9 Steps to Exceptional Golf Practice

The only way to get better at golf is to practice, but knowing how to optimise your practice is a serious art and science. This page aims to be the best resource on the planet for any golfer wanting to improve how they practice.

As you scroll down the page you will find the key ingredients needed to optimise your practice, free tools and resources. I’ve tried to order the points as a check-list – once you feel you have a good grasp of one section and how to implement it, move onto the next.

Each section links out to more detailed articles explaining that topic in further depth. In total you have around 100 articles, skills games and drills and research papers covering every facet of golf practice. I sure hope it helps you reach your golfing dreams.

Enjoy.

#1 Understanding golf practice

Golf practice isn’t just about beating balls on a golf range, it spans everything from casual 9 holes play to visualising your golf swing at home. Any activity aimed at making you better at golf should be classed as ‘practice’.

This being said, you don’t magically get better. Learning any skill is a really expensive thing for your body to do. Therefore, you have to force your body to refine how it swings a golf club, or how skilful it is at controlling the distance of your chip shots.

Think of golf practice as similar to going to the gym. Repeatedly stressing your body in a specific way (lifting heavier weights), leads to specific changes (greater muscle mass and force production).

Great golf practice needs to be challenging and really specific to the thing you want to improve. The following steps will help you master your own golf practice.

#2 Be specific with your practice

All golfers want to get better, but few golfers actually know the specific area(s) they need to work on to lower their scores.

The second step in mastering golf practice is to know your key areas of focus. This might sound simple, but I’ve worked with great pros who neglect weaknesses without even knowing it.

The chart below isn’t perfect, but it gives you a guide to help pinpoint your weakness. Start in the top left corner, your first target is to average less than 36 putts – if you don’t currently, get practicing your putting. If you pass this criteria, move to the right and check if you can average 30% up and down rate or better (from inside 30 yards) – if you can’t currently, then this should become your focus.

This golf practice finder will help you target the key areas you need to focus on to improve your golf game.

Keep moving along to the right, once you complete a row, move down to the next row. For more details on this process, and how to practice these key areas, check out this article on how to get better at golf.

Once you have your global practice themes in order, you need to delve into the detail – ‘how do I become a better putter?’…’What direction do my iron shots miss the green?’. To help answer these questions I’ve developed the Golf Insider Practice System – a simple set of tests to benchmark each area of your game.

The tests take 30 – 60 minutes to complete, but are well worth the effort. Use them every few months to get a clear snapshot of your game.

golf practice system

#3 Three types of golf practice

The next area to consider is the why behind your practice. Golf practice can be broken down into three key areas:

  • Technical practice
  • Skill development
  • Pressure training

Ideally you will have a blend of technical practice and skill development every week. On top of this, use pressure training as you approach the competitive season to refine your pre-shot routine and coping strategies.

The areas above do not involve magical types of practice that you have never come across before. Rather, each type of practice requires that you place a clear focus on why you are practicing that given day. Each type of practice also has slight tweaks to your practice structure, focus and practice constraints that optimise the goal. Read more about technical, skill and pressure golf practice here.

#4 Building a practice plan

We don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems and processes. How quickly you improve and how great you become at golf is a product of what you do week in, week out.

For this reason, you should build a weekly golf practice plan, based on the first three steps we covered above. If this is an entirely new concept to you, click the image below – this provides a simple 5-week practice plan.

Or, if you want some more detailed examples of practice routines, then check out this article that provides practice routines depending on how many hours you have a week to practice.

Advanced players should check out how to build an annual golf training program, based on skill acquisition principles. This includes a lot of common sense, but some key lessons I’ve learned from my 10+ years experience of building yearly practice plans for golfers.

#5 The real reason golfers don’t get better with practice

By now you should understand why you are practicing, you should have simple practice games and drills to target your weakness and this should all be combined into a weekly practice schedule.

What next? A deep bit of thought.

Many golfers naively assume that by practicing golf they should automatically get better. As we discussed earlier, learning is expensive and doesn’t happen by chance. How you think, plan and reflect before and after every shot you hit in practice and play is critical for your rate of skill development.

