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3 Essentials to Breaking A Habit

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You’re reading this article because you play golf and have spent various periods of time working on a shot or a part of the swing that you want to improve. You remember when somewhere along the road you hit a rough patch where you weren’t playing as well, and your ball flight was unpredictable. It’s happened to you, it’s happened to me, it’s happened to Tiger Woods.

And to fix the problem, you’ve gone back to the range to figure out what’s going wrong. Maybe you checked out this website for tips, or taken a lesson. And somewhere during that period you figured out the solution and then said, “Eureka! I’ve solved it! Now all I have to do is repeat this over and over until it sticks.”

Kind of.

I know what you’re thinking, “How could that be wrong? Why would repeating the new move be the wrong thing to do if it’s what my swing is missing?” And I understand why you may think this way. Nearly everyone thinks this way and because of this, golfers don’t improve as well or as a quickly as they could be. If you create a habit through repetition, why wouldn’t repetition be the solution to change it?

But how we overcome bad habits isn’t as simple as just repeating the motion in the way we want it to be. The complete answer is complicated and through a lot of scientific evidence over the past 50 years, we know that simply repeating a movement over and over isn’t the full story. But in sticking with the topic here, let’s look solely at what you need to know if you’re trying to break a habit.

A critical element to include in your quest to break a pesky habit is to create a new one that is stronger than the existing one. Officially, there isn’t really such a thing as “breaking a habit,” because a memory of what you learned doesn’t just go away. You can only create a new one that is stronger than the old one. And the old ones are typically stronger than the new ones.

This makes sense if you think about how much easier it is for golfers who learned as a kid. They have great habits that they don’t have to think about anymore. But if you have a bad habit from when you were a kid that you’d like to change in your mid-40s, then it will take some time.

How do you create a new habit to take over the old one? Here are three keys to your success:

  1.  Know when you’re doing it right or not. Find ways to know how the new movement feels so that you can stay alert to your body drifting back to the old ways. You do this by setting up a practice station with implements to give you a signal if you, say, swing too much from the inside. If you feel comfortable, then you are probably doing what you always did. Making changes is UNCOMFORTABLE and it will feel awkward.
  2. Commit to the change. Changing a habit can take a lot of time if you’ve been doing something differently for a long time. For example, you probably tie your shoes without even thinking about it. Well, if you decided to change the way you tie them, you’d have to think pretty hard about what you’re doing while you’re doing it and that can really mess up the movement. If you’re on the course and you’re trying to get that new move on, there’s a good possibility that you will hit some errant shots. But you have to think about it in order to make that change. And if you don’t commit to the change and stick with it, the time it will take to see that improvement will go up. So take the time to make the new movement feel more comfortable.
  3. Practice should be hard. If you simply repeat the movement over and over mindlessly, your brain isn’t really asked to do any work. The deepest and most productive learning occurs when you are asking yourself to create the movement from “scratch.”

The classic study by Morgan and Shea in 1979 asked two groups to perform a task. One group repeated the same movement from the same place, and the other group varied the movement slightly. In practice, the group that repeated the same movement did much better. But afterwards, when tested for retention and transfer, the group that varied up the task far outperformed the other group. Since then, various versions of that same study were repeated to see what happens and each time the same answer comes up: When you adjust your practice slightly (change targets often, limit the number of balls that you hit with the same club, etc.), your brain has to reorganize more often and come up with a motor pattern. And when it has to retrieve that motor pattern from memory, that memory will be strengthened, thus increasing the ability to perform it on command.

As a bonus tip, just because you can perform the movement doesn’t mean you’ve learned it. Truly learning a new movement means that you can do it without too much thought when it counts, on the golf course.

So to be sure that you are really creating the new motor pattern that you want, have a solid plan of attack with drills and practice that give you feedback about whether you’re doing what you’re intending to do. Then commit to it. You will be doing yourself a disservice if you decide to play with your “old swing” and practice with the “new swing.” You have to be all in. And finally, respect the part about it being hard. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Make the most of your habit changing practice by following these steps and you will be on your way.

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Trillium Rose is a certified teaching professional and Head Director of Instruction at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland. An innovator and life-long learner, her knowledge of teacher effectiveness, mechanics and practice training have proven highly successful. She has improved the games of over 1,000 individuals who rely on her cutting-edge expertise, and honest, straight- forward approach. Her area of expertise is in helping golfers develop their skills as quickly as possible and help them practice efficiently. She is highly skilled at designing and implementing curriculum's that develop golf athletes with targeted practice plans. She was recently honored as the 2017 Middle Atlantic PGA "Teacher of the Year," and awarded a “Best Teacher in State” distinction (ranked #3). Selected as one of “America’s Best Young Teachers” by Golf Digest, Trillium Rose's name has been synonymous with quality practice standards and trusted education.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Snoopy

    Jul 1, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    I had the “luxury” of a cheap local course where I could play until dark after 5pm for $10, and most days I had the course practically to myself. I could play 5 balls at a time if I wanted. So once I got a good feel on the range, I could continue to practice it on a real golf course. I’d encourage everyone to try to find a setup like that, so you can practice as much on a golf hole as you can on the range.

