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I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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Will Shaw is a golf professional who has spent the past eight years lecturing and researching at two of England’s top universities. His previous work includes providing biomechanical analysis for some of the world's leading golfers and sports performance projects across many elite sport settings. You can view his website on golf performance using this link. You can also grab your copy of his book - The Golf Insider Performance Diary here.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. juststeve

    Jul 14, 2018 at 9:34 am

    The fastest way to improve is to buy new clubs, lots of new clubs until you find the ones that make you better. Ask any OEM.

  2. Phil D. Snuts

    Jul 13, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    Best way to practice is to visualize your round. Your not gonna hit every fairway so try recovery shots. You use a driver a maximum of 18 times per round so why hit 3 wedges thin then immediately hit the next 47 balls with it? And for Christ’s sake get on grass and get off the goddamn mats and simulators. If you don’t have access to grass take up bowling. We don’t play this game in a closet off a concrete floor into a tarp so why practice that way. Your truly, Mr. D.Snuts

    P.s. get off my lawn

  3. Brad

    Jul 13, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    short game fastest way to improve… i feel many instructors make it way to complicated, its as simple as whats your ball flight doing ? learn the ball flight/club face laws and your pretty much armed to solve your miss, over due it at first and then perfect it.

  4. Regis

    Jul 13, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    I’ve played for a lot of years and I practice 3 times a week. My course has a great practice facility. Lately I only bring 2 or 3 clubs. Those are the clubs that are giving me problems. I may spend 3 sessions with just one fairway wood. I don’t make monumental improvement but on the course my comfort level, my consistency and my scores make gradual improvement

  5. joro

    Jul 13, 2018 at 11:45 am

    Just pounding balls means nothing if you are doing it wrong. Only a few have the skill to do it right, otherwise you are just perfecting mistakes. Take a lesson from a good teacher and then practice what you learned over and over. As a teacher I have seen many good lessons go away because they do not pay any attention to what they are taught and the next lesson is a repeat of the last lesson.

    And “warmups” usually consist of getting a bucket of balls and the Driver and hit as hard as they can for a few mins.

  6. RBImGuy

    Jul 13, 2018 at 3:45 am

    “There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill”

    Actually there is

  7. steve

    Jul 12, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    You can’t “get better” holding a golf club and practicing or whatever… you must improve your physical condition in a gym first. If you want to hit 200 balls daily go ahead but be prepared to do that for several years of whacking the dirt. If you want to boost your game quickly you should look at your body and admit you are out of shape to improve by simply beating balls mindlessly. The golf swing starts kinetically from the ground up so you should strengthen your feet, legs, hips torso and shoulders first. You don’t need to muscle up, just tone your body and above all lose belly weight. Any volunteers?

    • Mmmmooooo

      Jul 13, 2018 at 1:45 am

      Craig and Kevin Stadler, Brendan De Jong, Tim Herron, Carl Petterson, Ken Duke, Laura Davies, Pat Hurst, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Andrew Beef Johnson, Shane Lowry, and I might now include Jason Dufner (heck of a belly now), and may be even Patrick Reed. These guys are all on Tour. And you’re not.
      Your point?

      • Gdb99

        Jul 13, 2018 at 7:34 am

        You listed fat people. Being in shape doesn’t mean slim.

        The people on your list are in better golf shape than me at the moment, and I’m skinny.

        • Mmmmooooo

          Jul 13, 2018 at 10:42 am

          Dude said tone your body, not slim. Them fattys are not slim.

      • steve

        Jul 13, 2018 at 4:51 pm

        Each of the pros you mention starting swinging a golf club when they were preteens and the golf swing became engrammed in their neuro-muscular system. When they matured they compensated for their weight gains. They are putting tremendous strain on their back muscles but their stout body structure handles it. You and most overweight rec golfers cannot duplicate these pros because you are simply out of shape to swing a golf club. Hit the gym and lose belly fat first.

    • Funkaholic

      Jul 13, 2018 at 11:48 am

      I am definitely more consistent when I am working out regularly.

      • O

        Jul 13, 2018 at 9:49 pm

        I’m just more consistent when I’m playing and practice regularly. Like, every day. lmao

    • ders

      Jul 14, 2018 at 8:31 pm

      This is true. Most people spend way too much time worrying about the differences between their swing and their favourite pro without noticing the massive difference in athleticism. Work on your hand eye coordination, balance and flexibility and you’ll have a better chance of pulling off a decent swing.

  8. Brian

    Jul 12, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    I was in the golf business for 7 years. Three years at a small muni and 4 at a nice CC. I only ever saw three people that knew what practicing was. Two of them were really good junior players that went on to play at Div 1 schools. The other was a + handicap that made it to the semi-finals of the US amateur.

    Everyone else just banged balls before their round. The putting green is the lonliest place ever.

    • Rico

      Jul 13, 2018 at 12:02 pm

      From your observation, what is good practicing? I would be interested in hearing your opinion of what you saw. My swing comes and goes all the time.

      • Brian

        Jul 13, 2018 at 5:38 pm

        Most people think hitting a bag of balls and putting for 30 minutes is practicing. All they have done is burn a few calories and ingrained their same faults. The ones that practiced would work tirelessly on the range 5,6,7 hours a day. Then be on the putting green for another few hours. They always had a goal, no matter how small to work on.

