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What Does Great Practice Feel Like?

Many golfers spend hours a week trying to get better, but we know from our recent study that more practice time doesn’t guarantee you will actually improve. In this article, we dive into what great practice feels like. We look at this concept during a practice session and over a period of time.

These are my reflections on what helped me improve my own golf game and from coaching golfers (from beginners to tour pros) over the past 19 years as a coach.

Average practice hours by handicap group
This graphic shows average weekly practice hours by handicap group, divided into golfers who improved their handicap over a 12-month period and those who saw an increase in their handicaps.

Great practice has a goal

Learning is expensive and you need to give your body a good reason to build new neural connections and develop the new knowledge and insight needed to perform at a new higher level.

The way to do this is to stress your body by asking it to perform very specific actions with a very specific goal. This can only happen when you turn up to a practice session with a focused goal.

Example practice goals

  • Today my goal is to hit less of a slice with my driver.
  • I want to improve my distance control with my short irons.
  • I keep pulling my putts, I want to start them closer to my intended start line.
  • My iron striking is inconsistent, I need to improve the consistency of my strike.
Break X Golf now has a notes feature built in to help you track you practice goals.

Understand how ball flight laws feed into your goals

Based on the example goals above you can see that having a strong understanding of how impact factors (strike location, face angle, club face-to-swing path relationship, club head speed…) cause the ball flight of your bad and desired shots (both for long game, but also short game and putting performance) are central to becoming great at practice.

Learning this information can come from a variety of sources – having a great golf coach, using a launch monitor or developing your feel as a golfer over time.

However, if you would like a YouTube series on this topic, leave a comment below and if we get enough interest we’ll make one for you.

Explaining impact factors and ball flight laws

Plan – Action – Reflection

Once you have your practice goal and you understand your ball flight, every shot you hit in practice should follow the following process ‘plan – action – reflection’.

Plan

What am I trying to do with this golf ball? What would a great golf shot look like? Use practice swings to focus on the feelings you need to make a great swing. Also, get dialled in on your target and what your ideal shot would look like.

This feels like you are slowing your practice down, but in reality, you are speeding up your learning.

Action

If your planning phase is great ‘action’ becomes the easiest part of the process. You can hit the shot with fewer swing thoughts, and use a simple feeling you have created in your practice swings to hit each shot.

This feels less like forcing your body to do 5 different things at once and more like you are trying to pay attention to what your body is doing and where your golf shot has gone. You should be focused on both swing feelings and feedback the golf ball.

Reflection

Where did the golf ball go? How did my swing feel? Why did this happen? What did I do in that golf swing to cause the result (good, bad or indifferent)?

This again feels like you are slowing down your practice, but it is such an important part of learning and developing your skill level.

Plan forward

What next? What should you do on your next cycle to get a better result?

Over many practice sessions working on a swing change, you should have a clear answer of what you should do differently, or double down on in your next swing. If you are not sure, try exaggerating one component and see what happens to the shot outcome. This helps you gain a better understanding of the problem.

How long does this take?

On average, I probably hit one ball every 30 seconds to 60 seconds for full shots in practice and one ball every 15 to 40 seconds when practicing putting and short game.

However, if you are focusing on time you are missing the point. The time is a consequence of a great process, not the important factor.

How does practice develop over time?

Learning is not linear, it is a messy journey with a lot of variability. All golfers want consistent results, but no golfer ever experiences learning that way. Here is an example of what effective practice may look and feel like over time.

We’ll use the example of you trying to improve your putting stroke mechanics over many sessions.

Weeks 1-2

You can hit some good putts, but you hit more poor putts. The struggle is getting a feel for creating the new movement.

Weeks 3-4

Your sessions contain 50% good and bad shots and you are able to create the right movement, but there is too much variability. It still feels like you need to force or think about the change.

Weeks 5-6

Your practice sessions are now mostly good putts, with a few poor reps. You are far less variable, and you can feel the bad action almost before you’ve hit the putt. It still feels uncomfortable on the golf course and under pressure.

Weeks 7-8

The new action feels like a natural movement, as long as you put in a little practice each week. You have started to hit more good putts on the golf course and under pressure. This builds confidence and helps you hit more good putts under pressure.

In reality, the journey will feel much more up and down than this, but when you look back this is the journey you will see and tell yourself.

Summary

Great practice won’t feel like a clear journey with consistent progress. Instead, there will be bumps, backward steps and challenges at every step. This is just one of the reasons getting better at golf is hard – it doesn’t always feel like you are on the right path.

If you have clear practice goals and truly understand the impact factors that are underlying your performance you are well ahead of most golfers. If you can elevate your ‘plan-action-reflection’ cycle over every shot you will truly be in the top 1% of golfers aiming to improve.

I hope you have found this useful.

Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider

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Will Shaw, PhD, MSc, PGA Pro

Will is a PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. He spent 10 years lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds in Biomechanics and Motor Control before becoming the Head of Golf for the University of Exeter. He currently runs Golf Insider UK, Sport Science Insider around wider consulting and academic roles in sport performance and motor control.

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