Practice Tough For Better Results
Do you like to practice? Lots of golfers enjoy spending time working at their game in an effort to lower their handicap. However, there is a definite disconnect between the amount of time golfers spend practicing, and how much improvement they see. The sad reality is I see a lot of golfers practice several hours every week but see no improvement in their performance on the golf course!
So why is that?
One of the main problems I see is golfers just don't make their practice tough enough. Let me give you some examples:
Let's say an average competitive round of golf lasts 4 hours. How long does the average practice session last? Certainly not that long!
How often do you hit the same club twice in a row on the golf course? Almost never? Yet most golfers will hit multiple shots in a row with the same club.
How often do you get a perfectly flat stance on the course? When was the last time you actively practiced from an uneven lie?
On the golf course we encounter all sorts of weather. But how often do you practice in the rain or on a very windy day?
When competing on the golf course, we often face emotions like anger, anxiety, doubt and fear. When did you last feel these emotions on the practice ground?
Now I'm not saying you should only practice on rainy days for 6 hours and never hit the same club twice. But you need to think about how you practice, and honestly answer this question: Is your practice causing you stress and toughening your game ready to perform under pressure on the golf course? I think if they were honest the vast majority of golfers would have to say no.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Dave Alred speak during a TrackMan workshop at The Belfry. Now you may not have heard of Dave Alred, but he is the Peformance Coach that works with Francesco Molinari who recently won the Open Championship. One of the key principles that Alred has brought to his work with Molinari is the need to make every shot hit in practice matter the same as it does on the golf course under pressure. Despite being a fantastic ball striker for his whole career, in recent years we have seen Molinari progressively climb the world rankings and this culminated in his faultless performance over the weekend at Carnoustie. But his bogey free weekend under the highest pressure was no fluke; it was the result of all his countless hours of tough, aggressive, mindful practice.
So how can you improve your practice? The key is to try and make every shot matter. Simple ways you can do this are:
When practicing your putting, you need to play some kind of game. Generally, this means using fewer balls, and keeping score against yourself or another person. If you have a putting competition against your friend, bet a sizeable amount of money on it. What effect does that have? You'll feel nervous as you play and you will be upset if you lose. If putting on your own, you need to care if you miss.
Working on your long game, you may need repetitive block practice if working on a swing change. But if you want that swing to stand up on the course, you need to train it on the practice ground. Try shaping shots, altering your trajectory, and regularly changing target. The classic game is to try hitting 9 different trajectories; a low draw, a low fade and a low straight shot. Then the same three shapes with a medium trajectory. Finally, three again with a high trajectory. You may not be able to hit all 9 shots, but at least you will be training your brain to see what you can achieve.
Distance wedges are a great example. If you want to become a great wedge player, you need to develop excellent distance control. You won't do this hitting thirty balls with the same wedge at the same flag. Choose a target, and try hitting 3 shots to that target. One shot 5 yards long, one 5 yards short, then one the perfect distance. Then immediately change to a new target/distance and repeat the process. Keep those grooves just as clean as you would do in a competition!
Don't forget to practice on the golf course. Play 9 holes, but mix it up. Play from different tees. One day play some forward tees, the next go right back. Try hitting irons off every tee. Another day try hitting driver on every par 4/5. Play 9 holes trying to shape every shot. All of this variety will develop your golfing skills, and help you perform under pressure.
These are just a few examples of the many ways you can improve the quality of your practice. At all times just try and keep it tough, challenging, and varied. I will leave you with this piece of wisdom from the US Navy Seals that I feel applies perfectly to golf:
"Under pressure you do not rise to the occasion. You sink to the level of your training"