Seve BallesterosGolf is a game not a pure art form – although admittedly artistry can play its part, as Seve Ballesteros (see right) illustrates perfectly!

You are seeking lower scores not ‘the perfect swing’.

Your first step is to understand the current status of your game - its strengths and weaknesses. Play a minimum of 5 rounds in which you record your key statistics. [See my July post.]

Make sure that you understand the biomechanical demands of what you are trying to achieve and your body’s capacity for performing them. [Use our free-to-download Self-Assessment Tests in order to identify shortfall and then use the relevant conditioning programme(s). Again, see my previous post.]

2015 CalendarPlan your practice programme in consultation with your teaching professional, so that it properly dovetails with your technical skills lessons. The ideal interval between lessons is two weeks (so a typical 12 week programme should contain 5-6 lessons).

Plan the first ‘cycle’ of your programme [which should include an integration of lessons, practice and play]. Make sure that you take account of other commitments and, once formulated, diarise your sessions and set reminders on your phone etc. to help you commit to the programme.

Every practice session should be specific and deliberate. You should have a single objective and a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve and why. (Relevance and purpose.)

Make a clear distinction between practice sessions that are geared towards making game improvement changes to your swing technique and those that are improving execution/performance. In fact there are 4 distinct types of practice:

  1. Technical practice: (working on swing mechanics). This type of practice requires a lot of correct repetitions to ‘bed in’ a specific position or movement pattern. It can be done at home: indoors in front of a mirror, or outdoors in front of patio doors (always without a ball). Work on one move at a time and break the movement pattern down into a series of positions. Practice ‘hitting each of these positions separately, but in sequence, until you can ‘hit’ each one accurately and ‘instinctively’. If you hold positions for 30 seconds to get ‘feedback feel’, it trains the body to ‘hit’ the position and enhances recognition when you ‘miss’ it. Then progress to moving between positions in super-slow motion [building up to a maximum of half-speed.] If you possess one, use a video camera when swinging at higher speeds and then make use of the slow motion playback and freeze-frame facilities to check for technical accuracy [feel v real]. Only use drills provided by, or approved by, your instructor to ensure that they will actively accelerate your progress toward your goal.
  2. Game practice: this involves playing game-type challenges with measurable results in order to test and improve your skills and provide feedback on your progress. Re-create game situational challenges, which you should perform with minimal technical thoughts and ‘a target focus’. On the range hit to different targets and use different clubs. Make sure that you pick a ‘micro’ target to aim for and always remember to incorporate your full pre-shot routine for every shot you hit. [Remember that you’re not practising to hit good shots on the range, but in a round of golf when the pressure is on. This is when your dominant habits will re-surface, so make sure they are good ones.] Play an imaginary hole that you have problems with, or an entire round by visualising your course. Discuss appropriate possibilities with your instructor, who should have plenty of alternatives for you to experiment with.
  3. Skill practice: developing different skills that will further enhance your ability to control the ball and help with by visualising different on-course situations and future competitions in your arm-chair at home; then, on the range, try mentally recreating them by way of practical preparation.
  4. Rehearsal practice: begin by visualising successful negotiation of different on-course situations and then prepare for them practically by mentally recreating them on the range.

The ideal duration of both a lesson and a practice session is one hour. [After that time, you will lose a degree of focus, which means that you run the risk of rehearsing imperfect technique and ingraining flawed habits.]

The optimal amount of practice between lessons is somewhere between 6-8 hours. [Any more than that increases the danger of you losing focus and regressing to old habits, with no teacher there to correct you.]

Make sure that you schedule a monthly ‘set-up MOT’ – this is best done at the start of every alternate lesson, so that your teaching pro can check it properly. [Doing it yourself in front of a mirror is less than exact – especially in the early stages.]

Schedule in the odd week off. (You need to avoid getting stale and maintain high levels of enthusiasm.)

Actually playing golf must form part of your programme. Remember the quest is not for perfect technique (if there is such a thing), but for lower scores. BUT when playing, you must be in ‘trust mode’ with no thought given to swing mechanics. Your focus must be totally target oriented as you learn to trust your swing to get the ball there.

Avoid match-play and stick to a stroke-play format, where every stroke counts and has a consequence.

At the end of each ‘cycle’ chart a couple of rounds. [This will not only provide feedback on progress made, but also indicate areas for future improvement.]