Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and pretty much every other professional golfer practices different than recreational golfers. They follow fundamental principles that most of us don’t imitate, but should. We want their swings, but we don’t do the same thing to get there. Now, I am changing my practice to take my range swing to the course.
“Practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.” Vince Lombardi knows a few things about improving athletic skills, so perfecting our practice habits should be a priority. My practice has not been perfect. I would put an alignment club on the ground and pick a flag for some of the shots. I would hit close to 100 balls switching clubs after 3-5 shots. My practice and range swings look like this:
Nice balance, good finish. Swing of beauty. However, somehow the real swings are more like this:
Falling back, inconsistent, pretty ugly. I need more real swings like the top picture, so I will focus on 3 techniques to make that happen:
- Interleaving practice
- Spaced Repetition
- Game Simulation
Interleaving practice is not a new concept, but a few authors began discussing it for golf recently. The idea is that continually practicing one specific skill for a long period of time (block practice) isn’t the most efficient way to learn the skill. For golf, hitting 10 6 irons, 10 7 irons, 5 8 irons, 15 drivers, 20 wedges, and finishing with 15 hybrids is inefficient, and what most people do. A recent article regarding research from UCLA states that practice should vary to create lasting improvement. Each shot should be with a different club, to a different distance, with a different target. The idea is the brain focuses on each task intently and continually learns from the experience. New shot requires the brain to focus more, which leads to long term learning. The researchers conclude less practice that is varied will produce better results than beating balls for hours.
Brad Brewer, top 100 golf instructor, recently wrote on his website about the same ideas. My practice now includes less time or shots with more switching clubs. I have 2 full swing practices each week. 1 will be in my house without a ball similar to Haney’s advice. I switch clubs, the direction I face, and my imaginary target each shot. My other full swing session is normally on the range. I only buy 2 tokens now and switch clubs and targets with each shot. I have difficulty switching clubs after a bad shot, but the research says this is the best way to practice.
Spaced repetition is another concept neuroscience says will make huge improvements for skill development. Spaced repetition is when you study or practice for shorter increments of time but over multiple days as opposed to spending long hours only on 1 day. Cramming everything into 1 day, like cramming for college midterms, holds the information for that day, but the information is lost quickly. Studying for the same amount of time over the previous few days permits the brain to process the information, create schema, and create long lasting knowledge. Recent research says the same is true for athletic skills. Spending 1 day a week at the range for 1.5 hours is less effective for long term development than 3 days of 30 minute practice. I spend 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week practicing. The consistent practice over more days will get the brain thinking about my swing for a longer period, which should lead to longer term improvement.
How many times do you play golf holes on the driving range? All the great golfers simulate golf rounds while practicing, so we should to. Before professionals go to the first tee, many of them play the first few holes on the range by imaging the hole and hitting the clubs they will use on that hole. The idea is to simulate the pressure, shots, and experience before hitting a real shot. Anything that puts pressure on shots improves the ability to repeat the shot on the course. I play a rounds on the optishot at home and turn off all gimmies and mulligans to make it a real score. Optishot is still a game, but I can try to beat previous scores and create pressure. I finish range sessions with point games to see how many greens I can hit out of 10 shots or how many draws I can hit out of 10. My putting practice includes games against my kids. The idea that every shot counts makes improvement more likely.
We all want better pro-style swings, but many of us don’t follow the best practices to get there. Post comments below with great ideas for games or practice techniques following these principles.