Golf Practice: 3 ways you should practice golf to improve
Golf practice, why do we do it? We all like to trudge off to the range or practice putting green with balls in hand. We all have the same aim. We want to get better, we want to perform better tomorrow than we did today. But are we doing it right?
How we learn and control movements is a seriously complex problem. I’m 7 years into lecturing and researching the topic. I still can’t exactly explain how we pick up a cup (I’m being serious). However, we do know lots about how we can affect the rate of learning. We also know why hitting it perfectly on the range today doesn’t mean we’ll step onto the 1st tee tomorrow and rip it.
Here we will look at three differing types of golf practice. I believe you need to master all three. By doing so you will optimise your rate of learning, and be able to perform under pressure.
Golf Practice: Technique
We’ll start with the most obvious. Golf practice for improving your technique. I’m sure all golfers attempt to improve their technique, but I doubt they do it as efficiently as they could. There is no such thing as ‘the perfect golf swing’. Just look at the top 10 players in the world. No two golfers have identical actions. However, refining your technique is important. When you get your golfing technique closer to what we may describe as ‘ideal’, you will rely far less on timing, to hit great golf shots. You’re bad golf swings will also produce far less wayward shots.
Golf practice technique: Aim
The aim of this type of golf practice is to make specific changes to your movement pattern. This new movement pattern then needs to be used to hit the golf ball straight. Most golfers’ problem is that they try to do both of these at once. Rather, you should see them as two separate, yet related tasks.
Ideal golf practice for technique
If you’re aiming to make a swing change, then your focus should be on making that movement correctly first. The longer-term aim is to embed this movement so it feels natural and it is easy to replicate on the golf course. Here are the ideal steps to accomplish this.
- Identify the specific movement you’re working on. This should hopefully be strongly linked to improving your ball flight, otherwise it’s pointless. Have specific checkpoints and ways of gaining feedback on if you are doing this correctly or incorrectly.
- Don’t hit a golf ball. Make repetitions of these movements in a mirror or window. Gain feedback on if you can execute the movements correctly. Use part practice, and slowly progress to whole practice. Slow-mo golf practice swings are really tough to do, but very useful.
- Net practice – Next step hit the net, why? If you make a perfect movement, but the ball flies off 40 yards right it will take you longer to engrain this movement. Negative feedback is difficult for your body to ignore. Your one aim is to focus on making the correct movement, and attempting to make contact. Again, use part and whole practice to help.
- Block practice on the range – Once you have accomplished the first three steps, hit the range. What is blocked golf practice? The clue is in the name – golf practice where you hit the same shot, over and over in blocks. 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.
- Varied practice on the range – This next step adds more variability to your golf practice. It involves mixing up your shot selection and clubs you use. You may choose five 7irons, 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 you transfer the movement pattern to the course. It’s got the not so sexy name of the contextual interference effect, if you wish to read more.
- Hit the course – Your aim here is to still focus on making correct movements. I would suggest a quiet time where you can hit 2-3 shots at some points. A key point is to understand the following: 1) What bad shots do you hit? 2) How can these be explained by your swing mechanics (what are you not doing that you do on the range)? 3) When do these shots occur (clubs used/shots attempted)?Use these three pieces of information to loop back to stages four and five. This will help you continually refine your new golfing technique from range to course play.
Golf Practice: Performance
If you are still reading this then good news – we are about to hit two gems. These next two areas are where golfers (generally) suck. You’ll do what I’m about to discuss to some degree, but there will be so much room for improvement.
Golf practice performance – Aim
The second key to great golf practice is to focus on performance. What is the main difference between golf practice for technique and performance?
Technique: We care about adapting/refining your movement pattern.
Performance: I don’t care how you swing, get the dam ball to the target.
This is a subtly change in approach, however this is the aim of golf isn’t it? Get the ball in the hole any way you can. Yet, golfers neglect spending time to practice doing this.
