Ivan Morris Column - Play on your own is best practice

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
TOO many golfers don’t bother to practice because they don’t enjoy it. I have always loved practicing but the best way to practice and improve is on the golf course, playing on your own and hitting two or three balls whenever you can.

TOO many golfers don’t bother to practice because they don’t enjoy it. I have always loved practicing but the best way to practice and improve is on the golf course, playing on your own and hitting two or three balls whenever you can.

What I’m saying is hitting a whole bunch of shots with one club at the same target until you feel you have ‘grooved’ your swing is a waste of time and effort. Repetition may be the mother of knowledge in other spheres but it is no way to master the intricacies of playing golf.

You may toil away all you like hitting a 7-iron until the strikes become clean and true and you feel like you have it down ‘pat’ but such a concentrated practice schedule is woefully ineffective. One poor 7-iron on the course and all your hard work goes up in smoke!

Golfers just don’t seem to want to learn how to play by feel anymore. All they want to know about is playing with all out power and how far they can hit the ball - but you need both power and finesse to be a good player. Golfers are never convinced that a shot flying only 10 or 15-yards is worth their attention.

Too many golfers have no feel on short shots - a poor set up and the lack of consistent and continual practice makes short, ‘no power’ swings undependable. That’s why I always finish my practice sessions with a few half-power shots.

On full shots and high swing speeds you can get away with a bad set up and bad swing mechanics up to a point but it’s not so easy to do so when playing a finesse shot. It’s probably why we are usually better off to ‘club down’ and whack the ball good and hard when under pressure.

I was mentoring a group of young golfers recently and all we did was keep changing swing speeds and targets but using the same club.

Hitting a lob wedges 130-yards is fun but hitting 30-yards is more important, especially when the hole is 30-yards away.

Some won’t practice beneath what they think is their skill level but these shots are well worth everybody’s attention. I am telling you here and now that the reason why Jordan Spieth is so good is because he practices the shot savers more often than anything else.

Besides, a proper technique on short shots can be carried over to the big shots - not to mention the build up in confidence accrued. A dysfunctional engine will stall at low throttle but a finely tuned one will keep purring away.

Hitting drivers and 3-irons at half speed to 150-yd targets is a fantastic way to practice because it tests your swing mechanics so they won’t stall. If you have a major swing fault you simply cannot do half-power swings.

The disadvantage of repetition is after a while our brains switch off and aren’t as receptive. What the brain responds to is change, challenge and danger. We might feel like that 13th consecutive 7-iron felt pretty good, but we’re still not learning as effectively as we could. Where’s the challenge, where the danger?

Unless you’re playing a version of golf that requires you to hit 13 consecutive 7-irons, it’s definitely not applicable to a real golf situation.

Practice may well make perfect but the same information repeated over and over does not receive, or require, the same amount of processing as a new challenge, which needs new information and application because as soon as the exercise becomes boring, the boredom will mean our brains are not as engaged as they should be and need to be.

Far better to adopt a “random practice schedule” where your brain has to constantly adapt and re-adapt. In learning music, such a practice regime would mean bouncing around between different passages so you are constantly engaged and challenged.

And in golf, it means constantly switching clubs and playing at different targets. Hitting a bunch of shots with one particular club is good exercise but it is not how golf is played.

Adopting this ‘random challenge’ lies at the heart of whether a practice session will be more, or less, effective. When we come back to any shot having played a completely different one prior to it, our brain must switch on and recreate a new action plan for the new task on hand.

This is when practice becomes properly productive and reflects what takes place on the golf course and we are feeling under various stages of pressure.

Next time you go to the driving range or practice ground take a bunch of clubs with you and instead of your usual routines, try switching clubs, targets and using various swing speeds i.e. hitting the same club different distances.

It’s the best way of helping you to transfer good play on the practice area to the golf course, which has always been one of golf’s greatest mysteries and bugbears.

Words of the Wise

I was a very young man when I first played East Lake, my home course, in 63-strokes. Afterwards, I confided to my father that I had mastered the secret of the game and that I should never go above 70 again. Next day, I had to work my head off to get around in 77 - Bob Jones