Golf Practice - Why so many get it wrong

  • Author:
  • Iain Highfield
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Golf Practice - Why do so many golfers get it wrong? 

We take our lessons, head to the range for some golf practice and make swing after swing, with one singular intention: grooving the perfect swing. 

This is called Blocked Training, and just as adding 5 + 5 over and over and over was not an appealing way to learn mathematics in grade school, blocked training is a poor manner to maximize golf practice.

More specifically, Blocked Training during golf practice is repeating the same task over and over in the same manner under the same stresses and conditions. This functions for beginning golfers in the early stages of golf practice who are aiming to develop a fundamentally sound grip, install the proper posture or groove a smooth takeaway. The more experienced player may even benefit from blocked training when developing a new swing motion or technique such as initiating the downswing with the lower body instead of the upper body.

However, as soon as the golfer starts to show any advanced learning, blocked training during golf practice becomes counterproductive to further learning. Skills acquire by result of blocked practice are not typically retained for any significant period of time and are generally fade away when it matters most - under the intense heat of competition.

Comparable to cramming for an exam in high school. Maybe those details of the final act of MacBeth hung around in your brain long enough to help you pass the test. But how many can you recall now?

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In golf practice, we need to focus on motor learning rather than ‘muscle memory’ a tired and abused term that frankly doesn’t even exist. Muscles don’t have memory. The golfer needs to learn how to execute a shot based on performing entire process.

In some cases, practicing golfers rely too heavily on what’s known as ‘augmented feedback,’ which can take on many forms. Advice from a swing instructor or immediate feedback from a video replay, launch monitor and even a swing training aid can help you make temporary improvements on the driving range, but rarely carry over to the course. Too much of this input can actually be detrimental to improvement as it becomes a crutch leaned on too frequently.

What’s more lasting is ‘inherent feedback’ which arises from within, drawn from seeing, hearing or feeling the information, such as ball flight or a sensation during the downswing which produces a certain strike or shot shape.

When the augmented feedback is received less frequently - every 10 swings rather than every swing, for example - the golfer is more likely to retain it. Furthermore, there are more errors which force the golfer to self-analyze and this tactic creates an environment where the golfer is more likely to take the information to the course. Making errors in practice does not lead to learning to make errors. Making errors in practice leads to a higher probability of avoiding them on the course.

In closing, the goal of golf practice is not to develop the perfect repeatable swing, it is to develop a generalized motor program that golfers then must learn to adapt to the environmental demands of the golf course.  

Learn more on this concept from expert Dr Tim Lee in our short and insightful podcast