Taking The Golf Course To The Range

Dr. Timothy D. Lee
  • Author: Dr. Timothy D. Lee
  • Expert In Motor Learning
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Joe Culverhouse
  • Author 2: Joe Culverhouse
  • GLT Content & Communications Manager
golf course shots

If you have read and understood the content in each of the articles in this series on motor learning then I think you could probably write this final installment instead of me. So, let’s do a quick review, but focused from a slightly different perspective — considering the golfer’s needs on the course first and then trying to meet those needs in practice.

Three Golf Course Skills You Need

If you could list the top three skills needed out on the course, what would yours be? (I’m not a sport psychologist so let’s exclude personality attributes like confidence, emotions, and the like). Mine are the following:


  • Being able to pick a club out of the bag and dial in a good swing with it, even though you may not yet have hit the club that round. You have one chance at making this work, how do you prepare for it?


  • Being able to read the situation - the lie, wind, slope, green break, etc. Knowing how to adapt to the situation at hand is critical because no two shots are ever exactly the same.


  • Being able to fix something that it is not working. Every golfer’s game goes south at some point in almost every round. Getting it back on track, to me, may be the most important skill of all.


Your list might be different than mine, although I suspect there was a lot of overlap in many of the ideas. So, now what I want you to do is look at each of the items on the list and consider how you might best train those skills.

For me, the answers are pretty straightforward, and follow the content presented in the previous articles.


Three Principles Of Golf Practice

  • I never, ever, hit the “same” shot twice in a row in practice. I don’t get a chance to do that in a round, so why do it in practice? Doing so does not “build” muscle memory or any other skill that lasts and can be called upon when you need it. In many ways repeating shots is not only a waste of time and energy, but it delays you from practicing another practice shot that would have been more valuable for taking to the course. The same is true on the putting green. I never use more than one ball, and never replay a stroke from the same location. You don’t get do-overs on the course, what do you gain from doing them in practice? The idea is simply this: you only get one chance at something on the course. Practice that.


  • Practice ranges can be very sterile environments. Lies are perfect, greens are flat, etc. I’m very fortunate to have a facility that has mats, turf, bunkers (with footprints), different lengths of rough, and even side hill lies. It is great for getting the most variety out of my practice as possible. But even if you don’t have such a rich environment that does not prevent you from being creative. When was the last time you practiced shots that you might hit if faced with a strong headwind, such as playing the ball back in your stance, low follow-through, taking a longer club with the thought that “when breezy hit easy”, and so on? If you play off an artificial turf mat, do you move the ball around to find the “best” lie? Why not hit it out of a bad location, such as a cut or seam, to try to simulate a poor lie on the course. The point is to create game-like situations, because as we all know, the golfing gods and goddesses can be cruel.


  • Fixing something that has gone south requires understanding your game, and being attuned to what your body and your shots are telling you. You are your own coach on the course. How do you train yourself to be that coach? For me, it is a matter of searching for advice only when I am stuck. When nothing that I self-diagnose in practice seems to fix things, then I will seek out a PGA professional, a specific training aid, or ask my wife to video me with my phone. I then work on it on my own, using all of the inherent feedback sources that will be with me out on the course. Try to be your best as a player and as your own coach.


Principles Of Golf Practice

The bottom line is that these ideas, call them principles of practice if you will, support the basic premise of practicing in ways that best gets the learner ready to perform in the contest, game, event or performance that serves as the overarching goal. Over the years the motor learning research has given these principles the terms “Specificity of Practice,” “Fidelity Training,” and others. The term “Game-like Training” works for me as well; the concept remains the same. This series of articles has highlighted some of the motor learning research that has contributed knowledge that independently supports this concept. There is much more that the literature can offer to the golfer, which I hope to return to later. One of the reasons for wanting to write this series of articles is because I think the people at GLT “get it.” I think that they have a good understand of what types of practice and training will work, and which ones will come up short. I applaud the work they are doing.


Thanks to Dr. Laurie Wishart for her help in the preparation of these articles on motor learning.