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Why You’re Probably Practicing Golf All Wrong

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There are tons of golf instruction articles out there that tell you how to practice. The problem with them is that every golfer isn’t created equal (sorry, spoiler alert). The way Jason Day practices is not how Joe 20-Handicap should practice.

There’s a trend right now in golf instruction articles; so many of them are saying how bad it is to just go out and hit 7 iron after 7 iron or hit three buckets of balls. They sing the praise of visualization and practicing shots you see out on the course. They want you to play competitive games on the range that simulate pressure.

For most players who have been playing golf for a while, I couldn’t agree more. These ways of practicing are great… once you have found your swing or have lowered your handicap enough.

Beginners

The truth is that a beginning golfer would benefit a lot more from smacking 7 irons for two hours then they would hitting one 7 iron and then moving to a driver, then a sand wedge, and so on. That beginner may not have the movement pattern ingrained just yet, or he or she may struggle with different-length clubs.

I also encourage all my beginners to tee the ball up: all of them, all the time. This includes shots on the course. Learning the golf swing is hard enough without adding in the complexities of deep rough, tight lies, and slope. Introducing those variables all at once is a recipe for disaster for a beginning golfer. The last thing I want any beginner to do is quit, and if teeing the ball up helps them get the ball in the air more often and progress the ball a little further, then I’m all for it. The more fun they have, the more likely they are to come back.. and that also makes it more likely they will get better at the golf.

Joe 20-Handicap

Then there is Joe 20-handicap. He has been playing for 15 years and is a member at the local club. He gets to play on weekends and tries his best to get in a practice session or two on the range. Oh, he also has a 50-hour work week, a wife, and two kids.

Joe barely has time to play golf on Saturday morning, let alone go to the range for marathon practice sessions. I would recommend that he take a lesson at the beginning, middle and end of the season. Each lesson will give him a small piece of something to work on, so if Joe can find 5 minutes to sneak to the garage to swing a club, he should take that time as a golden ticket. Those 5 minutes should be spent being very mechanical and focusing on one or two positions in his swing he knows he has to get to. All he is trying to do is develop the feel he needs to hit the shot he wants. The beauty of the short sessions is Joe can put them in almost every day, and that is huge to keep him motivated.

The “Players”

Lastly, there are the “players.” Players are golfers who we all envy; they somehow have the greatest jobs in the world, the most understanding significant others, a single-digit handicap, and the swing of a tour pro. These golfers are always at the club; they get to play two-to-three times per week and you can always find them on the range grinding away. The best part about these golfers is that they have the time to get better, which is the best training aid anyone can ever buy. They should spend as much time as they can out on the course: not just playing the course, but creating shots, playing games, mixing up tee boxes, and playing for some spare change. When they do get to the range, they should be working on routine and visualizations. They should play games and challenge themselves on every shot. Every shot has to have a purpose.

All golfers are different, and that they need to look at their practice different. Next time, before you hit the range or the course, think about what will benefit your game the most and don’t be afraid to change your normal routine.

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Dan Gaucher is a Teaching Professional at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Connecticut. He also host a very successful podcast called "Rebel With Out A Par". Dan also has experience in the health and fitness industry which has allowed him to further understand the biomechanics of the body and how it correlates to the golf swing. Dan enjoys being a student of both the human body and the game of golf. Dan works with players of all abilities from beginners to aspiring professionals.

31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. James G

    Jul 7, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Have to challenge yourself without going overboard. For example, if you’re struggling, give yourself a wider area to hit a shot then slowly narrow that down. Change directions on the range too. Like hit some center, right and left with the wide areas that eventually get narrowed. Work in, like with irons, shots that go higher and lower once you get better at it.

    All that being said, the best practice I’ve ever done that helped my game was to play a course on the range that I know well. Give myself more narrow areas to hit the ball than I would have on the course. Score it too in maybe a bit more penalizing way. Improve that score on the range then the course becomes easy.

  2. Dave R

    Jul 6, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Ude . Really. You are so clever.

    • Ude

      Jul 6, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      glad you are seeking mental help for your geriatric golf disorders

  3. larry fox

    Jul 6, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Tee it up all the time? Ok! After I hit a few off the tee at the range I can usually drop down to the mat with no problm!

  4. Dave R

    Jul 5, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    . We all have to practice to become better that’s only common sense . It does not matter what we do if you repeat it it will be ingrained in the memory and muscles . You have to practice properly in order to be good at anything. That’s why it’s best to have someone who understands the golf swing and the proper way to apply it. Not all golf pros can teach you have to be a teacher and understand the make up of who your teaching. I’m not knocking pro golfers I’m just saying thru my experience not all golf pros are good teachers. I strongly suggest that as in buying golf equipment you should look around , talk to people and find a good teacher and trust in them .

