Updated: Sep 14
Welcome back to Serious Golf Talk. If you have not done so already, please subscribe to this website by signing up at the top right of this page. It takes just a second, and it helps me out so much. I’m going to continue divulging much of the knowledge I have accumulated over the years as a “serious” golfer on Serious Golf Talk in various forms, and I don't want you to miss out on any of it. Today, we are going to talk about Increasing the Likelihood of Reaching Your Golf Goals. Who wouldn't want to do that?
I’ve mentioned this example before, but do you think a successful clothing brand would just wing it when it comes to marketing itself? Absolutely not. There will be an entire department dedicated to developing and executing the most appropriate marketing strategy for the desired growth and perception of its brand to occur. At the end of its financial year, the firm will evaluate how effective its marketing strategy was, and then begin to re-strategize for its next financial year based upon their evaluation.
Are you doing this with your golf game? Does this sound overwhelming? Don’t worry, it is not! It can be quite fun to be creative with your strategies actually. Here is an example.
My best friend in the game of golf (he is not surprisingly thriving on the European Tour, currently) and I spent the early months of his pro career when I was playing at A&M developing practice plans for us to utilize together. Disclosure: he is not my student, just my friend.
Our goal was to create a drill list for each part of the game. These drills were given a point value. More difficult or time-heavy drills would be 2 points, medium drills would be 1 point, and easier or shorter drills would be ½ a point. Playing nine holes would be 1.5 points and playing 18 would be 3 points. We would make a point goal during the week, and continually add to the drill list so that we always would be able to make our practices varied and fun.
The above is an example of a creative method to create a practice strategy that one can follow throughout a season (or segment of the season). It’s purpose is to be able to know what you have done so as to adjust accordingly every time you collect your performance data.
Let’s talk about a hypothetical college golfer without a sound practice strategy despite having clear goals for his season.
Jeff is about to begin playing for a mid-level Division 1 University. He’s an incoming freshman that had a great high school career, capped off with a win at the Texas 3A State Championship. To be clear, Jeff is once again a hypothetical golfer.
He has posted some incredible scores in the past, and he has big goals for the year. His biggest goal is winning Player of the Year for his conference. He has three months before his college team’s first qualifier and he decides he is going to work harder than ever during the summer months to ensure he is on that traveling team.
Jeff never liked the idiosyncratic loop in his swing and decides he can’t play elite level golf with that move. He begins to hit balls all day everyday to remove that loop. After one 10 hour day, he was proud to say to his parents at the dinner table that he hit an entire trash can of balls (over 1000 balls). He was excited to share a video on Instagram of his new swing by the end of the summer despite continuing to iron out a couple of small, almost imperceptible kinks in his motion. By the time he went off to university, his blisters had hardened into calluses and he wore a big smile on his face-- he was ready! Without his old loop, he was sure to play even better than in high school
Except he wasn’t ready (Morgan Freeman voice). Jeff didn’t get his season off to a very good start when he played that first qualifier and failed to break 80 one time in the six round event.
Let’s go over Jeff’s strategy (or lack thereof) during the months leading up to his freshman season and discuss the errors he made when preparing for that first qualifier.
Improvement Error #1
I would suspect that Jeff didn’t look at any statistics from his previous season that would show that his driving or iron play was problematic. The change he made was purely emotional— he didn’t like the look.
Matthew Wolfe or Jon Rahm are examples of great ball strikers who don’t follow all of the conventional swing mechanics (they follow some of them, however). Could you imagine Jon lengthening his swing in 2020 just because he wants it to reach the conventional parallel position at the top with his driver? It would be crazy unless it was based on sound information (a driving problem proven by statistics and caused by a short swing).
Improvement Error #2
Let’s say that Jeff was very intuitive and made a good decision in making the swing change before going to university, he still made the mistake of quantity over quality, and I would expect he got into other bad habits during the swing change. No one can hit 1000 balls a day with complete focus. No one. Additionally, it is unsustainable (an important thing to consider when developing a practice strategy).
When making a change, I advise my students to commit to 50 balls a day with 2 rehearsals before each shot (this takes between 60 and 90 minutes. If they do that, the change will happen very rapidly.
If you can do more, great! But only if you continue the 2:1 ratio of two rehearsals before each swing. And I recommend never doing more than 50 balls at a time to keep your focus sharp. Separate your sessions with a water break or practicing another part of your game before returning to your full swing practice. Remember, slowing down is vital to ensure quality. It’s like learning a new song on an instrument—you have to slow down in the beginning until your brain can recall the correct combination of chords. Yet with golf, everyone tries to make swing changes at full speed right off the bat and with no rehearsals! Why? There is a great book called the Talent Code which talks about how to practice efficiently.
Improvement Error #3
Jeff spent 3 months utilizing only block practice strategies. Block practice is a type of training focused on repetition and technique. In the past, people would say you are trying to create muscle memory. In 2020, we know that muscles remember nothing, and that it is about creating and insulating pathways in our brain that create this movement. To read more about how to most effectively create and insulate these pathways, once again I defer to you the Talent Code.
In addition to not properly utilizing block practice as I described in the above point, Jeff failed to use random practice strategies when preparing to play. Random Practice is a type of practice which is focused on creating constant variability more consistent to what an athlete will face in their actual game or match. From my experience, it seems to bridge the gap from the practice tee to the course. The best random practices also have the added element of pressure so that it replicates the on course experience for a golfer.
Improvement Error #4
This ties into #3, however it warrants another point because it is a unique subset of random practice — PLAYING GOLF. Jeff didn’t do the one thing he was trying to get good at! Is this wise?
This is the best form of random practice, and it provides the best opportunity for collecting data to see if your practice strategies are working. I recommend for a full time golfer to play at least 54 holes a week with statistics. This can be 9 holes for six days a week or a simulated tournament Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday followed by appropriate (and balanced) practices the rest of the week.
Improvement Error #5 (Last but not least)
Since Jeff did not have any data he was basing his improvement process upon, he had no scheduled periods of performance evaluation. These evaluations should occur at the end of each month OR at the end of each quarter.
If you play 54 holes a week, that is 648 holes a quarter (or nine, 72 hole events). If you utilize a data-tracking program like Arccos or Decade (I prefer Decade. Also, its founder played golf at A&M as well), you can have detailed information and trends to determine whether your practice strategy has been working.
Additionally, this period of reflection is exciting and some of the most fun you will have during this process because you are able to compare your data to the PGA TOUR’s shotlink data. Have you ever wondered much better Tiger Woods is than you off the tee? Or maybe how much better Luke Donald is around the green? Keep statistics and you can find that out, easily.
Without scheduled periods of performance evaluation, you will wander aimlessly through your progression in competitive golf, and likely find it difficult to gain those marginal improvements needed to move from the elite amateur level to the elite professional level. I know this because I have experienced this wandering firsthand.
Many professional golfers do this analysis with their swing instructors or even with a sports statistician. If you can't afford a fancy statistician, don’t worry! There is no reason you can’t conduct these evaluations yourself.
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