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Why practicing more can actually make you worse

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Congratulations, you’ve finally done it. You’ve committed to getting better at golf, and made the promise to work harder than ever on your game. Or maybe you’re recently retired and have more time on your hands. So off to the course you go, everyday, to bang a tour-size bucket of balls. The problem is, you’re getting worse, not better.

How? The answer is simple. When most golfers hit range balls, they’re often doing little more than ingraining or accentuating swing faults. In order to get better at golf, you must make correct repetitions. “Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect,” Vince Lombardi said.

Think about it: If you have the classic, overly inside takeaway, a slight over-the-top transition, and play a pull-fade, you can still score and play the game with enjoyment if you are a weekend golfer who hardly practices. If you hit 500 balls per day, however, your takeaway will most likely get more inside, and your transition will move more and more over the top. A playable pull-fade becomes a push-slice, or possible a duck-hook. You’ll lose any semblance of ball control, and your score will rise.

So what’s the secret?

Having the time to practice is great, but golfers need a roadmap or plan of action in order to get to the next level. This is where a teaching professional comes into play. Take the time to see an instructor in your area who can audit your entire game. They should look at your long game, short game, putting, and also ask questions about your mental game, course strategy and fitness level. They should also discuss your long-term and short-term goals. Defining your definition of “better” will help you stay focused on improvement, and help your instructor make better decisions about the direction your game needs to go.

From there, you BOTH can lay out a plan of action that allows you to have consistent lessons on every part of the game. They can be as infrequent as once per month, or as frequently as once per week. I also recommend that part of the plan be supervised practice sessions, where the professional keeps a watchful eye on your habits and tendencies. He or she may even be able to get on the course with you to see how you handle its challenges. By watching you play or practice, an instructor can point out when you begin to aim too far right, hunch over, or get too quick in real time — before it becomes a major issue.

Remember, the key to improvement is a plan of action, checkpoints to audit, and working smarter, not harder. Does this describe you? Leave your instruction questions below in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to answer as many as I can.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

41 Comments

41 Comments

  1. cgasucks

    May 21, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    It is not how long you practice, it is how. You might be proud of yourself being a range rat for for hours practicing your swing…but all that time is wasted if your swing is always over the top. It doesn’t hurt to experiment when you practice, after all, you might have a revelation if you do.

  2. Barry stevens

    May 19, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    I really think that the normal club coaches charge far too much therefore making having lessons for the majority of average players out of the question.

  3. Steven

    May 17, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    I like the idea, but I both agree and disagree. It is true that more practice can ingrain bad habits. I have no doubt about that. A golfer with certain tendencies will have a limited ceiling of improvement. However, it won’t necessarily exaggerate those habits. Hitting 500 balls may actually cause the bad habits to be more consistent. If they are consistent, then the misses will be consistent. A golfer who knows where the miss will be is in a great position. That golfer may not break par, but their scores will be around the same. I agree a more correct swing is advisable, but consistency can make up for a ton of problems with most amateurs.

  4. Bob

    May 13, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    Gir

  5. Bob

    May 13, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    Gir is king of all! Keep practicing it will come to you.

  6. RG

    May 12, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    Didn’t know you were capable of having a humble opinion…

  7. RG

    May 12, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    If you want to change your swing you need to practice the swing without hitting a ball. The golf ball can lie to you. When swinging without the ball there is no pressure. There is no short cut to breaking 80. Rhythm and tempo are prime. Perfect mechanics without them is dead. Bad mechanics with them and your still playin good.

  8. Pete

    May 12, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    “In order to get better at golf, you must make correct repetitions”, is not actually as a fact true. Also faulty repetitions will make you better in ways, one does not usually aknowledge. They add your library of what not to, and give your subconscious triggers to change things as they happen and react to familiar positions, where you have missed a shot and run a sort of autocorrect in your head.

    There are certain rules of what a good, close to perfect swing is and looks like, yet no-one ever repeats a swing perfectly. Every single swing is different from one, another. Block-practice will get you somewhere in short terms, but variable training is what improves your skills faster and more consistently on long run.

    I think, instead of perfect practice making you better it should be written: “Playfull practice will make you better”, because in variable training your brain will have to work on every single shot as if you were playing on the course. It’s a proven fact, that learning after a block practice is at the level reached in the practice, but will fall in time, but in variable training the process in your brain will continue after the practice session is stopped and you’ll improve even afterwords.

