Smart Practice Tips

John Snopkowski
PGA Head Professional

Smart Golf Practice: What Does Practicing Golf Mean Anyway?

“If you focus on results, you will never change.
If you focus on change, you will get results.”
–Jack Dixon

As the old gag goes “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Answer: “Practice, practice, practice.” It’s true for musicians, and it’s true for golfers too. If you’d like to improve your golf game but don’t have a lot of time, this series of practice tips will help you get the absolute most out of every session on the range so you can get the most out of your game.

Practicing is the best way to improve your game. If you don’t have four or five hours to play a round you can still satisfy your golf itch with 30 minutes of putting or an hour on the range. Plus practicing can be fun and rewarding, particularly when you understand what practice is and what you are really trying to accomplish.

Get on the “Fast Track” to playing golf

1)  To learn new skills

Learning new skills will give you more options on the golf course. You’ll be able to handle more situations and circumstances, and you’ll have more course navigation and game management choices when selecting your shot strategy. When you have the ability to make more strategic decisions you’ll play with a lot more confidence. Part of the joy of golf is the endless variety and level of skills you can develop and use when they really count on the golf course.

A new skill could be learning a new type of chip, pitch, or lob shot around the green, developing the ability to work the ball from right to left or left to right, a knock-down shot for playing into the wind, a 3/4 swing with your sand wedge or approach clubs, or dozens of other shots. It could also be a mental skill like relaxing, focusing on a target, or learning to visualize shots. Or it could be learning to “read” a golf hole’s strengths and weaknesses so you can make smarter course navigation decisions that put you in situations where you can succeed more often.

2)  To refine existing skills.

Refining existing skills is the process of learning to strike the ball more consistently and to make shots with more accuracy. Too many golfers hit the range with the purpose of “fixing” their swing. What they don’t realize is that the golf swing is not simply a purely mechanical motion. You can’t put the club in the right position once and expect all subsequent swings to follow form.
The golf swing is more like a “habit” and fixing a swing is actually a form of refinement: making changes over time. If you can make the mental switch away from the idea of “fixing” and instead think of it as “refining” you can avoid a lot of the frustration that keeps golfers away from the range.

When you work on “refining” your swing, incremental gains produce intrinsic reward and feelings of accomplishment. For instance, if you try to “fix” your slice in one session on the range and don’t accomplish it, you set yourself up for frustration. If, on the other hand, you can turn your slice into a soft fade because you’ve learned how to get the club face more square at impact, you’ll feel proud of your progress. Working on incremental gains over time will keep you motivated and provide a feeling of accomplishment.

How do you decide what part of your game to work on? Here’s a rule of thumb: Prioritize your selections based on where you can save or pick up the most strokes on the course. In the next chapter we’ll discuss the magic 80/20 rule and how you can use it to prioritize your practice to maximize the impact on your scores.