Let me be the first to say I loved to practice in my younger years. I couldn’t wait for the sun to rise so I could chip and putt, then hit balls all day at the range until there was an opening on the course to play. Now, however, I feel that practice is significantly overrated. In fact, I have come full circle from my past and believe that, at certain levels, it is more harmful than good in many circumstances. Therefore, in this article I would like to explain my thoughts so you too can practice less and score better.

In the old days, before we had technological feedback and data gathering resources, we had to practice all day just to figure out what worked and what didn’t. In fact, it was like a dartboard of fundamentals; you threw a dart, and that was your starting point to fix your ball flight. As time progressed, we had the advent of video and everyone became obsessed with the “look” of their swing and the “proper” positions. We all found a full-length mirror to rehearse over-and-over until we looked better, but did this ever really help our score?

Today, we have the advantages of video, 3D motion analysis, force plates, and Trackman; thus, we have all the tools necessary to instantly figure out the problem and where it is coming from.

Let me give you and example.

Let’s say you are fighting a slice and cannot figure out why; you do feel that the club is getting a touch “behind” you on the way back, but you cannot determine exactly what’s going wrong. If you were to get a lesson now, you would be hooked up on 3D motion analysis, shown on video, and proven by Trackman that you have a slight over rotation of your lead forearm on the backswing, and you’re putting the club in a laid-off position into the backswing causing you to swing from out-to-in a few degrees on the way down. This MRI of events gives you all the answers you need to know in order to improve, with NO inefficiency! Could you imagine if Hogan had access to all this data? He’d have cured his hook years earlier, and he may have won 100 tournaments in the end.

Now, let me put this into perspective in regard to my stance on practice being overrated. I once taught Pete Sampras how to play golf when I lived in California, and I asked him if tennis players worked on mechanics as much as golfers. His reply was that by the time you get to a certain age your mechanics are set and you have to work on the things that matter, such as footwork and timing. And the same thing is true with golfers. Once you get to a certain point as a player, more harm than good comes from standing on the practice range simply “banging” balls.

In fact, now that you can have a technology-driven lesson as in the example above, you can instantly know what piece of the puzzle to work on and, with the help of an instructor, how to accomplish the fix. After you’ve put in some work with a mirror in order to feel the correct positions and movements, your range time should be minimal. Once you have accomplished the new feeling, it’s time to take it to the course and see if it sticks. If not, then you need to do more rehearsals and hit a few more balls, and repeat. The point is to work smarter, reduce inefficiencies and stop mindlessly tinkering or beating balls without purpose.

After you’ve made the necessary golf-swing improvements, your goal should be to continue to learn how to score better and manage your game. Remember, the pencil and the scorecard is all that matters, NOT how your swing looks or how much time you spend on the range.

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  1. I guess I’m the only person on here who actually agrees with this.

    I took up golf 18 months ago. Played off 21, usually shooting mid-low 90’s on good days, troubling 3 digits on bad days. Used to go to the range once or twice a week, play full 18 once a week. Watch countless videos from Me and My Golf / Crossfield / Shiels / Finchy and showed no improvement.

    “Paralysis by analysis” is a phrase me and my usual four ball use. 1million swing thoughts. Hands forward, spine straight, ball position, hit down, hit up, in to out, out to in.

    I got a new job, and suddenly had no time to practice. Within about 3 months I’d dropped an average of 9 shots a round. Better ball striking. More GIR, more fairways, more up and downs.

    I’m now playing off 12, and playing to it constantly. Still yet to break 80, but I’m confident within the year i’ll be down to single figures.

    All that, in my opinion, is down to a massive reduction in practice. Beyond warming up I never go to the driving range. I share a bucket with my partners, hit a few chips, a few putts, and I’m done.

    Thoughtless, unstructured, unfocused ball bashing, and I’ve dropped my handicap by 9 shots.

    Granted, every WRX reader besides me hits it 300+ avg carry with a 5 wood off the deck with a slight draw into wind, putts 19 times a round and plays off +3, so I’m sure the game is a lot more complicated at that level.

    I’m just a simple mid handicapper who wants to hit it straight, and get around a course with more pars than bogeys.