  5. Dave R

    Jul 5, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    . We all have to practice to become better that’s only common sense . It does not matter what we do if you repeat it it will be ingrained in the memory and muscles . You have to practice properly in order to be good at anything. That’s why it’s best to have someone who understands the golf swing and the proper way to apply it. Not all golf pros can teach you have to be a teacher and understand the make up of who your teaching. I’m not knocking pro golfers I’m just saying thru my experience not all golf pros are good teachers. I strongly suggest that as in buying golf equipment you should look around , talk to people and find a good teacher and trust in them . You will enjoy the game as you should and remember it’s only a game.

    • Ude

      Jul 6, 2017 at 1:13 am

      based on what you told us about your daily golf regimen its more than a game its an obsessive compulsive behavior that requires help and medication. i hope you don’t buy new clubs annually.

  6. Dave R

    Jul 5, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    I exercise every day I get out of bed ,shower, make toast, watch the news and that’s it. Then go walk 6500 yards on the golf hunt i call it hunting because that’s what we do is hunt, for our golf balls so by the end of four hours we have walked 7500 yards lots of exercise for the day. Go home relax have a nap eat go to bed and do it again the next day.

    • Ude

      Jul 6, 2017 at 1:09 am

      you need a woman, or a dog, badly because mindlessly playing golf is self-defeating. you will go from your current state of mind to a psychotic who is totally bonkers. golf is a ridiculous game if you think about it and using golf to find meaning to your pathetic life is truly sick. seek help fast.

  7. David

    Jul 5, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    I am a 56YO with a 13.8 hcp, I often post 80 or 81, can’t seem to breakthrough into the 70’s, 2nd shot after a good drive seem to be my bug a boo with 6I through 3W. I play 3-5 days a week with my local guys for small team cash. How should this guy practice? I can get to a range 2 or 3 days a week for an hour or so

    • Ude

      Jul 5, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      at 56 y.o. you are going downward physically and mentally and deteriorating fast.
      look at yer naked body in a full length mirror and ask yerself – “is that a break 80 body or is it becoming a break 90 body”?

    • Va

      Jul 7, 2017 at 2:07 am

      Move up a tee, David

  8. johnny

    Jul 5, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    The wife carries a high single digit handicap index. She never practices, never goes to the range or short game area, and doesn’t even go to the putting green before playing. Shot a one over par 73 over the weekend with a double bogey and a 3 putt bogey.

    Don’t know what will happen when she retires next month, lol.

    • Ude

      Jul 5, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      she’ll likely find and new ‘johnny’ and dump the old johnny who is a duffer on the course and bed

  9. Grizz01

    Jul 5, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    “Practice does not make for perfect, perfect practice makes for perfect.” -Jon Lanier

    • Ude

      Jul 5, 2017 at 9:54 pm

      practice won’t help if your body is decrepit and your brain is shallow like most goffers

  10. Iverson

    Jul 5, 2017 at 7:10 pm

    We talkin’ about practice? … we talkin’ about practice? …. we not talkin’ about game? …. we talkin’ about practice!!!

  11. Old Putter

    Jul 5, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    I don’t practice…
    I just play

    • Ude

      Jul 5, 2017 at 7:16 pm

      children and losers don’t practice they only ‘play’
      real men and winners practice a lot and they ‘perform’

      • Matt

        Jul 5, 2017 at 9:38 pm

        Well that escalated quickly…

        • Ude

          Jul 5, 2017 at 9:50 pm

          old putter is on the down escalator and i’m on the up escalator

          • Garrett

            Jul 6, 2017 at 7:42 pm

            you seem negative. playing is better not for experience there’s no doubt about it.

            • Ude

              Jul 6, 2017 at 7:54 pm

              huh? I’m ‘negative’?
              none of my comments are ‘negative’
              your comment contains two ‘negatives’ … “not” and “no”
              so who’s ‘negative’?

  12. peter collins

    Jul 5, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    You would be thrown off our golf course, for this type of play, practice of this kind is frowned upon at our course, and should be kept to the range.

  13. Andrew S

    Jul 5, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    i agree with teeing it up for beginners. i do worry it engrains this swing and hitting down later on maybe very difficult. I’d recommend making every hole a par 3 for a while. My son started at age 7 and he played the personal par 3’s for a years and eventually played the ladies tees and is now on a men’s tees. The early success really helped him in the long run.

  14. Desmond

    Jul 5, 2017 at 11:02 am

    You’re correct; people don’t practice correctly. I’m in the middle of taking lessons, and I take a 8i-PW and just do my drills to ingrain new habits.

    For beginners, I’d say move up a few clubs to practice – 9i-PW.

    Like your advice for teeing it up for beginners. I have a 10 yr old who doesn’t appreciate hard work but likes to play – teeing it up in the fairway ’till he gets close is a good idea to make it more fun for him until he wants to play without a tee.

  15. Tom1

    Jul 5, 2017 at 11:00 am

    What about mid cappers… are we doin it right

    • Branson Reynolds

      Jul 5, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      Damn right we are!

