If you do not play golf for a living, making time to practice can be difficult. There is a limited amount of time to practice beyond the time spent playing golf. If practice time is limited what is the best way to grow your game. A golfer who puts themselves in uncomfortable situations, will make mistakes more often, but growth happens quicker than those who practice in comfortable situations. Hitting 7 iron after 7 iron on the range at the same target, or the same distance has some benefit. This technique of blocked practice is what most do during all of their practice time. Golfers need to practice in a manner that helps develop skills that make them successful under pressure.
There was a grounding breaking studying on reactionary kinetic movements by John Shea and Robyn Morgan in 1979. Each subject practiced three different tasks (A, B and C) that involved responding to a stimulus light with a correct series of rapid movements of the hand and arm, with each task having a different predetermined sequence. One group of subjects practiced the tasks in a blocked order, completing all task A practice before moving to task B, which they completed before moving to task C. A second group practiced in a random order; no more than two consecutive trials could occur for any one task. The two groups had the same amount of practice on tasks A, B, and C and had the same amount of total practice, they differed only in the order in which the tasks were presented. They graph pictured is the result of the study.
Practicing golf has parallels to this research on many levels. Golf is a reactionary sport. A golfer evaluates the situation at hand, then produces a shot that is required for that specific situation. Success in the game of golf is based on the ability to evaluate and react. How many times does a golfer have a full 7 iron on the golf course, or an exact putt that they have had before? Your 7 iron carries 130 yards, and the shot requires you to carry the ball 132 yards over the bunker in the front of the green. Take the numbers away from the equation. How many golf shots in a round visually look the same, trees, bunkers, water hazards, hole turns right, hole turns left, etc. The tee shots on Par 4’s and Par 5’s might be the same full swing shot from round to round, if a golfer plays the exact same set of tees every day, and the exact same course every day. We need to structure our practice by making these visual and dynamic adjustments more difficult than in a regular round of golf. Have you practiced hitting your 7 iron 120, 125, 130, and 135 yards? Have you practiced hitting it all these distances mentioned with low, mid, and high ball flights? Have you practiced hitting your 7 iron all these distances with the ball above, flat, and below your feet at address? How about out of good lies, bad lies, out of sand, I can go on and on with these examples.
It is very important to mix up the situation on every shot when practicing, but we also must spend time making practice harder than playing in a regular round of golf. We need to produce failure when we are practicing. We learn much more from our failures than our successes. Play games, with others, or unaccompanied, that challenge a golfer more than a traditional round of golf. This can have great benefits when it comes time to perform under pressure, whether it is a golf tournament, or trying to beat your friends for pride. An example is playing games like “worst ball”. Instead of playing a two ball scramble, like many do when practicing on the course, play the worst of the two golf balls from each position. Another example is playing golf with only 3 clubs. This will make course strategy paramount, and force a golfer to hit different shots they are not accustom to with the 3 clubs. Play cross country golf, which is played by playing each hole backwards or teeing off from a spot that is not usually used. Play a set of tee you are not accustom to, the very forward tees, the very back tees, whatever changes your visual perspective and course management. As you notice all these examples are performed on the golf course.
Second, put pressure on yourself while practicing. Examples, if you are a bogey golfer 18 handicapper, if you make bogey on the first hole you can move on the next hole, you make par you move two holes ahead, you make double bogey you go back one hole. During this challenge every putt attempted must be pulled a putter club length away from the spot that is lay before putting. Enjoy the challenge, it will make playing golf that much easier. We learn much more from our failures than our successes.
Go see your local PGA professional to help you obtain practice ideas and games that produce failure. Then have them help you evaluate, learn, and grow from those failures.
Todd Elliott is the PGA Head Golf Professional for Hideaway Beach. Todd is TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Certified as a golf professional. This gives him the ability to give golf specific physical screening to detect any physical limitation that might affect the golf swing. Todd is also a Coutour-certified putting fitter, a Titlteist-certified fitter and a Titliest staff member. Follow Todd on Twitter @elliottgolfpro or for any question or comments email firstname.lastname@example.org.