technique’. Not at a visible level, but as you practice in this way your body will make subtle adaptations to your swing. It learns to how to adapt your basic movement to hit different shots, it also will learn to make online corrections when things go wrong.
The result is more great shot and better misses.
Playing these games over and over allows these subtle adaptations to be learned and engrained with no need for conscious thought. We don’t need to interfere with our body’s brilliant ability to do this. Instead, we need to remove interference and just focus on our aim – get the ball in the hole.
Last in our trio of practices we have pressure practice. Playing great golf counts for very little if we can’t perform when need to. Everyone wants the ability to play great under pressure, yet how much time do you dedicate to practicing it?
The aim of pressure practice
There is so much I want to cover in this section, but I’ll do my best to keep it short and sweet. To dive deeper into this topic check out this golf psychology article.
The aim is to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Pressure practice should lead to difficult decisions, negative thoughts and failure. This is a good thing, as it allows you to develop and hone skills for coping with such situations that arise during competition.
The same skills games, a different focus
Pressure practice uses the same type of skills games described above. The game could involve holing 10 putts in a row from 5-feet, hitting 3 chips in a row inside 3-feet or hitting 3 drives in a row between two targets on your golf range.
All that changes is the constraints of task and your intent.
In pressure practice you cannot leave until you have completed the task. Every time you fail you start again… I will note it does help you have a pre-agreed cut-off. I normally use 20 to 40 minutes with the pros I work with.
The point isn’t necessarily to complete the task. It is to understand what happens when you miss. You’ll find that as you get to the last 1-2 shots the doubts begin, you will fail and have to start again. When this happens you can learn how to become a brilliant pressure player. Make a note of:
- Where do you miss? (short, long, left, right)
- What happens technically?
- Did your thought process or routine deviate?
- Were you too blasé, or too intense in your thinking?
- How could you have dealt with it better?
Your aim is to collect this data and develop personalised strategies that help you in these situations. For example, when I missed a putt under pressure I tend to experience a slight doubt about pace, I make a tentative stroke and often push the putt.
I’ve learned this over many, many hours of playing these games. Under pressure I now know to commit to my line, I know to make a positive stroke and I know that if I’m feeling anxious I’m best aiming 1/4″ further left, just incase I make a poor stroke.
The section above highlights the hidden difference between a good putter and a great putter under pressure.
You too can build these failsafes into your own game, by putting yourself in the situation over and over again and learning what happens.
There are two pieces of information I can give you to help your pressure golf practice, and play under pressure.
- Having negative thoughts is fine and normal. It is how quickly you can get back to focusing on your process that counts.
- Research with elite golfers has shown that the same coping strategy, for the same player, in the same situation is not always successful a second time. Meaning you’ll need to develop a range of tools to help you perform well under pressure – there isn’t one magic bullet.
Golf practice – putting it all together
There we have three types of golf practice that will really help you develop as a player. They will also keep your practice fun and fresh.
When should you use each? Well that depends on the time of year and your current needs. I find that most golfers benefit from a blend of technical and skill development practice each week. Then sprinkle in some pressure practice before big events and during the main playing season.
Check out this article to learn more about planning an annual training program.
Below is a snapshot of a pro’s schedule during a tournament week. The green is technical practice, purple is skill development and orange is pressure practice. The red time slots represent the practice and tournament rounds.
This isn’t perfect, but it gives you an ideal of what a pro’s schedule might look like.
Three types of golf practice – technical, skill development, pressure practice. Use all three, and importantly, be clear what your focus is when you next head out for a practice session.
I hope this gives you a good template to reach your golfing goals. You can check out the Golf Insider Performance Diary if you want a way to track your progress. Also, if you would like articles like this one sent to your inbox every Monday come join the Golf Insider weekly post.
Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK
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