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10 reasons your golf game isn’t improving (even if you’re practicing a lot)

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One of the things I hate to see is when you watch someone come to the practice facility day after day, week after week, truly doing what they think is best for their games and they continue to get worse. In fact, you can actually do more harm than good by “practicing” if you are not careful. So in this article I want to give you my top-10 reasons your game is not improving, even if you’re practicing more than ever.

1) You’re not practicing, you’re just getting exercise

We all know the guy who walks into the grill room and boasts that he has hit five pyramids of balls that day. The problem is, at least 90 percent of those shots were a complete waste of time! This guy is only getting exercise, not doing himself any good whatsoever. As a matter of fact, this is my number one pet-peeve for my clients who have retired and are looking for something to fill their day. When you hit this many balls, you have no chance to get better as you are only ingraining poor swing flaws or improper motions from getting tired.

Please limit yourself to one hour per range session, and use this time wisely with slow motion swings, proper feedback, and mirror work; this way, you just might improve. Anything past that hour mark (unless you’re a trained professional athlete or top-level amateur), and you are spinning your wheels, in my opinion.

2) You don’t understand “feel vs real”

Feel and real are two different things, and if you don’t know the difference, you’ll have to practice twice as hard for twice as long to get any better. Remember the feeling of making that “new” move? How weird it feels and how similar it actually looks on camera? Don’t be afraid to exaggerate a new move in order to make the change you want; if you don’t exaggerate it, then you may have to put in much more time in order to eradicate yourself of whatever move you’re trying to eliminate.

Use video feedback to remind yourself of what is actually happening when you’re making a swing change. Huge changes in our mind often translate to very small changes in real life; the camera will remind you what needs to be done.

3) You only practice the fun things

How many times have you gone to the range and worked on smashing your driver versus working on hitting trouble shots around trees, or your super-long lag putting? In fact, we are all guilty of working on things that we are already good at or enjoy doing with the excuse that “we don’t want to lose it.” Personally, I hate practicing my long irons and seldom did when I was playing, and because of this fact, I am not too stellar from outside 200 yards still today. Why? Because that was in the days of small bladed forged irons and whenever you missed them they felt terrible and therefore I avoided them. Not a smart idea. Hone your strengths, but work hard on your problem areas to really improve.

4) You’re not making practice uncomfortable and pressure filled

Another one of the things I constantly see is where a player can hit the ball like a champ on the range, but the moment they walk on the course, things change for the worse. Why? Because they become too outcome focused. If they could reverse the mental process — making practice pressure filled and the course worry-free — they would be a world beater. My favorite drill is to set a goal during a practice session, such as making 100 3-footers in a row; and if you don’t reach that goal, open up your wallet and throw $20 on the ground for someone to find. If you do this, I promise you will focus and feel pressure. These are the type of things that one must do in order to simulate game-like conditions.

5) You’re not testing your changes on the golf course

Ok, you’ve worked on it, and you feel that you have mastered the “new” move that will cure your snap hook… now take it to the course and test it out! There is no better way to see if your no-double-cross swing is working by aiming down the line of trouble and trying to work it away from it. The course is the only place for you to see if you truly have a grasp of the new move, and under pressure on the course is the only way to actually know for sure!

6) Your equipment isn’t truly fit to what you’re trying to do as a player

If you have faulty equipment, then how can you actually know you have eliminated a faulty move or funky shot? Maybe those super-slick grips are causing your grip pressure to increase at address and this is the reason why you tend to swing the club too much to the inside on the way back? Or is it a faulty motion of the forward arm and wrist? If your clubs are not correct, then you will always fight something that might not actually be your issue.

Think about the buddy of yours who has irons that have an incorrect lie angle… how much easier could the game be if they were correct?

7) You don’t have any… goals, practice, evaluation or feedback

I’m sorry, but just swatting balls daily is not the best way to get any better! Have you ever asked yourself “what is today’s goal?” and then “what is the best way to work toward achieving that goal?” Next time you’re at the range, ask yourself those two questions, and then ask yourself how you will measure this and understand the feedback you’re given. Most people do not even think of these things, nor do they have factors in place in order to do so.

To be a better player, like in life, you have to have clear-cut goals in mind, or else you are being sloppy. Remember to take into account the four things above, or you will not improve as rapidly as you’d like!

8) You’re working on mechanics only, not how to score

Yes, you can do either or both in your practice, but don’t get them confused! What is your first objective in a given practice session — making a more consistent motion or lowering your score? Most of the time, they don’t have anything to do with one another.

9) You’re overly focused on the “look,” not the function

Are you too focused on making a perfect swing instead of one that is functionally correct and repetitive? Yes, we’d all like to look as pretty as Adam Scott, but understand that Furyk has a better record — it’s not about beauty, it’s about function at the end of the day.

