This is going to be the year you work hard and accomplish your golfing goals, you tell yourself. Some of you might be right, but my research shows that the vast majority of golfers won’t improve this season.
I don’t meant to be a downer! I want you to meet your goals, whether you’re setting out to break 100 for the first time or win your club championship. There are 5 reasons most golfers don’t reach their goals, however, and if you can overcome them and you’re on your way to a memorable golf season.
1) Bad Information
I recently had a pipe burst in my house. When it happened, I called a plumber. That’s just what you do when you’re not an expert, right? That’s why I’m always shocked by how often golfers rely on their friends — who usually aren’t much better than they are at golf — for feedback or swing advice.
These conversations are generally a curious mix of hilarious and pathetic. For example, I played golf with a couple of guys last week. The one guy hit it left. The other guy showed him a motion to fix the problem. Sure enough, the next one went right. The friend then suggested another fix. Sure enough, the next one went left. He was playing “army golf,” and it continued for the remainder of the round. It should go without saying he didn’t reach any of his landmark goals that day.
The fact is that golf requires one of the most difficult movement patterns in sports. It also requires a diverse group of skills including putting, chipping, pitching, an iron game, driving and course management. In my opinion, these are practically impossible to learn without a professional instructor.
“When players get good information, are inspired to apply it and engage in this process with a purpose, they are not only happier but also more motivated,” says Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Iain Highfield. “In my experience, happy, motivated people are fulfilled, and improved performance is just a by product of this process.”
If you want to get better this year, you must at least try working with someone who has a background in golf instruction.
2) Poor Work Ethic
Getting better requires a time investment; hours upon hours upon hours of following a practice plan that’s preferably created with a swing guru. Showing up for a lesson every two weeks is great, but only doing that won’t get the job done. There’s a huge time investment necessary to change a movement pattern, and it’s a much higher price than most are willing to pay.
Donny Lee, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher at Southern Dunes near Orlando, Florida, says golfers must be fully engaged when trying to get better. He suggests that they practice like they’re broke, and play like they’re billionaires.
“If you make a commitment to changing the way you practice, you can get better,” Lee says. “You need to bring attention and focus to what you are doing; practice needs to be more difficult than playing. Seems counterintuitive, but without making it hard, you are not learning anything that’s going to help you shot low scores next time you play.”
Too often, golfers take practice for granted. Without diligent attention to what you are doing, it’s unlikely that any learning is happening, thus perpetuating the same tired issues.
3) Poor Time Management
To learn a new skill, you must first engage in something called “blocked practice.” This means isolating one specific motion or skill and working on only that with repeated repetitions over an extended duration. As we build competency in the skill, we must then learn to transfer the skill from the range to the golf course. There is no way around the process; there is no secret, no special club or magical training aid we can buy. If you want to get better, you’re going to need a good process coupled with hard work.
According to Golf Digest Best Young Teacher and Middle Atlantic Teacher of the Year, Trillium Rose, who also has a Masters degree in motor learning, that process includes making time to hone in on your skill.
“We all have busy schedules so finding time can be very difficult,” Rose says. “Take a club to the office and make 15 repetitions of a drill every hour. Focus on the movement that you’re trying to change and find a way to get feedback to tell you if you’re actually making that change.”
4) Unrealistic Goals
Most of us start with a goal that we can never realistically expect to achieve and quickly get discouraged. The fix? Start smaller. The fact is that we are our habits and they are difficult to change. Going from zero range balls a week to hundreds in a day is not likely to happen. Instead of engaging in false hope, golfers need to segment their practice into achievable tasks. For example, lowering your handicap by two strokes throughout the season is a reasonable goal, whereas going from shooting in the 90s to shooting in the 70s over a three-month period is not.
According to Dr. Rob Neal, many golfers struggle to understand the difference between their average play and their very best play. “Part of golf is having a realistic sense of the possibilities,” Neal says. “Too many amateur players make plans based on their very best shots.”
5) You’re Not Actually Playing Golf
I play a lot of golf with people who hit the ball far when they connect. For every bomb they hit, however, they hit a couple foul balls that end up off the planet and out of bounds. They also take a couple mulligans and don’t finish each hole. Along with a few beers, it’s a good day away from work, but it’s not golf. Golf is shooting the lowest score possible over 18 holes.
The reality is most of us don’t take lessons and don’t practice enough. And when we do get to the course, we’re not doing everything we can to play our best. This doesn’t mean we should stop playing the game; it just means that we should not expect to improve. Ever wonder why places like Top Golf are getting more and more popular?
Have a great summer, and I hope you shoot a personal best this year… counting all your strokes and following all the rules, of course. If you don’t, remember that there’s always next year, and there’s nothing wrong with playing golf just to have fun!