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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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The value of video

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In the age of radar and 3-D measuring systems, video analysis has somewhat taken a backseat. I think that’s unfortunate for a few reasons. First of all, video is still a great assist to learning, and secondly, it is readily available and it can be accessed continually.

Of course, it has limitations, that is a given. It is ultimately a 2-D image of a three-dimensional motion. The camera cannot detect true path, see plane, and can be misleading if not positioned properly. That said, I still use it on every lesson, because, in my experience, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Things like posture, ball position, and aim can all be seen clearly when the camera is positioned exactly as it should be. In swing observations such as maintenance of posture, club angles, arms in relation to body, over the top, under, early release can all be a great help to any student.

But the real value is in the “feel versus real” area! None of us, from professional to beginner, can know what we are actually doing. The very first reaction I get upon viewing, is “wow, I’m doing that?” Yes, you are. You did NOT pick up your head as you thought you were doing, you ARE lifting well out of your posture, you are NOT coming “over the top”, your aim is well left of where you think you’re aiming, your club is pointing well right of your aim point at the top of the swing, your transition is excessively steep, your lead arm is very bent at impact, the clubhead is past your hands, your wrists are cupped or bowed and on and on!

Some of these positions may be a problem; some may be irrelevant. It’s all about impact, and how you’re getting there that matters. The chicken wing that is causing you to top the ball may very well be the result of a very early release, or a steep transition, or too much waist bend etc. The weight hanging back on the rear leg may be the result of the club so far across the line at the top, and so on.

I never evaluate video without knowledge of ball flight or impact. If one were to observe a less-than-conventional swing, perhaps a Jim Furyk, with knowing how he put matching components together, it might seem like a problem area. Great players have matching components, lesser players do not! IMPACT is king!

I have a video analysis program, as I’m sure your instructor, or someone in your area, does as well. It can only help to take a good, close slow motion look at what is actually happening in your swing.  It takes very little time, and the results can be massively beneficial to your golf swing.

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Alistair Davies shows you how to work the right hand correctly through the hitting zone with a great drill and concept.

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Shawn Clement: Dealing with injuries in your golf swing, lead side.

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Happy Father’s Day weekend and U.S. Open weekend at none other than Pebble Beach weekend! Whoa, cannot wait to see the golf action today!

In this video, we talk about how to deal with hip, knee and ankle injuries to your lead side as this one is PIVOTAL (pardon the pun) to the success of any kinetic chain in a human. This kinetic chain is a golf swing. Now, what most of you don’t get is that you were born with action; like a dolphin was born to swim. Just watch 2-year-olds swinging a club! You wish you had that swing and guess what, it is in there. But you keep hiding it trying to hit the ball and being careful to manipulate the club into positions that are absolutely, positively sure to snuff out this action.

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