Lots of players complain that they’re fine on the driving range but can’t take their groovy swings and deft touch around the greens to the course. The problem is a root misunderstanding of the differences between practice and play – both of which require thinking and analyzing. The trick is to know how, when, and where to do so. Even though there are thousands of books that address this topic in mind-numbing detail, most of them address the general ideas and concepts.
I’m going to boil the topic down to its most basic ideas. Be aware that though basic, many players find these ideas difficult to incorporate. Here we go:
IDEA ONE: PRACTICING AND PLAYING ARE NOT THE SAME THING
What you’re training yourself to do on the practice area is not usually going to transfer to the course. There are a million reasons for this but here’s my top five differences:
- You are using a different ball
- You don’t have the same lie all the time
- You are always looking at a different shot
- You are not using the same club over and over again
- You don’t know real carry distance
IDEA TWO: EXPERIENCE LEVELS DICTATE WHAT TO PRACTICE
MOST PLAYERS should be using the practice areas to either learn something new, or reinforce personally relevant physical actions and/or mechanical technique. It’s my view that learning or monitoring the basics will provide the best foundation for on-going analysis. Grip, set-up, and alignment are always key. Without a clear understanding of how these basics apply to you, hitting real golf shots on the course will be almost impossible. There are far too many average players “practicing” like advanced players!
FYI - Advanced players generally use practice areas to burnish existing skills and/or experiment with an extensive array of ball-striking variations. Most of the variations will center around face/path/attack control. The resulting ball flights are observed and archived until recalled and executed during the course of play. Advanced players are far more experienced at intentionally manipulating their bodies. For example, when working on full-swing technique they are able to accurately sense positive physical pressures such as large muscle loading and resistance.
IDEA THREE: ANALYTICAL TO PHYSICAL TRANSITION
Regardless of skill level, there must be a transition from thinking and analyzing to physical action. If a transition doesn’t occur, playing golf will rarely be rewarding and fun. There are techniques that can help you make this critical transition. Here are just a few:
- Understand that hitting a golf shot is a physical event, not a mental exercise
- Be deeply engaged with your ultimate target instead of the ball
- Hand-eye coordination is your best friend, especially around the greens
- Correctly analyze your lie
- Correctly locate specific landing zones
Well, that’s it in the proverbial nutshell. If you learn and implement just one of the ideas, an amazing door of opportunity will open for you. In the end, playing golf has very little to do with that crazy list of things you think you’re supposed to do. That’s just playing “golf swing” and “how do I do this?”, neither of which I think we can watch on television.