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!

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Brendan Ryan is a golf researcher, writer, coach and entrepreneur. Golf has given him so much in his life -- a career, amazing travels, great experiences and an eclectic group of friends -- and he's excited to share his unique experience through his writing on GolfWRX. He hopes you enjoy!

19 COMMENTS

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  1. Let me sum up this article:
    5 Reasons you won’t improve
    1) You haven’t paid me for lessons yet, or
    2) You have paid me for lessons, but YOU don’t work hard enough, or
    3) You have paid me for lessons, but YOU don’t use your time wisely, or
    4) You have paid me for lessons, but YOU shouldn’t expect that I will actually help you improve significantly, or
    5) You actually don’t want to improve, which makes my previous 4 points moot.

  2. There are bad teachers and good teachers just like bad students and good students. This is a good article for golfers who are looking to get better and stay better, but the ones who truly want to do this and put in the work are so few. Like 10% of golfers.

  3. If your response was “people are playing golf to have fun” then you’re missing the point of the article, it’s not aimed at those people who are just out to enjoy the day with homies getting drunk and perhaps simultaneously dabbling in recreational drugs .

    The introduction clearly indicates the article is aimed at the person who starts the season expecting to make improvements, yet that rarely happens, for the reasons listed, and many others.

    There are plenty of positive articles but I found this negative article refreshingly honest. To the commenters who think golf instruction is a sham, I would respond that you just haven’t found the right instructor, or you found them and were too pig headed to realize they were giving you good instruction, and you expected to be ‘cured’ in a lesson.

    Actually getting better takes time and effort and coaching, there’s no way to bypass it through dicking around with friends on the range, buying better equipment, or reading tips. Because it’s hard, almost no recreational golfer ever makes significant improvements. They plateau and then start getting worse as they age.

    This was a rare attempt to shine a light on this issue of golfers lying to themselves.

  4. Never found a teacher that could tell me how to swing a golf club to avoid aggravating my lower back issues(arthritis). Between watching videos of older pros and a friend at the range I have a swing that doesn’t hurt and has me playing to an 11 handicap. Which is about the best I’ve ever been.

  5. I never met a PGA teacher that works to fine tune my swing: the answer is always start over and swing their way.
    Watch the pros on tv – you see as many swings as players – precisely my point: you don’t have to start over to improve.
    I find useful help reading books.

  6. This article is bizarre.

    1. Virtually golfers should define improve as “have more fun” not “shoot a lower score”. Talking to your friends about golf is fun. Buying new equipment is fun. Drinking beer is fun. Improving fun > shooting 78 instead of 82.

    2. You know what a plumber does? He charges money. If the pipe bursts again the next day he comes back and fixes it. He doesn’t charge you a second time. Golf pros don’t work that way. They charge for whatever and, if you still suck, you pay to go back. Its nothing like a plumber. Plumbers are honest. Golf pros are, by and large, nonsense. Plumbers have to stand behind their work and stay on it until the job is done. Golf pros don’t work that way. Comparing golf pros to plumbers is a massive insult to plumbers.

    3. The single thing 99% of golfers could work on to shoot lower scores is to work on playing golf and not playing golf swing. I’m a decent player. I hardly ever think about mechanics while on a golf course. I’m playing golf. My high cap friends almost never think of anything *but* mechanics. A great resolution going into the season is to think about mechanics only on the practice tee. The only thing that has been linked through academic study to golf success is that the better the player the less they think about mechanics during a round. This is indisputable (the study was at Penn State in 2005). This doesn’t mean ignore mechanics during practice, it means ignore them while playing.

    • +1 on all the above, although a local pro does do a ‘fix your slice or your money back’ deal, but I’d say he’s more used car salesman than plumber.

      There’s a few generalisations here I disagree with, but I appreciate that’s probably more to do with simplifying your point that trying to be rude.

    • “The single thing 99% of golfers could work on to shoot lower scores is to work on playing golf and not playing golf swing. I’m a decent player. I hardly ever think about mechanics while on a golf course. ”

      This is what people say who don’t have massive issues with their natural swing, started golf as kids or are natural athletes. I started golf in my late thirties after I got too beat up for the sports. If I don’t think about mechanics I push slice it off the planet losing at least a ball per hole and have no chance of ever breaking 100. Good on you that your instinctive move works for golf but it doesn’t for everyone.

    • Spot on is this comment, I myself earlier this year went for a gapping session and as a 10 Handicap golfer have quite a decent swing. This particular day I did not have a good swing going but the Pro doing the session turned the gapping session into a lesson which I did not require nor ask for. Any professional at any job would not take money for services you did not ask for. I have found most Pro’s over the years as very unhelpful if the money is not in their pockets first.

  7. 6) You Are Using The Wrong Equipment!!!
    Get rid of those S-300 high kick point stiff tipped shafts in your irons and replace them with an A-shaft to match your 80-75mph golf swing! Bobby Jones played with whippy hickory shafts and he didn’t have a 100mph swing speed.
    As for your 10.5º, 460cc driver with the 45.5″ graphite shaft…. ditch it and replace it with a 300cc, 15º, 43″ softest STEEL shaft you can find. A 460cc driver head overwhelms the epoxy plastic graphite shaft because the excessive MOI twists the soggy floppy shaft tip all over the place…. and because graphite doesn’t have the dynamic response for recovery from the whip snapping action. That’s why shaft manufacturers are always coming out with new and improved shaft tip windings but to no avail.
    OEMs depend on “planned failure” designs… to keep the suckers coming back annually … sooo obvious.

    • To his credit Observant thinks outside the box. Sometime outside the box is a revelation, other times it’s just wordy garbage. Unfortunately his recent post is one of those wordy garbage times.

    • Huh? Once again, a brilliant gem from Observant. One day, he will write something that makes sense.

      I can not believe all of those pros have won tournaments with graphite shafts – in words, hybrids and irons. I guess it was the steel putter shaft that made the difference.

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