Practicing on the Golf Course – What a Novel Idea!

Submitted by guest instructor Karl Morris…

I often ask the players I work with ‘how much practice do you do on the GOLF course?’.  The look I generally get is one of ‘why on earth would I do THAT??!! Practice is what I do on the range. Surely I go to the golf course to PLAY golf’. Yet, this single issue is maybe one of the main reasons why MOST golfers know the person who goes to the range, they know the person who goes out to play on the golf course and they are NOT one of the SAME!

We are a pretty unique sport in the sense that most of our practice is done in an environment which has little or no bearing on the actual game.  I would imagine a snooker player does most of his practice on a snooker table, a tennis player on a court and footballer on a pitch.  Yet, as golfers we spend hour after hour on a range that is about as far removed from the context of the golf course as it is possible to be.  Remember those two words as you go forward with your game this year, CONTEXT and ENVIRONMENT.  Both of these two factors have a HUGE impact on you psychologically.  Do you behave the same way in the environment called a football terrace as you would in the environment called office? Hopefully not!

We are shaped enormously by the environment and the context we find ourselves in. Our brain ‘codes’ these environments and creates templates of how to respond in these specific locations. The context called ‘wedding reception’ brings out a certain type of behavior that is structured to respond to the situation the brain is presented with, just as the context called ‘stag party’ brings out an altogether different set of behaviors.

Much of the testing and analysis we do with our golf, such as putting labs and fitting centers, take place in an environment which is very different than the one we play in. This doesn’t mean we can’t learn very valuable information about our game with these scientific aids, BUT we must understand they cannot tell the whole story of how that particular person will respond in the environment of a golf course and the context of a competition. The more you are exposed to a particular environment and context, the more your brain will find a way of dealing with the situation and making the best of it.  Yet, if we continually avoid the situation and hide out in the sanctuary of the range, then your brain will constantly feel ill at ease on the golf course.  Maybe this year you decide you are going to do things a little differently and give your brain a chance to adapt to the golf course environment by actually spending more time there.

You can play some wonderful practice games ON COURSE that will have a BIG impact on your game and you will start to find there is less trepidation in playing come tournament time.  Even the very best players fall into this trap.  On a recent trip to Florida, Graeme McDowell admitted he had become a little bit too fond of walking out of his villa at Lake Nona and just bashing golf balls on the range which is right next to his house. This year marked a new commitment for him to play more roll-up game with the members to get his brain tuned into ‘match mode’.

Here are some suggestions as to some ‘games’ to play on the course that will not only develop your game but are fun to do as well.

  • 3 club Challenge – take just three clubs out with you and your putter and see how you get on.  You will be surprised at how creative you can become.
  • Worst Ball – only when the course is quiet but play two balls on each hole. You have to select the worst ball all the way into the hole.  This is TOUGH but well worth the effort.
  • Iron Off The Tee – play nine holes only hitting an iron off the tee.  Again, you will be surprised as to how low you will score.

Just a few examples of the many games I get the players I work with to play.  The main aspect is to commit to PLAYING more so that your brain gets used to the CONTEXT of golf in the ENVIRONMENT of the golf course.