    • dat

      Jul 13, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      So people who are good at practicing must be top performers and everyone else just sucks? Nice hot take.

  9. Is

    Jul 12, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    Here is the K.I.S.S. answer:
    “You suck. Is why you can’t play.So Stop trying.”

  10. Jamie

    Jul 12, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    If you’re at TopGolf, you’re not practicing. If you have no feasible plan, you’re not practicing. It really is that simple. WRX has done a great service providing links to Meandmygolf, Shawn Clement, and Mark Crossfield.

  11. whynotgolf

    Jul 12, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    Since I started back playing regularly again, I think I’ve improved. At my best (8 index) I played a lot more golf than I play now. My point here is you can improve your technique on the range hitting balls 3-4 days a week, but if you’re a once a week player, your ceiling is lower than a player than spends the maybe 2 days on the range but plays 2 or 3 times a week.

    Finally…it pays to keep stats and focus your practice on the weakest areas of your game.

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: Aguila Golf Course in Phoenix, Arizona

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member evgolfer, who takes us to Aguila Golf Course in Phoenix, Arizona. The course sits at the base of South Mountain, offering up some stunning scenic mountain views, and in his description of the track evgolfer praises the fair test that the course offers up to players of all levels.

“I love it because the price is always right as a City of Phoenix municipal course. The conditions are usually fairly decent. Also, the course presents a fair challenge to me as a high handicapper and still appeals to low caps. It is easily walkable. Not surrounded by houses, not overly tight or cramped. Designed by Gary Panks. Not overly penal.”

According to Aguila Golf Course’s website, in peak time, an 18 hole round can be booked for $29, with the rate rising to $44 should you wish to add a cart. While, off-peak the price drops to $34, which includes a cart.

@TheHectorRios

@VernonLorenz

@HSTuscon

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Opinion & Analysis

This stat indicates Tiger Woods will win major 15 in 2019

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For Tiger Woods’ fans, it’s been over 10 years waiting for his 15th major victory. Even with PGA Tour win No. 80, plenty are already looking ahead to next year’s major.

Looking into Tiger’s performance at the majors in 2018, and more recently the PGA Championship, there’s exciting news for his fans. Tiger briefly held the lead at this year’s Open Championship, only to finish in a tie for sixth. But, it’s his performance at the PGA Championship, when he stormed home for second place thanks to a final round 64, and the recent statistics behind that tournament, that will get his legion of supporters brimming with confidence.

Going back to 2015, strong performances at the PGA Championship have proven to be a great form line for the following year’s major winners. In fact, if you go back further into the records, it extends for several years prior as well. Let’s take a look at recent PGA Championship results and the players that emerged from those performances that lead to major victory the next year.

The 2017 PGA Championship was one of the strongest forms lines in recent years. Justin Thomas won the tournament by two shots, but Patrick Reed, and Francisco Molinari tied for second. Reed went on to win this year’s Masters and Molinari won the Open Championship to capture their first major championships.

At the 2016 PGA Championship, Jimmy Walker surprised the field with victory, but an emerging talent in Brooks Koepka finished tied for fourth and would go on to secure his 1st major in 2017 by winning the U.S. Open. Interesting, Patrick Reed and Francisco Molinari were also just outside the top-10.

The 2015 PGA Championship was won by Jason Day, but current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson finished tied for seventh. Dustin went on to win his first major, the U.S. Open, the following year at the Oakmont Country Club. Also worth noting: Jordan Spieth finished second to Jason Day and went close to winning the Masters the next year only to finish in second place.

Fast forward to this year’s PGA Championship where Tiger finished second behind Brooks Koepka. Is it a sign that his 10-year major drought could end in 2019? And don’t forget, if Tiger has a great chance in 2019, then surely players that finished around him in that tournament, such as Adam Scott, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland, must have high hopes for 2019 too?

All this is true and only time will tell if the tournament form line stacks up.

Anyway you look at the 2018 PGA Championship results, it’s a great form line for 2019, and Tiger could well be in the mix in the big ones next year. With his body coping well with the rigors of the tough PGA Tour circuit, Tiger Woods’ fans can be feeling good about his chances for the 2019 season.

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: Boulder Creek Golf Club in Streetsboro, Ohio

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here! 

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member JimGantz, who takes us to Boulder Creek Golf Club in Streetsboro, Ohio. Just 30 minutes from downtown Cleveland, Boulder Creek features over 100 feet of elevation changes, and when you look at the photos of the course, it’s easy to see why this track landed in our hidden gem thread. JimGantz gives us a concise description of the course, praising it for its nice blend of different hole types.

“Conditions are always top notch. Fluffy bunkers, thick-ish rough.  Staff are super friendly. Good mix of long and short holes which is something I like. I’m not a huge fan of playing a course where every par 3 is over 200yds. This track mixes it up.”

According to Boulder Creek Golf Club’s website, 18 holes with a cart from Monday-Thursday will set you back $40, while to play on the weekend costs $50. Seniors can play the course for as little as $25 during the week.

@BoulderCreekOH

@amgolferblog

@troymezz

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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