10) You’re working on your swing with a non-professional

This is one that hits close to home, as I HATE to see people working on the incorrect things on the range, or from their buddy who can’t break 90. It kills me to watch someone working on their exit pattern when their grip or transition is the fault. Please make sure you at least consult with someone who knows more about the game and the swing than you do, and if your thoughts check out, then by all means go at it alone. I’m a big fan of players being self-sufficient, but for every Watson or Trevino who figured it out on their own, there are millions of golfers who screwed themselves up royally doing this.

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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

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Pete

    Jun 11, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    Only ‘perfect ‘ practice make perfect. My session will always end with at least 18 balls thrown away from the green. Then it’s the race to see how many I get up and down.

  2. Leigh

    Jun 11, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Tom Watson had Stan Thirsk as his teacher along with some help from Byron Nelson.

  3. Dave r

    Jun 11, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Always said the better I practiced the luckier I got. Real good article . To break 80 just need to be patient and practice smart it’s not rocket science.

  4. Bob Jones

    Jun 11, 2018 at 9:44 am

    Let’s talk about learning to play the piano. You would start out with easy pieces and basic skills. You would play within your capabilities because that is all you could do. Over time, you would become more skillful in your technique, but to become a pianist your focus would have been all along on being a musician, technique being a means to that end.

    Golf should be the same way: starting with easy, basic skills and working up as you go along, playing on courses that your skills make you capable of playing, and using those skills to be a golfer the whole time. But what normally happens is that amateurs tackle the full game from the very start, get in way over their heads, and continue to try solving advanced problems instead of starting off small and working up.

    People who never went through a process of gradually getting into the game, but rather tried to take it on all at once will find improvement difficult and time-consuming because they never created a foundation upon which significant improvement can occur. Until they build that foundation, no amount of tweaks at the back end will help very much.

    • James T

      Jun 11, 2018 at 9:56 am

      … like trying to play Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21 after your 2nd lesson…

  5. Johnny Penso

    Jun 10, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    Solid advice. One of my favourite practice routines is to play each and every shot in an upcoming round, one after the other. Tee off with driver, estimate how far it would actually go on the course and then hit the next shot. Tee it up again on the next hole and off you go. For each shot I go through my entire routine. It’s too easy to hit the same club over and over and find a groove and simply enjoy hitting perfect shots. Switching from club to club is how we actually play golf so it makes sense to practice that way at least some of the time.

    • Jeff

      Jun 11, 2018 at 9:12 am

      I do the same thing. “Simulated course.” Great way to add “game-time pressure” to your practice routine.

  6. RBImGuy

    Jun 10, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    as a non professional I teach better then said professionals.
    just saying
    that people practice without a plan seems to be a educational professional issue

  7. James T

    Jun 10, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Hey Tom, I’m headed down to Puerto Vallarta and Punta Mita to find some $20 bills on the practice putting green. Ya gotta lip out one of those 300 3-footers! The 20 bucks will buy me a lot of cervezas. See you soon.

  8. henry

    Jun 10, 2018 at 6:07 am

    This is some solid advice. Though I dont know if I would ever throw a $20 on the ground for missing a putt on the practice green. I like the basis though. I keep a towel under my lead armpit for just about every swing, and the second I feel tired, I take it to the putting green. But i improved a lot by using this product. https://bit.ly/2HAGq7v

    • shawn

      Jun 10, 2018 at 1:55 pm

      So you believe in “mind over matter” to conquer the golf swing and course?!
      Only if you are playing in the low 80s and less. Of course, buying a new and improved set of the latest golf clubs will also do wonders for your game. 😮

  9. shawn

    Jun 10, 2018 at 1:25 am

    This advice only applies to golfers who can break 90. All others are hopeless duffers.

  10. Brett Weir

    Jun 9, 2018 at 9:27 pm

    I remember Butch Harmon would stress that if you want to get better is that your work on your weaknesses until they become your strengths.

    • shawn

      Jun 10, 2018 at 1:57 pm

      You mean… commitment and repetitions? I don’t have the time to practice. Will a new set of Gen2 PXG clubs help me avoid time consuming practice?

  11. henry

    Jun 9, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    This is some solid advice. Though I dont know if I would ever throw a $20 on the ground for missing a putt on the practice green. I like the basis though. I keep a towel under my lead armpit for just about every swing, and the second I feel tired, I take it to the putting green.

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Want more power and consistency? Master this transition move

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Lucas Wald Transition

World Long Drive competitor Eddie Fernandes has added speed and consistency by improving these transition moves. You can do it, too!

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Why you must practice under pressure if you want to play better golf

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Practice, as most of us employ it, is borderline worthless. This is because most of the practices, if you will, typically employed during practice sessions have little chance of improving our performance under pressure.

