Practice Like You Play

Practice Like You Play

Bored during practice? Are you working hard on the range but not seeing the success you want on the course? Listen up.

A couple of years ago, I wrote The Practice Manual – The Ultimate Guide for Golfers, I talked about many of the principles of effective training for golf. Things such as

  • Quantification
  • Gamification
  • Pressure
  • Locus of attention
  • Simulation of course (context)
  • Random practice
  • Progressive difficulty
  • Consequence

In this article, I will show you a game I developed which includes all of these elements.


Before We Read On

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The Game

Take a look at the following flow chart, which depicts the game.



The rules are simple, you have two targets, one wide and one narrow. You could use the poles at the back of a driving range, or go between yardage markers.

  • first, hit your drive to the larger target
    • If your drive was successful, you would then hit a 7 iron to the larger target.
    • If unsuccessful, you would have to hit your 7 iron to the smaller target.
  • Whether your iron shot was successful or not will determine the length of putt you have for birdie, or the length of up-and down you would have to make to save par.

For example, a player hits their drive down the target. They then use a 7 iron to the large target and successfully hit it. They have a 5ft putt for birdie.

The player then misses the driver on the next attempt, misses their iron to the small target, and has to get up and down from 30 yards.

On their third attempt, they miss their drive but hit their iron shot successfully to the smaller target. They then have a 30 foot birdie putt.

I think you get the idea, a flow chart is pretty self-explanatory.


Why This Game Is Great

When you compare it to beating 100 balls to the same target with a 7 iron from the same spot, this game is a whole new world.

Rake and hit is a poor way to train for better scoring

For a start, this game simulates the game of golf itself. Hmm, novel idea – practicing the game you want to get better at! Hitting different clubs to different targets, having to step back out of the bay, and only having one-chance each time is preparing you for better golf. This, in itself, will speed up transferring your skills to the golf course.

It also has pressure – imposed from the “one-chance” idea, as well as from the fact there is a consequence if you miss your shot.

In this game, every shot counts.

We also have the self-induced pressure from trying to create a score – and this pressure will get higher the more you play this game, as you will be trying to beat your last/best score.

Also, we can adjust the difficulty of this as we progress. In my group coaching sessions, I have different target sizes depending on the level of player. Once a player can shoot par or better, we move them to a more difficult scenario.


Training Phases

In The Practice Manual, I discuss 5 different phases necessary for optimal growth and performance. This game deals with the final phase – ability to transfer your game onto the course and improving your playing skills. I call this phase the Transference Phase.

While you are not going to learn how to drive the ball 300 yards with this drill, it will allow you to take your current game and use it better. If you are frustrated with hitting balls like a golf God on the range, only to see those skills disappear on the first tee, this is the type of thing you need to be doing more of.

Especially when tournament season comes around – these types of drills will allow you to peak better. They encourage the same type of attention/thought processes that you would use in a competition, and so it prepares you for that. Ball beating with one club to one target does not do this – as you have likely found out.


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  • Jason

    So you’re suggesting we continually walk from the range area to the short game practice area to the practice putting green?

    • admin

      Hi Jason – what you can do is hit all the long game shots and note down what your short game shot would be on that hole. Then you can go to the short game area later and finish the hole up.

  • Drew

    Jason of course not you simulate the short game on the range there is no putting involved if I understand correctly.

  • Kevin Guyotte

    I like the idea of practicing as you would play. Do you recommend this for all clubs? Specifically, do you think it is beneficial to block practice with your driver? This is the one club that your setup and lie can always be the same because you are on the tee. This is an approach Scott Fawcett preaches and makes sense as well (i.e., get really good at hitting one stock drive, know your setup lines and hit it on every hole that it makes sense). In the Practice Manual you talk about how humans learn and that random practice increases retention much better than block. Do you think the benefits from gaining confidence in hitting the same drive over and over, using the same target and setup lines outweighs the benefits of increased learning from randomized practice?

    • admin

      If you want to see how you perform for a given task, practice that task as you would when performing. Let me give you an example – When I block practice, I can get a dispersion that is sometimes only 30 yards wide with a driver. What is the value of practicing in that way if, when I get onto the course, my dispersion is much larger and more left biased (due to the “forgetting” principle re motor pattern learning). Sure it makes me more confident in practice – but how quickly would that confidence turn into frustration when the pattern width doubles on the course and I didn’t learn the skills to apply the correct dosage of “fix”?

      Blocked practice is fine, and serves a few benefits. I love Scott, and enjoy our discussions and believe he makes a few good points regarding the research validity. However, I’m unconvinced that his “blocked is better than random” viewpoint is as well thought out as most of his other discussions. I personally think it has to be considered on a “what is trying to be learned” basis. If playing skills are trying to be learned, I would reflect that by making my practice as close to my play as possible.

  • Alan C

    Maybe the putts could be expanded into a short game shot on the range too?

    E.g. a 3 foot putt is relatively simple so to “make it” you need to land your ball in a fairly large landing area 30 yards out. Whereas the 50 foot putt is extremely difficult so give yourself an 80 yard shot to a really small target and you can either give yourself a one, two or three putt based on how close you got?

    I love this idea Adam, cant wait to get to the range to give it a go!

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