Week 1: Success!!! (and struggle)

The key to improvement is focusing on the process, so I am excited to say I succeeded in following my plan last week!  I had 5 or more days of at least 30 minutes of practice.  Monday I worked on myhappy-face_veer_3x4 full swing without a ball, Tuesday was putting, Wednesday was off, Thursday was on the range, 16 holes walking on Friday, 36 holes on Optishot on Saturday, and Sunday off.  I didn’t have the specific short game session, but I had an extra round, which had a ton of short game shots.  Success!

With every success though, comes the struggle.  My round on Friday was bad.  I didn’t record an official score because I wasn’t putting out to get through more holes on a twilight round.  My estimate is a 48 on the front 9.  I missed most of the fairways and all the greens.  The swing wasn’t there, but I know the process will get enough spaced repetition to make the improvements.

Now, time for week 2.  Post any successes you had last week in the comments.

3 Techniques for Every Golf Practice Session

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:

DSCF0043

Nice balance, good finish. Swing of beauty.  However, somehow the real swings are more like this:

DSCF0045

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:

  1. Interleaving practice
  2. Spaced Repetition
  3. Game Simulation

 

Interleaving Practice

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

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.

 

Game Simulation

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.

My Plan to Work Full Time and Improve at Golf

Do you envy professionals because they can practice every day. I believe I could dramatically reduce my handicap practicing 8 hours a day, but my family may not be happy if I quit my job.  That dilemma is what most of us face.  You and I have full-time jobs, but we also want to keep improving.  Good news, I believe we can improve even with full-time jobs!

“If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” Most of us heard this quote from Ben Franklin, and most of us understand it.  However, have you created an improvement plan to decrease your handicap?  I hadn’t created one either.  I went to the range and tried to get better, but I didn’t have a clear idea what “get better” meant.  I also didn’t focus on the areas that would lead to the most improvement.  Now, I will follow step 2 of my improvement approach and build a quality plan.

30 minutes a day will change my handicap. It may not bring me to single-digits this summer, but I can easily get to 14.  I won’t cut back time with my wife or kids because they are too much fun, but I waste 30 minutes hitting snooze or playing on my iPhone.  I know I can commit to 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week.  Sounds too simple.  However, I remember watching Hank Haney tell Rush Limbaugh to make 100 swings a day, and Rush made significant improvement in a short amount of time.  100 swings take about 30 minutes.  I will employ even better learning theories from recent neuroscience research in my next blog to maximize my 30 minutes.

Planning to spend 30 minutes a day isn’t a detailed enough plan. I get 5 days a week, so I should break down what I will do on each of those days.  I intend for 1 day to be a round of golf on the course or on my optishot.  I need to split the other 4 among specific golf skills.  Here are my current stats to help determine where to spend time.

Time Period Fairways Greens in Regulation Scrambling Putting
May 2015-Present 42% 17% 10% 1.9 per hole

 

My stats show ok fairways and putting. I have the biggest opportunity for improvement in GIR and Scrambling.  Having that information, I won’t spend extra time with full swing drivers.  My plan will be:

 

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Break 30 Minutes on Full Swing 30 minutes putting Break 30 Minutes Chipping or Pitching Golf Round (optishot or course) or 30 minutes Full Swing 30 Minutes Full Swing or Golf Round

 

I now have a plan. I can follow a schedule and put in the time.  I believe the time can reduce my handicap to 14 by the end of the season.  The time is now to make improvements, and I encourage you to follow my progress.  Sign up below to join my mailing list to follow my progress.  You don’t want to miss my next post demonstrating how I will use those 30 minutes.



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Discover the Plan to Lowering My Golf Handicap this Season

Professionals make it look easy, but we all know golf is extremely difficult. Most amateurs want to get better, but USGA studies show handicaps are virtually the same now as they were 20 years ago.  Do you want to improve, maybe start writing down more 70s, than 80s or 90s?  I know I do, so I am creating a plan.  You can follow my progress to improvement or start a plan for yourself.  Now is the time for lower scores!

I teach students how to pass high stakes tests, so I have insights into building specific skills. The foundation to improvement in almost anything includes these 4 steps:

  1. Create a SMART Goal
  2. Build a Quality Plan
  3. Execute the Plan
  4. Assess our Execution and Edit Plan

Have you ever created a New Year’s Resolution and failed miserably? Me too.  The reason is New Year’s resolutions aren’t SMART goals.  Our first step is to create SMART goals to set ourselves up for lower scores.  SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound.  Without goals, we won’t be able to create a plan and will continue to do the same thing over and over with the same scores, which of course is the definition of insanity.

My long-term goal is to reach single-digits. For me, breaking 80 would be awesome, but I want to do it more than once.  I want more 70s than 80s, so I want a single-digit handicap.  However, the goal I will write down won’t be single-digits.  As you see on the current handicap page (April 2016), my handicap is currently a 15.8.  Dropping 6 strokes will take significant time, which allows too many opportunities for demotivation, setbacks, etc.  I break all long-term goals into small pieces with shorter times, so you should as well.  Meeting small goals creates motivation to continue the journey and create more short-term goals.

2016 ball

My SMART Goal is for my Handicap to drop to 14 by November 1st, 2016.

I can easily focus on 2 strokes this season. Specific goals are ones that you can understand exactly what the end result requires.  I know exactly what a 14 handicap is, so my goal is specific.  Measurable requires being able to determine whether the goal is satisfied.  For better or worse, I will look at my handicap on November 1st and it will either be a 14 or not.  Attainable is a goal that is difficult enough to motivate you to work hard but still achievable.  Many people become demotivated if they can’t reach the goal.  This is another reason to focus on the short term.  Decreasing my handicap 2 strokes in 1 season doesn’t seem outrageous, and as my next post will illustrate, creating a plan to improve 2 strokes is straightforward.  Relevant is whether the goal is important to the long-term goal, and decreasing strokes will help me achieve single-digits.  Time-bound is straight forward.  Create a deadline, which for me is this season.

Now it is your turn. Create a SMART goal for this golf season and leave it in the comments below.  Don’t forget to sign up to get more tips and follow my journey to single-digits.