    • Snoopy

      Jul 1, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      The point I forgot to make was that your brain will learn faster when there is a real consequence to your shot.

  2. Stephen Lee

    Jul 1, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    thank you for sharing this with us. one thing that was missing from my practice session was variance in the movement that i was working on. im going to implement this from now on to get the most out of my practice session!

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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips

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While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.

  1. Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
  2. Don’t just “do”…observe.  There are two elements of learning something new.  The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
  3. Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
  4. Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
  5. Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.

My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.

So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?

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The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things

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As someone who has observed rank-and-file recreational golfers for most of my life – over 50 years of it, anyway – I have always been baffled by why so many mid- to high-handicap golfers throw away so many strokes in prime scoring range.

For this purpose, let’s define “prime scoring range” as the distance when you have something less than a full-swing wedge shot ahead of you. Depending on your strength profile, that could be as far as 70 to 80 yards or as close as 30 to 40 yards. But regardless of whether you are trying to break par or 100, your ability to get the ball on the green and close enough to the hole for a one-putt at least some of the time will likely be one of the biggest factors in determining your score for the day.

All too often, I observe golfers hit two or even three wedge shots from prime scoring range before they are on the green — and all too often I see short-range pitch shots leave the golfer with little to no chance of making the putt.

This makes no sense, as attaining a level of reasonable proficiency from short range is not a matter of strength profile at all. But it does take a commitment to learning how to make a repeating and reliable half-swing and doing that repeatedly and consistently absolutely requires you to learn the basic fundamentals of how the body has to move the club back and through the impact zone.

So, let’s get down to the basics to see if I can shed some light on these ultra-important scoring shots.

  • Your grip has to be correct. For the club to move back and through correctly, your grip on the club simply must be fundamentally sound. The club is held primarily in the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. Period. The lower hand has to be “passive” to the upper hand, or the mini-swing will become a quick jab at the ball. For any shot, but particularly these short ones, that sound grip is essential for the club to move through impact properly and repeatedly.
  • Your posture has to be correct. This means your body is open to the target, feet closer together than even a three-quarter swing, and the ball positioned slightly back of center.
  • Your weight should be distributed about 70 percent on your lead foot and stay there through the mini-swing.
  • Your hands should be “low” in that your lead arm is hanging naturally from your shoulder, not extended out toward the ball and not too close to the body to allow a smooth turn away and through. Gripping down on the club is helpful, as it gets you “closer to your work.
  • This shot is hit with a good rotation of the body, not a “flip” or “jab” with the hands. Controlling these shots with your body core rotation and leading the swing with your body core and lead side will almost ensure proper contact. To hit crisp pitch shots, the hands have to lead the clubhead through impact.
  • A great drill for this is to grip your wedge with an alignment rod next to the grip and extending up past your torso. With this in place, you simply have to rotate your body core through the shot, as the rod will hit your lead side and prevent you from flipping the clubhead at the ball. It doesn’t take but a few practice swings with this drill to give you an “ah ha” moment about how wedge shots are played.
  • And finally, understand that YOU CANNOT HIT UP ON A GOLF BALL. The ball is sitting on the ground so the clubhead has to be moving down and through impact. I think one of the best ways to think of this is to remember this club is “a wedge.” So, your simple objective is to wedge the club between the ball and the ground. The loft of the wedge WILL make the ball go up, and the bounce of the sole of the wedge will prevent the club from digging.

So, why is mastering the simple pitch shot so important? Because my bet is that if you count up the strokes in your last round of golf, you’ll likely see that you left several shots out there by…

  • Either hitting another wedge shot or chip after having one of these mid-range pitch shots, or
  • You did not get the mid-range shot close enough to even have a chance at a makeable putt.

If you will spend even an hour on the range or course with that alignment rod and follow these tips, your scoring average will improve a ton, and getting better with these pitch shots will improve your overall ball striking as well.

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Clement: Don’t overlook this if you want to find the center of the face

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ALIGNMENT MADNESS!!

It is just crazy how golfers are literally beside themselves when they are placed in a properly aligned set up! They feel they can’t swing or function! We take a dive into why this is and it has to do with how the eyes are set up in the human skull!

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