Does Practicing Golf Make You Worse?

Our society praises hard work. We love hearing about the successful golfer who wakes up every day at 5 a.m., goes to the course, and practices until dark.

Just watch this video about Jason Day:

After watching the video, you might think that the missing piece to your golf game is more practice.

Why?

Our perceptions are inconsistent with the principles of reality.

The availability heuristic explains why we value hard work rather than efficient work.

We frequently see emotional videos on YouTube like the Jason Day story, but we rarely see ones that praise efficiency. Even though Jason spends far less time practicing now than he used to (because he has learned how to practice better), that is not what the media wants us to think. Good online marketing appeals to emotion. Not logic.

Since we only perceive what is available, it makes sense that we tend to believe that “hard work” is the only answer.

It doesn’t matter if the work is good, we are promised that if we work hard, we are going to get better at whatever we are doing.

Unfortunately, this kind of hard work can only get us so far. At a point, a golfer must begin to learn efficient practice techniques.

Quality over quantity.

In this post, I will be highlighting a few points about practice that you can use to assess your current practice habits.

Hard Practice vs. Smart Practice

What is the first thing that comes to your mind if I told you I was a “hard worker?”

Chances are, you wouldn’t completely believe me. Heck, isn’t everyone a “hard worker?”

But what if you saw me practice for 7 hours straight without taking a food or water break?

Now, I’ve altered your perception of me.

Now, I’m a “hard worker” that must be serious about my golf game.

What if I told you that during those 7 hours, I didn’t use one training aid, alignment stick, video analysis, or even aim at a single target?

What if I told you that during those 7 hours I become so fatigued that I trained my muscles to flip the golf club through impact?

Although your initial impression of me was that of a serious golfer, in all reality, I’m just another golfer with no end in mind. Sure, I may improve thanks to my coordination and athleticism, but probably won’t sustain it.

I’m sure you know the value of “smart practice,” but I wanted to start this post by asking:

  1. What are you practicing?
  2. Are you positive that this is the right thing to be practicing?
  3. Why are you practicing it?

If you can answer these three questions with conviction, I’d recommend closing your browser and start practicing 🙂

If not, then it is probably best to stay away from the practice area until you can.

Keep reading, and I will do my best to help you answer these three questions.

The ball flight doesn’t always speak the truth

Let’s talk a little more about “hard work.”

Have you ever gone to the range, hit the ball poorly at the beginning, and then without changing anything, you suddenly hit 5 yard draws every time?

Have you ever wondered why this happens, and why you lose that draw the next time you play golf?

The truth is, you can make the ball fly beautifully with just about ANY golf swing.

And this is the reason that so many golfers struggle to bring their swing from the range to the course.

They go to the range, hit the ball poorly, stay there until they hit it good, and then conclude that they have “fixed” their swing.

No!

They have just gotten their timing down, made necessary compensations, and used their natural coordination to make the ball go where they want.

This kind of practice is deceptive because visibly, you see improvement, yet in actuality, your golf swing hasn’t improved one bit. Heck, it may have gotten worse by modern swing theory standards.

It took me years and years to understand this, and I can’t emphasize how important it is!

This goes right back to the topic of “smart work” vs. “hard work.” Almost any golfer can go to the driving range for 4 hours and figure out how to make the ball go where they want it to, but few golfers can go sustain a proper golf swing.

Next time you go to the range, have a plan of what you want to work on. Spend some quality time working on it, recording your swing on video to check your progress, and repeating. Then, forget about the things that you were thinking about, and test it on the course.

How is your energy level?

The majority of people reading this probably have some sort of job that requires mental focus rather than kinesthetic focus.

How quickly and effectively do you get your work done on 3 hours of sleep and no food in your stomach? (Please don’t let your ego get in the way of the true answer to this)

I understand that not everyone cares about golf enough to pay full attention to these little things, but you’d be amazed how much your mental and physical states affect your ability to improve your golf game.

Golf may be a “side project” for you, but give it the respect that it deserves. Don’t drink a Coke and then try to hit a full bucket of golf balls in 95 degrees.

Also, be aware of your physical/mental state during practice. There will be several instances where you become tired or mentally distracted in the middle of your practice. Instead of aimlessly continuing, why not take a short break in the clubhouse? Or maybe, it’s just time to pack it in for the night.

