I get a question every summer when I teach youth camps back home. Young kids will ask me something about golf that is almost impossible to explain in one sentence. “How do I get better at golf”.
It’s a good question, how do you get better at golf? There’s honestly no phrase that could encompass all of the things you need in order to improve but usually, for kids, a great place to start is simply, practice. More on this…
Practice. A lot of practice. In fact, there is a good chance that none of us will ever reach a point where we would start to see diminishing returns from practicing more. Psychology tells us that repetition (practice) is extremely effective at helping us learn a new skill or memorize something. And we can probably all agree that practice is an important part of improvement in all sports and just life in general. But why is practice so essential to see improvement in golf? After all, in other sports, say football, most of the athletes in the professional spotlight have a certain level of God given talent. Yes they all had to work hard to refine that talent, took advantage of some good coaching along the way, and honestly got lucky somewhere. But at the end of the day, if you’re 5’3″ and 140 pounds you’re going to have limited opportunities when it comes to professional football.
Golf isn’t like that. While certain great golfers might have had some innate skill, good coaching, and luck, they have to practice, a lot, maybe more so than other sports. But why golf? Well, I think it is because the absolute pinnacle of golf is a place where you would never hit a bad shot. Where you were consistent 100% of the time when it came to hitting a ball where you wanted to. Of course this isn’t realistic but this is the ultimate goal, this is what we all work to achieve. And unlike other sports where other athletes directly effect your game, golf is just you, a small white ball, some clubs, and a course. This is what makes practice so rewarding. Every improvement you make during practice can directly translate to your performance. A striker in soccer might practice heading balls into the net until it’s second nature but if he never gets a cross into the box, he’ll never get to take advantage of this improvement. That’s what separates a wide range of other sports from golf. Because at the end of the day, you are competing against the course, no other athletes directly, just yourself.
Practice might not always make perfect, but in golf, perfect practice will make you exceptional. You can read all of the (really lovely) guides I write about how to tackle the different aspects of golf. You can get professional lessons. But if you don’t practice the things you learn, you’re doomed to forget them before they can do you any real good.
This actually goes hand in hand with another recent article here on The Golf Academy about mastering your mind. As we discussed in that article, there are a wide variety of things you need to focus on during your golf round and ideally, none of them would be basic mechanics. While it’s 100% acceptable to think about your stance if you need to hit a punch shot, or a draw, it can be very damaging to your score if you focus on putting technique as you go to strike a 5 foot putt. You should be committing your mind to reading the putt, and striking the ball solidly instead of worrying about whether you’re breaking your wrists or decelerating through contact. That’s something that you can only master by practice until it’s second nature for you on the course.
There’s a term in sports called “muscle memory” and it’s where you link a specific motion to a specific thought. Too stay with the same example as above, your putting stroke might be an example of this. Every part of your stroke that you don’t think of, and that still happens the way you want unconsciously, is a part of you game you can consider memorized. And the more things you have memorized, the less you have to think about, which gives you more mental capacity to spend focusing on the things that change from shot to shot like wind or elevation. This is why practice is so important, because you repeat the same motion sometimes hundreds of times until it is so finely tuned that it performs almost exactly how you think it will without thinking about it. Not to mention you also get a better feel for how the ball reacts off of your club on varying degrees of ball striking (fat, thin, out of heavy rough, etc.) as well as overall experience (which I have yet to find something bad about).
These should be your goals when you practice. You want to get a feel for how different shots react to different environmental factors, and you want to gain experience along the way also. But on top of that you want to start refining your mechanics to an intuitive level, a place where you couldn’t imagine swinging the club differently because the current method is so deeply ingrained in your mind.
You should be completely convinced on the value and focus your practices should take (if not maybe I should be practicing my writing more…). So the next logical thing to ask is how should you practice? Well you want to focus on ingraining the basic types of shots that have been mentioned in The Golf Academy but honestly, that’s a pretty vague response… You want drills, things to focus on, guided practice. And I can give that to you! This is why I’m unveiling a new series here on The Golf Academy. You can expect multiple installments that will focus on my methods for practice as well as things to focus on during your practice sessions. Continue to expect new posts about other areas of interest around golf with just a few of the new practice guides added in as the weather starts to warm up (for some of you). That’s where we’re headed at The Golf Academy!
But before you go, a quick recap. You need to practice if you want to improve in anything, and especially in golf. It is a major time commitment but any practice counts. Maybe you keep a short putting mat in your cubicle and every time you send an e-mail or make a call you take a putt. All of these things add up because you are constantly reinforcing motions until it is muscle memory (plus that would be pretty cool, I would advise against chipping however…). Fall in love with every part of the game and spend some time on the practice green and the range as the temperatures start to rise and I know your scores will thank you by the end of the season. Until next time, dust off those sticks and hit the range!
(Or the putting green, I’m just anxious to go to the range…) Good luck out there!
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” -Kevin Durant
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