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10 principles of effective golf practice (for pros and beginners)

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I hate to say it, but many golfers spend a lot of time practicing and don’t get much better. Why? There are a lot of reasons, but by far the most pressing issue is the structure of their practice in the first place.

I watch a lot of golfers practice as a golf instructor, and I’d estimate that 90 percent or more of their practice is little more than physical exercise; it doesn’t help golfers improve their skills and score better. If your golf goals are to get a little sun on your face, wind in your hair, or enjoy the company of others (or even a bit of solitude), I certainly don’t want you to get the idea that you’re doing things the wrong way. Please, continue to enjoy the game the way you want to enjoy it. This game should be fun, after all.

My experience is, however, that even golfers who play strictly for fun a few times a year would like it more and have more fun if they could play better.

So here is the deal: There are ways to practice golf (or anything) that are more effective than other ways. We can all agree on that. Below is a list of my top-10 practice principles I recommend to all golfers. What these principles do in a nutshell is guarantee the time you’re spending is as efficient as possible.

You might notice that many of the principles I recommend are used a lot by the good golfers you know, but not as much by the bad ones. That’s no coincidence. Go to a professional golf event, and you’ll see all of these principles in practice.

1. Start each practice by writing down what you’re going to do. List the specifics, the games you’ll play… everything.

2. Do a full routine with tournament-like intensity on every single shot.

3. Play the ball as it lies all the time. Drop it and play it. Don’t fluff.

4. Think about what you’re going to do before you hit every shot, and assess yourself with feedback when necessary. Remember, prepare-perform-review.

5. Always do your putting and short-game practice before full-swing practice. That’s a requirement. Be disciplined with it even when you don’t feel like it.

6. Half or more of your time during golf season should be on the course playing, or on the course doing scoring games. You need to learn on the course.

7. Never hit balls on the range with balls right at your station. Put the bucket, bag or triangle a few feet behind you. Walk back and pick up one ball at a time.

8. Play practice games, preferably against others. Any games you play, keep a score. Record the score at the end of each practice.

9. Always finish a practice session with a game, and make sure you are “winning” your way off the course.

10. When you’re done with practice, write down anything important: scores you got on games, thoughts, general feelings, etc.

Want to take your practice a step further? I highly recommend linking yourself up with a coach who can guide you through these principles. He or she can also recommend new techniques and playing adjustments that can help you make even faster progress.

Getting better at golf requires time and discipline — like going to the gym, eating healthy or learning a new language or instrument. You can’t change that. What you can do is spend your time in a way that helps you get the most out of what you have. Remember, you are in control of your improvement. You want it, so get it done.

Good luck, stay disciplined and let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below.

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I coach golfers of all levels! I split time coaching between the Bethlehem Golf Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and at DiJulia Golf at Jericho National in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. skip

    Nov 30, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    There’s also a little thing called talent.

    • Eric Cogorno

      Dec 3, 2016 at 11:05 am

      Yes there is…I think the purpose is to get as good as you can get…reach potential! Different for everyone!

  2. Clay

    Nov 29, 2016 at 7:13 am

    Mr. Peppertooth is so distinctly correct! I say “right on dear Chauncy.”????

  3. Mongoose

    Nov 28, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    Zero people will do any of this…

    • mark mckeown

      Nov 29, 2016 at 9:43 am

      wrong

      • Looper

        Nov 29, 2016 at 4:41 pm

        No your wrong, so I guess everytime you practice you follow this to a tee???

        • Shortside

          Nov 30, 2016 at 9:15 pm

          I play 3 shot par 5’s at the range after loosening up. Always starting with wedges when warming up. When the par 5 phase starts it’s 1 swing each with the driver/3 wood, long iron/or hybrid, short iron/wedge.

    • Eric Cogorno

      Nov 29, 2016 at 11:06 am

      Some people go to the gym and workout hard, others don’t. Same rules apply to anything in life you want to get actual lasting results in. Can’t please everyone, no one size fits all.