Multiply this simple process by the 10,000 or 100,000 shots you hit every year and you have a critical factor limiting or accelerating your golfing development. I suggest all golfers and coaches click on the image below and have a read. It is common sense, but something we often take for granted and gloss over.

Don’t count balls, make every ball count.

#6 Making golf practice realistic

When practicing golf we always have to make a trade-off – do we want realistic golf practice, but only a few repetitions (playing a competitive 18 holes)? Or do we want many repetitions, but less realistic practice (4 hours of hitting balls)?

The more reps the better we get, but the less representative the learning environment, the less our skill will transfer to competitive play.

It is a challenging problem, but one that is well worthing thinking about. The answer I’ve come to is to blend the two together. You can adapt the range to make it more like the golf course, and find sneaky ways to get more practice volume when you are on the golf course.

This is summarised in the picture below which looks at practice volume and practice specificity.

The article below provides a great little read into this area and how to apply it to your game – just click the picture to access. For an even more geeky read you can check out this article on making your golf practice realistic or this piece on prep for playing great golf.

Golf practice matrix for golf practice on the range vs the golf course

#7 Building blocks of success

As you progress as a golfer you will pick up your own ‘core practices’. These are the practice drills, routines and games that are key for keeping your golf on track. You should fit these ‘core practices’ in every week (if you can).

I can’t tell you what yours will be, but with time, you will learn what you need to practice and how best to practice it. What I can tell you is this – your core practices will be a blend of:

  1. Technical basics – keeping on top of your golf grip, stance, and the fundamentals of putting and chipping (these last two are often neglected by golfers).
  2. Skill games that get you focused on performance and shot outcome.

Ideally, the technical drills should come from working with your PGA golf coach, but I also try to provide a few drills in the technical articles on this site.

For skills games check out the mini list below. It covers my personal favourite skills games and ones I’ve used with pros:

#8 Understand what true learning is

Golf practice learning curve. Showing how golfers get better quickly early on, then slow in progression as they get better. There is then a dip in performance when retention of performance is tested.

There is one concept in motor learning that is evident in every study conducted over the past 50 years, but is not understood particularly well by many players.

The concept is this – your performance in practice does not represent your actual learning.

In the image above we have a typical learning curve, time along the x-axis and performance on the y-axis. As you follow the curve you can see that through practice the golfer gets better, but at this stage we have no idea how much skill the golfer has learned.

After a period of time (1 hour, 24 hours, 1 week) we re-test that individual to see how much skill they have retained (retention test). We also test how well they perform at that task under a different set of constraints (transfer test).

Retention and transfer are the values that we are truly interested in (the red section) as they represent learning. They tell you how well you will perform on the course next week (retention), or in a competitive environment (transfer).

Research tells us that more varied and more challenging practice often results in more errors, but leads to increased learning when tested later on and in a different environment. In short, enjoy making mistakes and hitting bad shots in practice – some errors are needed for learning to take place.

I’ve done my best to summarise some key motor learning concepts in the articles listed below so please feel free to access these – they are essentially what I teach during undergraduate and postgraduate classes.

The science of golf practice

#9 Love the way you play and train

The final step in optimising your practice and developing this is to love the way you do it. Too many golfers are jealous of others ability. Don’t get me wrong, we’d all love Rory’s driving ability or Spieth’s putting stats, but the path to becoming an exceptional golfer is your own journey.

Just like Rory and Justin reached their own levels of performance – you have to decide what the optimum version of you is as a player and work towards it. This is the one race you will most certainly win; if you commit.

Decide what type of 15-handicapper, club champion or tour player you want to become and own the process of building yourself into that player.

Every week should be a step towards you becoming that player.

If you want to putt everyone off the course, you best work hard practicing your putting indoors and on the putting green, mastering your pace and line. Similarly, if you want to bomb the ball 315 yards, then I sure hope your gym routine and technique of optimises for force production and energy transfer between the club and the ball.

There is no magic bullet, just one thousand 1% changes needed to get you there.

Golf practice summary

I hope these 9 steps give you a great platform to optimise your practice and achieve your golfing dreams. The list of articles below will keep you up to date with the latest practice resources published here. Or you can come join the Golf Insider weekly post.

Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK

The latest golf practice articles