Golf Practice - What is Golf Practice.

  • Author:
  • Iain Highfield
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No one will deny that regular golf practice is essential to the improvement of performance in any activity. But relatively few golfers have a clear idea of exactly how they should engage in golf practice, and persist with unscientific and outdated ideas which lead only to frustration and disappointment.

Perhaps it may help to begin by saying what golf practice is not.

The Scientific Approach to Learning

Firstly, it is not mere repetition. The efficient learning, improving and changing of motor skills depends upon inducing an adequate level of cognitive stress; and hitting ball after ball on the range with the same club, even with disciplined targeting, does not do this effectively.

There are some old-school coaches who will argue that good performance depends upon the “muscle memory” and confidence which comes with constant repetition of a movement.

But it is a very time-inefficient approach; your muscles will not be “memorizing” anything as they dont have memory and your brain will disengage from the task resulting in old and probably ineffective habits rather than learning new and better ones.

Secondly, though it may seem obvious, golf practice is not always the same as play. If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to play the same course on several consecutive days of a golf vacation you probably found your scores improving each day. This is not related to your golf swing, its you learning to adapt your swing to the demands of the golf course. 

Golf practice, properly understood, means undertaking a carefully planned sequence of tasks designed to induce the level of cognitive stress which is required to stimulate the natural learning abilities of body and mind. And an effective golf practice routine will structure these tasks around the core principles of variety, spacing and challenge. 

Training to Learn and Training to Perform - Golf Practice 

It’s also necessary to understand the distinction between “training to learn” and “training to perform”, and to have a clear idea which one applies to any given session.

Whether you’re a beginner, an experienced low handicap amateur or even a pro, if you’re trying to learn a new skill then you are training to learn. The beginner, for example, may be working on the fundamentals of grip, stance and take away; while the experienced player might be trying to add a controlled draw to his natural fade.

Training to perform is a step further along in the learning process, and refers to practicing the new skill in a variety of situations which might be encountered in a performance situation. An example might be deliberately hitting iron shots from challenging lies rather than the artificially perfect ones which are appropriate when working on motor skill improvements.  

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The Key Principles of Golf Practice 

But in both cases the player will need to apply the same key learning principles. 

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Golf Practice Needs Variety

A variety of tasks is essential to effective practice and in the context of golf this might mean hitting different clubs on the range, hitting chips and pitches from different places to the same target, or simply hitting different lengths of putt.

Golf Parctice Needs Spacing 

An interval of time should also be left between each task to allow the mind and body to forget the feel and outcome of the previous one. This might sound odd at first, but even a gap of 30 seconds or a minute will allow you to come fresh to the next task with the necessary level of cognitive stress.

On a practical level, using spacing allows you to go through the same pre-shot routine you will use on the course, embedding this as a sub-conscious trigger for the shot itself.

Golf Practice Needs Challenge

The third essential element of an effective golf practice routine is the setting of appropriate performance challenges. While the term “cognitive stress” might sound like something unpleasant which you would want to avoid, inducing it through challenges can make it fun.

Think for example of trying to get 10 consecutive chips to within 5 feet of the hole with different wedges.   

Planning a golf practice routine which includes all these elements may take a little time, but the investment will pay handsome dividends out on the course.