  2. There is a point here, if not artfully made. Assuming you have access to information, the “fix” is no longer a guessing game and you have a MUCH shorter path to better golf, without the guesswork and the inevitable rat holes. Moreover, there is a lot less bad information out there, particularly as Trackman analysis eliminates myth after myth. I do think repetition is still the best way to train the muscles and nerves to execute properly, however. Once you have the swing you want to groove, banging a few buckets engrains the learnings and vastly improves good contact. Thanks t also improves your ability to apply those nanoscopic changes to the swing that make a good shot great. Good, thought-provoking concept for the article.

  3. “After you’ve made the necessary golf-swing improvements”

    Yeah, and there’s the rub… Even the pros haven’t done that.

    Everybody will max out their scoring ability eventually, and golf swing improvements will HAVE to be done to get better. In addition, a person’s body is not static. As we get older we’re less flexible, less strong, perhaps injuries have limited certain mobility, therefore a golf swing MUST change.

  4. Tom, if you believe this then you’re deluding yourself. No great sportsperson (or musician or performer) hasn’t put the hours in honing their skills, usually from a very early age. The technology available today is brilliant for sure, but that super refined sense of feel and awareness for managing the clubface, swing path, dynamic loft, angle of attack, speed; putting it all together to produce the shot required in every unique situation? That can only be developed through years of repetition and trial and feedback.

  5. It’s important to get the balance right between practicing and playing,but the best players in the world have always been the ones that work the hardest off the course. Just hitting balls or putting etc with no purpose or not working on anything is pointless. But good structured practice Woking towards a swing change or position change is essential to get better.

  6. Practice is overrated…..for those with great hand/eye coordination and natural ability. It still amazes me how the great players of the past ever played the game without Trackman and all the it other high tech gizmos……wait…..they practiced until they figured it out.

  7. I will say, I have seen (and played with) guys at my old club who almost never practiced and would still play to a scratch or maybe a 2 handicap. However, these guys still played 4-5 days a week and had spent their younger years chiseling their technique in stone. I’ve also known and know some decent players (+ handicaps & a few on mini tours) and they would all laugh at this article. Sure there is something to be said for mental rehearsals and technology, but there can’t be anyone in golf that would agree with this, can there? Maybe if Bo Jackson had played golf…….

  8. I agree and disagree with this article.

    In terms of the long-game, I would agree that, with the modern tools available, there is a significantly less need to spend hours and hours hitting balls. Having lived through the last 20+ years as a competitive golfer practicing has become less about being on the range and more on the course. Now, I caveat this by saying that different people react differently to instruction and practice. And at different levels of skill, there is even more differentiation. But as someone who has played competitively (formerly on mini-tours and now as an amateur), I find myself in the same position as Mr Stickney says. It’s more about grooving the right feel and then taking it to the course, and less and less about spending a lot of time just hitting ball after ball. Unless I am working on a certain shot or ball-flight, I don’t spend a lot of time hitting full shots. I do my warm up and then work on putting and chipping. And this is the part I disagree with. Short-game and putting have to be practiced as much or more than when I first started playing competitively. It’s what separates good players from great players and average players from good players. And the only way you can become proficient at short-game shots and putting is a lot of practice.

    So while I agree that the current technology, in terms of things like Trackman and current methodology of instruction, is all about optimizing and making for more efficient practice, there is no substitution for getting better at the short game. You can derive a good technique, but technique is only as good as your ability to hit the ball a particular distance with a great deal of consistency. There is no way to gain the feel needed, other than “digging it out of the dirt” and spending the time it takes to gain the mastery necessary to be a better player.

  9. I find practice to be beneficial. For example, I practice my short game incessantly and as a result have a pretty good short game. I don’t think all the technology in the world would help as much as simply practicing. I agree that once a golfer has a good, fundamental swing, he can direct his attention to other aspects of his game.

  10. Dumbest article ever. Please don’t ever write another article. When I actually devoted time to practicing my short game, my weakest links, my scores dropped by a good ten strokes. Is practicing chipping, pitching and putting not considered practice? There’s more to practicing than merely smacking a bucket of balls. Practice makes perfect..

  11. The article equates practice with “standing on the practice range simply ‘beating’ balls” and “mindlessly tinkering or beating balls without purpose.” Interesting definition of practice.

  12. I tend to have some of my best rounds after I haven’t touched a club for weeks or months. I usually just screw myself up up when I try to practice. The only practice I really do nowadays is to chip in the backyard.