Ideal golf practice for performance
I’ve spent the passed four years building many of these ‘games’ for golf pros on mini tours (Europro/Challenge Tour). I see it as a critical reason golfers plateau at +1 to +3 and don’t hit the dizzy heights of the main tour. However, this practice is just as critical if you wish to break 80 or 90.
What does this look like? A simple fun game.
- It has an aim – optimise chipping accuracy, refine wedge distance control, reduce wayward drives left.
- We then build a scoring system that rewards the outcomes we want and penalises the outcomes we don’t.
- We then decide a set amount of attempts or time to complete the game.
- You then play the game and keep your score. However, when you play you give very little focus to making a perfect movement. Instead you focus your entire efforts on scoring points anyway you can. I don’t care how ugly it looks or feels.
- You repeat these games and watch your skill grow. As can be seen above.
Here is a simple example of one I built for an app a few years ago. This is the most basic of performance games for someone who has a push or a slice. Note the simple scoring structure to discourage shots that finish right.
Now I’m about to throw a real curve ball at you. By playing these games you improve your technique. You heard me. That wasn’t the explicit aim, but that is what has happened. Let me convince you.
Jack is a good driver, he plays the golf skills game above. On average, he hits the target six times, but misses four in 10 shots slightly right. The bad shots are a slight push and head straight right (total score for driving game +6) .
After 4 weeks of playing this game Jack, on average hits it straight seven times, has one miss left and two right (total score +15). I would argue Jack has learned to have a squarer swing path, or has learned to close the club face to hit a draw. Something has to have changed in his technique without him knowing.
These subtle, subconscious improvements are critical for improving and becoming elite. When elite golfers hit a driver they don’t repeat the same swing every time. Instead, they create very small bandwidths that they operate within. They have a family of solutions for hitting great golf shots. When their swing path changes by 0.4 of a degree, their hands compensate to find a way to hit the ball to their target.
Playing these games over and over allows these subtle adaptations to be learned. We don’t need to interfere with our bodies’ brilliant ability to learn movements. Instead we need to remove ourselves and just focus on our aim – get the ball in the hole.
Golf Practice – Pressure
Playing great golf counts for very little if we can’t perform when need to. Everyone wants the ability to play great under pressure, and yet how much time do you dedicate to practicing it?
Golf practice pressure – Aim
There is so much I want to cover in this section. I will cover the basics here. Then in the future, I will post an in-depth article with the details of golf practice for performing under pressure.
The aim is to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. These should be practice sessions that you despise doing. You should fail regularly and take time to sit back and reflect on what went on and how you can improve your routine and thinking.
Ideal golf practice for pressure
The best way to describe pressure practice is to give you an example. Find a straight-ish, uphill putt. Take your putter and lay out tee pegs at 1, 2 & 3 putter lengths in a line. This should give you a straight up hill putt from 3,6 & 9 feet.
Take 3 balls, start at the closest tee and aim to hole all 3 putts in a row. If you do, move back and repeat from your second and third tee. If you miss at any point, pick up your golf balls (and sorrow) and head back to the start. Set a timer for 20 minutes and see if you can complete it in this time. If you can increase the difficulty.
The point isn’t necessarily to complete the task. It is to understand when you miss what happens. 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.
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.
- The same coping strategy, for the same player, in the same situation is not always successful. That means you need to develop a range of tools to help you perform under pressure.
Golf practice – putting it all together
There you have three types of golf practice that you should embed into your golfing timetable. That is, if you wish to optimise your learning and golfing performance. How to I arrange these I hear you ask? Well that is yet another question.
It’s is based on your specific golfing needs and aims at this moment in time. I periodise these for pros throughout their golfing year. I don’t know anyone else applying optimal learning structures to golf in this way. There isn’t a textbook that exists, so I’m learning as I go. I’ve made a few mistakes, but I’ve received some great feedback and great results to date.
Here is a snap shot of a pro’s week during a mini tour week.
There is a lot to take in from this post. I hope it gives you many new ideas to ramp up your golf practice and performance.
If you’ve enjoyed this please share below. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on this approach to practice. Get in touch and comment below.