    The wisdom of Chuck Hogan is a key to improve, he said: “I’m learning perfectly, yet everything I learn is not perfect.”

    • Steven

      May 17, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      This is a great comment, and I 100% agree. The new research on interleaving practice (variable practice) shows long term improvement happens by playing simulation games with different clubs, etc. Switch clubs on the range or even in the house without a ball. Switch between full, half, pitch, chip, etc shots each time. Focus goes up and improvement lasts.

  9. Troy

    May 12, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Yep, I’d agree with this Tom.

    I see at guy at the range nearly every week practicing the same poor swing each time. It doesn’t change and he doesn’t seem to be working on any drills to improve.

    Cheers

  10. Larry

    May 12, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    shank!!!!

    Keep pounding range balls until the desired shot shape is achieved. You will get worse then uptick to you max potential.
    Golf requires nothing but will and desire to be better. It reveals you to yourself. Man up and get better or let (INSERT FLAVOUR OF THE MONTH INSTRUCTOR) tell you this that and the other is wrong with your game.
    There is no quick fix or tip your own game is inside you.
    Instructors see $$ not your game.

    • James

      May 12, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      You have had some poor instructors if that’s your attitude to us

      • Larry

        May 13, 2016 at 9:02 am

        Exactly!! people need to realize only YOU can fix your slice. I am a firm believer in that the hack golfer has ZERO clue as to what task he is about to preform. When you address the ball and have no idea what it is you have to accomplish, the rest is already written.
        Read as much sound scientific theory about the golf swing as you can. Inundated your mind with the right pictures and diagrams of what takes place during that presious 1 sec.
        Once you have a good grasp of what is required to get the ball down the track that is when you can honestly try and dig your inner golfer out of you.

  11. Deryck

    May 12, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    I’m in the camp that believes ball striking is god. Let me put it this way, PGA Tour pros would have bad up and down numbers if they were put in the same positions as your everyday golf hack who blades / slices an iron approach shot off of the fairway that flies 40 yards off of the green. Ball striking helps short game. If on that same approach shot you are a good ball striker and you miss the green, you more than likely will miss the green (as a good ball striker) much closer to the green than the aforementioned hack WHICH equates to an easier shot game shot and a higer percentage to get up on down. Watch any PGA Tour event and the pros when they miss greens don’t miss the greens by that much so their up and downs are far easier than you weekend hack. Of course, you have to have some sort of competence with your short game but to say things like 90% short game / 10% long game practice is ridiculous. You NEED to be fully competent at ball striking.

  12. Rob

    May 12, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    WOW SMH around here….

    Its been said time and time again. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

    The point of the article was don’t practice all willy-nilly. Practice with a purpose, practice with a goal dont just show-up hit some range balls hit some putts and call it good. Actually work on something and if that means having a coach look at your game and help you move forward so be it.

    • mikee

      May 13, 2016 at 8:49 am

      100% correct…..find an instructor you can relate to who can help….playing lessons IMHO are the best once your handicap is single digit. Course mgmt. strategy, playing from unusual lies etc works best once you have a decent swing.

  13. Erik

    May 12, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    I agree. My time on the range is spent just getting warmed up and getting a feel for what I anticipate the ball will do when I get out on the course. I want to know what the driver will do on the first tee and then I spend most of my time 100 yards and in practicing wedges.

  14. Jnak97

    May 12, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    That being said, I do agree that having a pro help you practice is invaluable.

  15. Jnak97

    May 12, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    All of you people saying that short game practice should be where you spend the majority of your time need to consider the fact that an OB from the tee means you already need to hole out your second shot to make par! If you cannot get the ball on the fairway first whats the point of having a good short game.Practice the things that are making your score go up. For me that is getting it on the fairway an hitting more greens. I can get it up and down a lot because I never neglect the other parts of my game and always spend at least a little time working on them every time i play

    • Tom

      May 12, 2016 at 3:59 pm

      “All of you people saying that short game practice should be where you spend the majority of your time need to consider the fact that an OB from the tee means you already need to hole out your second shot to make par!” Huh….I’m perplexed?

      • Philip

        May 12, 2016 at 4:22 pm

        I think he meant one’s 3rd shot for a 4 with a penalty. Which would have been your second shot if you did not hit OB.

