Why playing could be more valuable than practice

When I talk to many amateur players at my local course many of them say the same thing: Wow you sure do practice a lot! Way more than I ever do! They are correct I do practice a tremendous amount and I am happy to say this has paid off: despite being a late bloomer in the sport I am consistently able to hit better quality golf shots than most of these individuals all of whom have been playing for a much longer time (as much as 5 times longer!) than I have. However, I am often dismayed during our rounds to see that some of them are able to score better than I do despite a substantial disadvantage in distance off the tee and a short game comprised of only the “bump and run” shot. So how do they do it? I believe that part of this can is an intangible best summarized by the phrase “course experience”.

Consider the following scenario: A young man gets a tee time at a local course and finds himself paired with a guy maybe as old as his dad. He immediately thinks: “I have to show this old man a thing or two!” However, his playing partner has been in many such situations with younger and older competitors, most likely since before the kid was even born. At worse the young guys beats him, as expected, and at best the old guy some decent drives, has good touch in his short game, and is able to drop a few putts for par or birdie here and there. You can probably figure out that the older guy is more likely to win this match because he is a) more comfortable with his game, b) has been playing for a longer period, and c) has nothing to prove.

How often have you been faced with a shot on the course that you never practiced on the range? How many driving ranges feature different lies where the ball is above your feet, below your feet, on a downhill lie, etc. so you can practice these shot variations? Does the driving range actually build confidence or just reinforce god swing mechanics? How many times have you been affected (positively or negatively) by someone you were paired with? These are the things we face on the course and, most importantly, in tournaments when it counts. The intangible of knowing and trusting your game, in a variety of different situations, must be gained on the course.

After thousands of balls, and countless innumerable hours on the range I changed my strategy. My previous plan involved alternating between practice and play days each week with the majority of my play time coming from tournaments on the weekend. My default was to “go to the range” when I got to the course in the morning. Often times what was supposed to be “30 minutes of warm up practice” until a tee time opened up would turn into a full 3-4 hour range session because something wasn’t working right. Now I schedule a tee time for each day and use the following routine:

1)     Get to the course and stretch/warm up a little

2)     Play a round of 18 or 9 holes

3)     Track my strokes and mark which weaknesses most affected my score (i.e. sand trouble, not hitting greens, lag putts, etc.)

4)     After the round I go directly to the range and work on the one or two shots or clubs that gave me the most trouble throughout my round

5)     After I’ve gotten out those kinks I see how much time I have and do a little “maintenance practice”

6)     Next day: Rinse and repeat

In this way I have created a feedback loop wherein I get a touch and feel for my game on a day to day basis (think of playing as tuning an instrument, minor adjustments everyday are easier than huge adjustments all at once the day before a tournament). The same weaknesses should not crop up every day and the process of improvement can make gains on a daily basis. After all, range work is meant to serve the course play!♣