Checking in with Team Canada

Practice makes permanent

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The old adage, “practice makes perfect” has fooled many golfers.  How you practice makes a difference.  We all develop habits based on doing something repeatedly, but formed habits can be good or bad.  Many times I have been asked why a player cannot translate time spent on the practice area into results.  Volume is usually not the issue.  If you are dedicated to the game, and want to spend time practicing, I want you to get the most out of your time.  Let’s look at practice in detail and try to make a plan so you can improve every time you practice.  Practice has five core elements:

  1. WARM UP
  1. Warm up: During your warm up, focus not only on your body, but also on your mind. Tune in to how each stretch or exercise feels and spend longer in areas that need more time. The goal is to prevent injury but also ready yourself to perform your best; that means also being mentally alert.
  2. Maintenance can have many meanings. When I talk of maintenance, I am talking about what happens before the shot. Almost every player in the game has certain tendencies – or bad habits – they need to remind themselves of at set up.  It may be your grip, your ball position or your alignment.  Your set up has a tremendous effect on your technique; I want you to gain the benefits from your technical practice because you are consistent in set up.  Write down, or have someone photograph your tendencies in set up, and try to find a way to keep an eye on these positions.
  3. Technical awareness. This is the area players spend the majority of their time, but unfortunately without significant improvement. Taking the time to warm up and maintain areas you commonly get a little away from allows your technique to gain traction.  When I think technique I think positions, feelings and reference points. I focus on the feel or the movement and rate myself on how close I got to where I wanted.  Use a scale of 1 to 5 for how close you got to your ideal positions through feel rather than solely the result.  Ideally, each session will have a technical element, but it will be a par t of your practice rather than the sole ingredient.
  4. Results. When I talk about results, I talk about learning your tendencies. If I aim at a target and hit 2 0 balls, I w ant to know how many were close, left , right, short, or long.  Every time I do this I want to know more about my game.  This gives me fantastic information I c an use on the course.  Or, if I am not happy with my play, it gives me information to talk to my coach about.  Use this section to test yourself: how many fairways can you hit between two imaginary points?  How many balls c an you land within 20 feet of a target?  Can you hit different shaped shots into a flag?  Record your test results to help guide future course decisions.
  5. Reflection. How was your session? After each and every session, ask yourself the following: “If I had that time over again, what would I have done differently?”  It may be that you did not warm up consciously, something within your maintenance felt a little strange or within the results section you focused on technique instead of just performing the task.  Something always crops up.  Use this information and write notes to guide your next session.  Driving to and from practice you should know exactly what you are going to work on and how you are doing afterwards.

Remember, how you spend your time forms habits.  If you can warm up, be consistent in set up, practice technique and know more about your game each time you practice you will form the type of habits that produce results.  Perfection is unattainable in golf but consistently paying attention and doing the right things allows you to gain the best results more often.  Practice, after all, should make a permanent improvement.

Practice Makes Permanent

This article was originally published in the April 2015 edition of Golf Canada Magazine. To view the full magazine, click the image to the left.