  16. Forsbrand

    May 12, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Absolutely agree too many people out there “hitting it like a god on the range” and can’t score when they hit the course spend way too much time on the range. I’ve been guilty of this myself

  17. TCJ

    May 12, 2016 at 10:58 am

    So the secret to golf, coming from a golf instructor, is to seek out a golf instructor… genius!

  18. Marty Moose

    May 12, 2016 at 9:14 am

    I’ll usually hit half the bucket like I’m playing a “real” round. Think of a course I know really well, pick targets and hit driver, iron, wedge, etc. The second half of the bucket I use to practice short game, 100 yards and in. Finally, I spend the rest of my practice time putting.

    Never fails to see that person at the range hitting driver after driver. That’s never going to make you a great driver of the ball. I typically hit mine around 5 – 7 times while practicing.

  19. Jordan G

    May 12, 2016 at 9:00 am

    I believe you could spend 10% of your practice time hitting range balls, and the other 90% of your time focusing on short-game and putting, and you will see a drastic improvement in strokes cut off each around. If you can’t get up and down after missing a green, then what’s the point to practicing?

    • Clemson Sucks

      May 12, 2016 at 9:29 am

      Agree with this 100%.

      • Christen_the_sloop

        May 12, 2016 at 9:41 am

        When I have time to practice, I spend the majority of my time working on short game. I watch others (actually very few others practice short game, and most do with a big bucket of balls) hitting the same shot over and over and over. I use no more than three balls and move from place to place. Keeps my focus on sharp. The rest of the people hit ball after ball after ball at the range. Short game is everything. If you can get it in the hole you can be a lot more aggressive off the tee.

      • chad

        May 12, 2016 at 10:38 am

        Unless your short game is one of your strengths. If you really want to improve you have to improve your weaknesses. Just saying always practice short game isn’t going to get you far if you can’t hit a fairway

    • TheCityGame

      May 12, 2016 at 9:40 am

      The point of practicing is to miss fewer greens. That’s the point. You’re never going to score if you can’t hit a lot greens. End of story. No matter how good your short game is. No one gets up & down enough to score well if they’re only hitting 5 greens.

      • Jack

        May 12, 2016 at 9:48 am

        It’s easier to improve ur short game than to improve you mid iron game. That’s why people suggest that. You need some talent to be a good enough ball striker to get on the green in one stroke from 150 plus out consistently.

        • TheCityGame

          May 12, 2016 at 10:01 am

          Fine, then just resign yourself to being a guy who can’t get below 85 because it’s tough to improve ball striking, or you need natural talent, or whatever other excuse people come up with.

          “I have the short game of a single digit player”.

          How many hacks have I heard that from?

          • mikee

            May 13, 2016 at 8:53 am

            Absolutely! Greens in reg is what it’s all about. The most important shot in golf is the approach shot. Need to have the mid irons working well to hit them greens

          • Scott

            May 13, 2016 at 11:58 am

            +1 on the hacks that “supposedly” have a great short game. I think that the golf gods don’t want them, or me, to suffer any longer. Funny, I seldom (or not with any consistency) see those hacks with great short games get up and down to save par when given the chance

      • Scott

        May 13, 2016 at 11:53 am

        @TheCityGame +1
        No one practices their short game correctly and most do not have the skill to have a great short game. If players would track their stats, they would see that their best rounds correlate a the higher number of GIR.
        However, having confidence in your ability “on the course” vs. “at the range” is the only way most people will experience better shots.

    • TCJ

      May 12, 2016 at 10:55 am

      +1

    • Bob Jones

      May 13, 2016 at 11:28 am

      Getting better at the short game will take you from 95 to 90. If you want to break 80, you need a better swing.

    • realist

      May 28, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      Probably usually how it works out for me, but it seems really hard to find good places to practice 40-80yd shots without going to the range and wasting money hitting to nothing or using a hole at course(usually a no go)… I wish ranges would put better targets(a line with marks would do) at least every 10 yds after the 50yd mark, these shot need to be pretty precise.

  20. Desmond

    May 12, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Practice without feedback leads to zero change, or near zero change — I’ve experienced it. Avoid it.

  21. Alex

    May 12, 2016 at 7:32 am

    Short focused practice is great. And you need to have your swing checked. Yesterday I was at the putting green trying to unsuccessfully fix my putting stroke. My buddy who is a great putter showed up and simply told me “your eyes are not on the ball” and voila! I started making putts again.

    • Tom

      May 12, 2016 at 11:22 am

      Agree. I practice religiously and make a point to have an instructor or single digit friend offer their observation.

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