As a general rule of thumb, never attempt to practice golf when your mental/physical energy is below a 5 on a 1-10 scale. It’s simply going to frustrate you, and make you want to quit golf forever.

Are you sure that what you are working on is correct?

I’ve personally struggled with this issue, so I thought it would be worth mentioning.

For several years of my golf career, I put far too much weight on the golf instruction that I received. If it came from a “certified professional,” I deemed it true.

Before believing everything that your local pro says, make sure that there is some truth to it. Just because they have a certificate doesn’t mean that they have spent hundreds of hours refining their teaching process and values.

I’m no golf instructor, but I have spent a lot of time pondering the things that I believe in when it comes to my golf game. Just like any teaching pro that claims they have the “formula,” I have a set of values and beliefs that I write about here on the blog.

They are subject to personal bias, and may not work for everyone. I try to be as objective as possible, but in the end, my teachings will be different than your local club pro’s.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for determing whether the advice you get is worthy or not. I’m simply advocating that you question things a little bit more before practicing them.

Before spending 2 hours practicing a backswing that some instructor told you to practice, do some research! You might be surprised to find out that it wasn’t the best advice after all.

Lastly, I would like to say that the right instruction for one golfer is the wrong instruction for another. Our bodies and minds are built differently, and therefore no “standard” exists in golf instruction.

Although I would argue that there are some “laws” in golf that everyone should abide by (good posture, grip, alignment, ball position), the act of swinging the club will vary.

So on top of deciphering whether golf instruction is valid or not, you must also determine whether it works for you!

For example, I have studied the backswing in golf, and determined that there are various positions at the top that are “generally correct.” If you look at Sergio Garcia, he has a laid off club at the top of the backswing.

On the other hand, Justin Rose has the club pointing more towards the target. The following video explains the concept of “swing patents” really well:

Both positions are good, but for me, the laid off position that Sergio has doesn’t work. When I get the club laid off at the top, my downswing is far too steep due to my natural tendencies.

I have created a decision diagram to further explain the process that I go through when determining whether or not I should trust and implement the advice that I have been given:

decision tree for taking golf advice

When using this decision tree, it is in your best interest to remain as objective as possible. Just because your local pro is a nice guy does not mean he/she is “reputable.”

One might criticize this process as being too analytical, but I believe that it saves hours and hours of wasted time at the practice range.

The goal in golf is to practice the right things as often as possible. In order to do this, we must have a way of filtering the good advice from the bad advice. This is just my method, but I think that it will work for you if you decide to use it!

If you want further instruction on how I practice effectively, check out my free E-book: “The Weekend Warrior’s Practice Manual.”

It covers everything that the amateur golfer needs to improve their golf game through “smart work,” not “hard work.”

What’s MOST important thing right now?

The last thing that I want to cover regarding practice is the relative importance of different areas of practice.

We all know that the short game is the most important, but I’m going to get even more detailed.

When working on something in your putting stroke, chipping motion, or full swing, have you ever asked yourself whether this is the MOST important thing to be working on?

Personally, I’ve always got several things that I would like to improve in my full swing. I’m constantly trying to pick the things that will give me the greatest long term benefit.

For example, if my posture is poor, and my takeaway is off plane, I have a decision to make.

Do I work on my posture?

Or do I work on my backswing plane?

The obvious (or not so obvious) answer to this is to work on my posture.

Chances are, if I fix my posture, my backswing plane will improve as a result. But if I work on my backswing plane before fixing my posture, I’m headed for disaster. Not only would this require a compensation in the golf swing, it also neglects one of the simple fundamentals of the golf swing!

Next time you have several things to work on, take a moment to figure out which one is the MOST important. Which fix will cause a domino effect throughout your golf swing?

In other words, which fix will make all the other fixes 10x easier? (Hint: posture, alignment, ball position, grip, shoulder turn, weight shift, etc.)

Conclusion

Our skills as golfers are either improving or worsening. We can’t practice for 7 days in a row and expect to keep the muscle memory forever. Our skills are dynamic creatures, meaning that we either lose them by not practicing at all, make them worse by practicing the wrong things, or improve them by strategically working on the right things.

Hopefully after reading this post, you have a better idea of what things (if practiced) will make you better rather than worse.