By Dennis Clark
It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive, as the Zen Masters would have it. It has been said that golf is a very jealous game. If you don’t give it all your time and attention, it exacts a price in return.
Those of us with the game in our DNA get this. Those of you who approach the game a bit more casually don’t -- or won’t. Good for you. But this article is more for those who know that the guy who said, “It’s just a game” didn’t play golf.
We hear a lot about “walking the walk, not talking the talk” and for good reason. It seems there are a lot of talkers and not a lot of walkers in the world, and this is never truer than in golf.
To get any better at the game you have to practice. How much is a matter of personal interest, lifestyle and ultimately how enjoyable you find practice. After 50 years, I still find great pleasure in the simple task of hitting a golf ball. And when my back allows, I do it every day, hundreds of times. I no longer hit balls to get better; I have faced the fact that my better playing days are well behind me. No, I do it simply because I love it. And after I practice, teach and play, I go home and watch it on TV. The game is in my soul, not just my body and mind. Life without golf is simply unimaginable to those of us who are so constituted.
Very often I ask my students how much they play. The responses vary of course, but the one I’d like to talk about is the “avid” golfer.” Avid golfers love to play, and do so every time they get the chance. A typical response might be something like, “Oh I play a lot, like 3 or 4 times a week.” And certainly by the national average that is a lot.
Well there’s bad news, good news and better news here. The good news is that you can maintain your current level of play with that amount of golf. The bad news is I’m afraid you can’t get better at golf playing at that frequency -- at least not significantly better. But here’s the better news: If you look at the time invested in those 3 or 4 rounds, let’s say 14 or 15 hours a week, you have time for some serious improvement. The point is I’m suggesting is a shift in your routine. You need to spend time more on the practice tee and less time on the course. Now, the best of both worlds would be that you spend more time at both, but let’s face it -- it’s time we’re talking about.
Changing a swing motion, a physical habit is the existential challenge of every golfer in the world. There is a book by Daniel Coyle called, “The Talent Code.” It is one of the best books I know of on the subject. When you read it, you get a sense of not only how the great players got to be great but also what is involved in real practice; real, guided practice. I have read varying estimates on how much time is involved in changing a physical habit; 60 times a day for three weeks, 20 minutes a day for 90 days, etc. I don’t know but I can relate this: The more the merrier! And to change a swing motion, you should NOT be practicing on the course. In fact, that is one of the worst things to do if you want to make a swing change.
I have people who take a lesson and then go immediately to the course and play in their $20 Nassau. That is bordering on insanity. They pretty much wasted your time and money on the lesson. If they could see this through my eyes, they would see and learn to appreciate the dedication it takes to make a real commitment -- a walk-the-walk commitment to changing your swing.
Another thing I hear often is, “Why can I do it when I’m here, but not out there?”
Well, there are a lot of reasons for that but one of them is the instructor is walking you through every part of the new motion. But when you go on your own, you will immediately go back to the old habit. Try taking some time, at least a few days and spend maybe four-to-five hours on the new move. I think it would help a lot. And try taking it one step at a time, working on only one thing when you practice. When you have that down, go on to the next change and then the next.
It’s tough, it really is, but the joy from improvement is directly proportional to the work you put into it -- another example of golf mirroring life. Is this the greatest game in the world or what?
Enjoy the practice,