    • Tim

      Jul 5, 2017 at 2:37 pm

      I hope you meant train 3 times weekly?

      • ooffa

        Jul 6, 2017 at 10:03 am

        The only train you should be concerned about is Amtrack. Get you out of here!

      • Tim

        Jul 7, 2017 at 5:06 pm

        No one successfully trains three times daily… a clear indication of your ignorance.

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Instruction

Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake

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In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.

SPINNING OUT

Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.

THE FLARED FOOT POSITION

The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.

DEAD WRONG

The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.

FOOT FLARE ISSUES

The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.

THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL

There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.

JACK NICKLAUS

A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.

THE DISCUS THROWER

The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.

REPAIRING YOUR SWING

Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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Instruction

WATCH: Over-the-top vs. over-and-through: 1 destroys a swing, 1 can save it

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This video is about OVER-AND-THROUGH, which is very different than being over-the-top. Over-and-through is a great recovery from a backswing that is not quite in the right position. Over-the-top is flat-out a full default to the ball. See how you can bridge the gap with getting your swing to deliver better to the target!

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Instruction

Stop Practicing, Start Training. Part 1: The long game

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This article is co-written with Zach Parker. Zach is the former director of golf at the Gary Gilchrist and Bishop’s Gate golf academies. Zach is a golf coach, an expert in skill acquisition, and he has years of experience setting up effective training scenarios for golfers of varying abilities. 

Zach Parker

The act of working on your golf game is often referred to as practice. This is a problem, however, because the word “practice” infers repetition or rehearsal. But golf is a sport that has a constantly changing playing surface, varying conditions and mixed skill requirements. So, if we use the traditional practice model of hitting the same shot over and over again, then we have a complete mismatch between our training and the requirements of the sport. This can lead to the following frustrations

  • Grinding on the range but not improving
  • Being unable to transfer performance on range to course
  • Finding practice boring
  • Plateaus in performance

These annoyances can lead to overall disappointment at underperforming and falling short of expectations developed in practice sessions. The most likely root cause of this issue is having no structure and the wrong context to your training, mistakenly focusing on repeating the same shot over and over again. 

So let’s try shifting our approach and aim to train and not simply practice. By introducing these three key principles to your training, we can not only get better at golf, but do so a way that is more efficient and more fun too! For more detailed insight to this topic, check out the podcast that Zach recently recorded with Game Like Training Golf

Spacing

Dr. Robert Bjorks suggests that the theory of spacing dates back centuries and simply means taking some time between training or learning tasks. By spacing things out the learner is forced to try and recall what was learned in the previous session, which makes that original learning stronger. The act of remembering strengthens the retrieval process, meaning it is more accessible in the future and easier to bring about.

Variability

Performing the same task over and over can allow you to appear to have “learned” the skill however we know that this is simply a false sense of competency (good on the range, but not on the course). Therefore if you’re truly looking to “learn” the new skill or desired movement pattern you need to introduce variability to the learning environment.

Challenge Point

Challenge point theory is a relatively new concept championed by Dr. Mark Guadagnoli and Dr. Tim Lee. The central idea of this theory is to create training sessions that are appropriate for the learner. A large emphasis is placed on matching up the difficulty of the practice task to the skill level of the golfer.

Guadagnoli and Lee present the idea that a beginner golfer with a low level of skill is better off spending time on practice tasks that are easier, and in a blocked style. Whilst golfers with a higher level of skill are better off spending time in practice tasks that are slightly harder, and in an interleaved style.

Challenge point needs to reflect the ability of the individual

Practical Example

In this example we have a college golfer aiming to incorporate a particular technical move into his golf swing. He is using a GravityFit TPro to help with feedback and learning. But instead of simply bashing balls using the TPro, he has been set up with a series of stations. The stations are divided into learning and completion tasks and incorporate the principles of Spacing, Variability and Challenge Point.

The aim is to work through three stations. If at any point the completion task is failed, then the participant must return back to the start at station one.

Station 1

Learning task: Three balls with a specific focus (in this case technical), performing two or three rehearsals to increase understanding of the desired pattern.

Completion task: Must two-putt from 35-45 feet, right-to-left break

Station 2

Learning task: Perform posture drills with the TPro, followed by one learning trial (hitting a shot) where the focus in on re-creating the feelings from the TPro exercise.

Completion task: Must two-putt from 30 feet, uphill

Station 3

Learning task: Transfer previous technical feels to a target focus, aiming for two out of three balls landing inside the proximity target.

Completion task: Must make an 8-10 footer.

You can either have a go at this circuit or create your own. There are no set rules, just make sure to include a mixture of tasks (Variability) that are appropriate to your level of ability (Challenge Point) with plenty of time between repetitions (Spacing).

For more information on the featured GravityFit equipment, check out the website here

 

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