The type of practice that improves performance is, for the most part, rarely engaged in because practicing under typical “practice” conditions does very little to simulate the thoughts, feelings, and emotions we deal with once our performance actually means something. If we want to really improve our performance when it matters, we need to put ourselves in situations, often and repeatedly, that simulate the pressure we experience during competition. And nowhere is this statement more true than on the putting green.

The art and skill of putting is a funny thing. No element of the game requires less inherent hand-eye coordination or athletic talent. Putting’s simplicity makes it golf’s great equalizer. You roll a ball along the ground with a flat-faced stick in the general direction of a hole nearly three times its size. Sure, green speeds vary wildly, and there are those diabolical breaks to deal with, but despite that, putting is truly golf’s most level playing field; it’s the one element of the game where even the highest handicappers can potentially compete straight up with the game’s most skilled. At the same time, there are few other situations (other than maybe the first tee) when we feel as much pressure as we do on the putting green.

Ben Hogan, during the latter part of his career — years that were marred by poor putting — claimed that putting shouldn’t even be a part of the game because, in his words, “There is no similarity between golf and putting; they are two different games, one played in the air, and the other on the ground.”

Now, Hogan suffered a serious case of the yips later in his career, and while this statement was likely uttered following a frustrating round of missed three-footers, it serves to highlight not only the differences between putting and the rest of the game, but how taxing on the nerves it can be for even the game’s greats.

Its inherent simplicity, the slow pace of the stroke, and how much time we are given to contemplate it, are in truth what sets us up. It’s golf’s free throw. We very often know exactly what to do, and how to do it, like when we’re faced with one of those straight three-footers, but with more time to think, it opens the door wide for the type of second-guessing that arises during those moments we feel a bit of pressure. And that’s the biggest part of the problem.

The self-sabotage that leads to missing relatively short easy putts, the reasons behind it, and practices to overcome it is something for a different article. What I really want to get into at the moment is a practice that I think can help ensure you never end up in that desperate place to begin with.

Most of us rarely practice our putting, and when we do, it’s in about the most useless way we can. We’ve all done it. You grab a sleeve of balls just prior to the round, head to the practice green, and begin rolling them from hole to hole around the typical nine-hole route. Now I could go into a whole host of reasons why this isn’t very helpful, but the No. 1 reason it’s such a pitifully poor practice is this: there is no pressure.

Early in my career, I worked at a club where there was at least one money game on the putting green every day, and many nights too. The members (and staff) putted aces, 5 for $5, rabbits, and many other games for hours on end, and when the sun went down they often switched on the clubhouse roof-mounted floodlights and continued into the wee hours. Many days (and nights) I witnessed hundreds of dollars change hands on that putting green, occasionally from my own, but in my younger days, that was fortunately an infrequent occurrence.

Those money games were a cherished part of the culture of that club and an incredibly good arena in which to learn to practice under pressure. To this day, I’ve never seen as many really good pressure putters (many of very average handicaps) as I did during that period, and when I think back, it’s no small wonder either.

The problem with practicing golf, or just about any other sport for that matter, is that it’s difficult to practice under the types of pressure we compete in. In 4 or 5 hours on the golf course we might only have a half dozen putts that really mean something, and maybe only 2 or 3 of those knee-knocking 3 footers with the match on the line or the chance to win a bet.

When I was younger and playing in those money games on the putting green, I had a meaningful putt every minute or two, for hours on end, and you either learned to handle that pressure pretty quickly or your hard-earned paycheck was being signed over to someone else. Now I’m not bringing this up to encourage gambling, as I know for some people that can become a serious issue, but rather to point out how the opportunity to practice repeatedly under pressure helped me learn to deal with those situations. And with how infrequently we even get the opportunity to face that same pressure when we actually play, it’s important to try do our best to simulate it as often as we can during practice.

So when it comes to my own students these days, I don’t necessarily encourage gambling (I don’t discourage a little bit of it either), but I do encourage putting and practicing for something. I’ll get three of my students together on the putting green and say “look, you guys putt for 30 minutes and the loser has to do 100 push-ups” or something similar. I’ll tell students to putt against a parent for who has to mow the lawn, do the dishes, or some other mundane household chore neither of them really wants to do. The point is to have something on the line, something that will make it really hurt to lose.

You can even do it by yourself. Wait to practice putting right before lunch or dinner and make a pact with yourself that you can’t eat until you make 15 three-footers in a row. Until you find a way to practice under pressure all that practice is really just that: practice. You shouldn’t be surprised if, when the chips are down, mindless practice doesn’t translate to improved performance. Hopefully, by learning to simulate pressure during practice, you’ll play better when the heat is really on.

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WATCH: How to execute the “y-style” chipping technique

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney of Punta Mita Golf Academy shows an easier way of chipping around the greens to get the ball rolling faster and ensure ball-first contact. Enjoy the video below, and hope this helps!

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