      • Mongoose

        Nov 29, 2016 at 4:39 pm

        I agree, great piece but what is the average handicap nation wide…

        • Eric Cogorno

          Dec 3, 2016 at 11:06 am

          Too high buddy! I could give the perfect practice plan to 100 people and maybe only 10 will actually follow through…just like everything else in life!

  4. Bart Dickens

    Nov 28, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    I an a bit of a social golfer that enjoys a cool beer or two on the course. My instructor tells me to practice like I play. So now I bring beers to the driving range.

  5. knoofah

    Nov 28, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    I think this may be covered in your 4th point, but I believe that recording your swing at every practice session possible is an essential for improvement to happen. This is both for your own information and your coach’s. This is integral to the “Review” part of your “Preare-Perform-Review.”
    Great article, Mr Cogorno.

  6. Bob Jones

    Nov 28, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    Re #5: When I practice chipping and putting, my back is always a bit sore when I’m finished from all the bending over, so I hit balls first. Also, I practice chipping with only one ball: chip it and putt it out, just like you do on the course (and no do-overs!).

  7. antonio

    Nov 28, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Very interesting article, thanks!
    What is the reason behind principle number 5 (practising putting and short game BEFORE full swing shots)

    • birdy

      Nov 28, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      i’m guessing its to make sure it gets done. easy to skip out on putting after hitting a bucket and just go home. if you putt and chip first, you’re less likely to skip out on hitting balls.

  8. Rob

    Nov 28, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Grab a buddy (preferably one who has a better short game than you) and find a practice green that has a bunker, some short grass, some long grass, lots of different slopes. Take turns picking different spots around the green and a hole to play to (even stipulate a specific club) and do this 18 times (9 if you are short on time). You can play it as a match and/or as stroke but the most important part is to put enough of something on it that you feel that “must-make” pressure – I found money or beer are the most motivating (especially when you are broke).

  9. Greg Norman's Chainsaw

    Nov 28, 2016 at 3:17 am

    Great little article. Especially the emphasis on games, short game and on course scoring practise. I see way too many people practising the same shot off a perfect lie, hitting the same chip 20 times or putting 4 balls in a row. Practise scoring and playing!

  10. M.

    Nov 27, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    Bucket away from you sounds like hard work, but productive!

  11. Gubment Cheez

    Nov 27, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Write down my feelings?

  12. Mark

    Nov 27, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    I know I am being something of a pedant but I cannot resist on this occasion.

    When practicing, here is what people are incorrectly doing. They “practice as a golf instructor”. When what they should be doing is practicing as the golfer they are.

    • KK

      Nov 27, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      Wth does that even mean?

      • Mark

        Nov 27, 2016 at 4:47 pm

        It means the author of the article failed to clearly express himself.

        • roastwrx

          Nov 27, 2016 at 5:17 pm

          They don’t like for someone to express their self around here…
          You’ll get blocked yo
          And have to get a new username

        • KK

          Nov 27, 2016 at 6:41 pm

          He gave a list of ten specific things to do when practicing. It doesn’t get any clearer than than. If anything, your “Don’t practice like an instructor, practice like yourself” is the most vague, useless thing I’ve ever read on GolfWRX.

    • Chauncy Peppertooth

      Nov 28, 2016 at 12:59 pm

      Its supposed to read: “as a golf instructor, I watch a lot of golfers while they practice.”
      This article is spot on. Being aware and in control of your feelings will shave more strokes than any improvement club or swing change. Everyone knows that one golfer, the 12 handicap that can’t hit the broad side of a barn on a relaxing day with the boys, but throw some skins at him and once the pressure is on plays to a 6. We call them “gamers”. If you don’t know what I mean or have never experienced this, look up Rocco Mediate 2008 us open. My point is, you can shoot par with the ugliest swing if you have the sharpest mind. Golf is played 95% in between the ears.

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