Two reasons you don’t take your best game to the course

The past week, you went to the driving range you were killing it. You had a baby draw nailed down with the driver and a killer flop shot around the greens that you pulled off 90 percent of the time.

So when Saturday came around, it was time to win some money. That beautiful draw with the driver and the delicate touch around the greens turned out to be things of the past, however. You sliced your drives into the woods and chunked chips that barely made it onto the green.

Why does this happen!?!?!

In this article we’re going to cover two simple (yet fundamental) reasons why, and give you some actions to start taking so you can play better golf and make your practice more effective.

1You don’t practice like you play

Picture a typical driving range. Now picture a typical golf course. One consists of millions of potential shots and different problems to solve. The other consists of flat lies and smooth fairway grass. As a result, performance on a driving range and performance on a course tend to to differ greatly.

In order to improve your game, you have to practice in conditions that are similar to what you experience on the course.

PaR (Plan-act-Review)

*PaR golf supports a practice style that more closely resembles actual performance on the course. In doing so, it turns the traditional notion of practice on its head. It concentrates primarily on planning and reviewing a swing during practice, and takes the focus away from the repetition of swinging the club.

Research shows that this approach mimics some of the same information-processing activities players experience on the course, and therefore optimizes learning. In contrast, traditional practice sessions consisting of non-variable repetitive activities (e.g. block practice) that actually minimize information-processing activities.

What You Learn Tends to Be What You Practice

The efficacy of PaR golf lies in the specificity of learning. The concept can basically be boiled down to “what you learn tends to be what you practice.” In other words, practicing on a driving range will help you learn how to hit balls at a range, but it won’t help you play 18 holes on a course.

What to do

Get on the golf course! If you can take your practice onto the golf course that is ideal, but it’s not practical for everyone. So if you are practicing on the driving range, pretend you’re on the course by doing the following:

  • Hit different clubs to different targets.
  • Try to shape shots differently each time.
  • Don’t always fluff up the perfect lie.
  • Play games against yourself and simulate pressure (see Trent Wearner’s posts with great practice games).

*PaR (Plan-act-Review) Golf: Motor Learning Research and Improving Golf Skills,
Timothy D. Lee and Richard A. Schmidt

2You’re practicing for short-term gains instead of long-term improvement

The primary objective of instruction and practice in any sport is to foster the development of long-term skills in the learner. Not only do these skills have to be durable, but learners must also be able to apply and adapt them to post-practice environments (performance on the golf course).

The tricky part about this process? According to research, long-term improvement often develops even if performance in practice does not improve.

Recent studies have also shown that improvement in practice performance does not necessarily translate into significant learning. What this tells us is how well we perform in practice is not a key indicator of how well we perform on the course.


No pain, no gain: The concept of the challenge point

The association (or lack thereof) between practice performance and long-term learning is related to another concept: the challenge point. Most learners believe that performing well in practice means they’re learning or mastering new skills. However, under the challenge point concept, excelling in practice is a sign that the learner is not being challenged enough. According to a research paper entitled “Learning Versus Performance” by Nicholas C. Soderstrom and Robert A. Bjork of the University of California, Los Angeles, conditions that induce the most errors during acquisition are often the very conditions that lead to the most learning!

Put simply, if you’re not struggling, you’re not learning.

Selecting the right challenge point is crucial for optimizing learning. For instructors, the goal should be to select a point that the learner finds appropriately challenging, but not so difficult to the point where it is nearly impossible or discouraging. For instance, you wouldn’t expect a novice golfer to hit a flop shot over a bunker to a tucked pin. Likewise, a simple 5-yard chip in the fairway off the green is a challenge point an experienced golfer would find too easy to achieve.

If you want to learn more about challenge point you can listen to the authors of the research here.

If you want to take your best game to course you have to improve your learning environment. 

These two concepts of finding the right challenge point and practicing like you play are two cornerstones to start practice for long-term improvement of short-term quick fixes.

By Guest Contributor Cordie Walker