I’ve been coaching now for a long time. Something that I realised very early on is that changing the swing is difficult and takes time. I have read about and listened to people speak about muscle memory, there are many theories on this, I am not expert on this by all means. I can only tell you about what I have found works from what I have done and from my experience at a professional golf coach.
I personally don’t think we have such a thing as muscle memory. I truly believe that the swing movement is stored in our brain, in our memory and to change the swing we must re program the brain, not the body.
Over the years a question I get asked is how much practice should I do? My answer to this isn’t as simple as it might seem. Firstly we need to look at where you practice, is it at the driving range, on the golf course or rehearsing the swing at home or in the garden. All of these places are suitable.
We need to look at how you practice, do you have constructive practice, do you only work on one thing at a time until it has improved, do you attempt to incorporate pressure in to your practice, what feedback do you have during your practice, do you have fun, how focused are you, the list goes on.
I have attended various seminars over the last twenty years and a couple of numbers stick in my mind. “It takes 10,000 hours to master a skill” (Ericsson 1993 Study) and “ Seven hours of mentally rehearsing a move will change the mind” (Karl Morris). So what this tells me is that we must practice a lot and be mentally focused when doing this practice. This has been described as deliberate practice.
Don’t panic about the 10,000 hours, the point I’m making is that we need more deliberate practice. The 10,000 hours is what it takes to become a professional golfer, it roughly works out at about 40 hours a week over five years of studying, rehearsing and testing your knowledge of golf and the swing.
FOUR POINTS OF PERFECT PRACTICE
- DELIBERATE PRACTICE IS HIGHLY PERSONALISED
What you need to work on is unique to you. Few everyday golfers understand how to practice in a way that leads to actual improvement. You need a personalised plan that stretches your comfort zone. Only you and your golf coach know what that is. Ask yourself what shots and situations make you uncomfortable and what you’d like to do well, and then devise a plan to work on those areas. If you hit your wedges close from 120 yards, start trying to hit choke-down 7-irons the same distance. If money matches make you feel stressed, it’s time to bet £5 per nine to get your mind more comfortable playing for cash. Find the areas where you want to improve, then focus on drills that challenge you. But remember that…
- DELIBERATE PRACTICE SHOULD PUSH YOU JUST BEYOND YOUR ABILITIES
We’re talking about taking a step outside your comfort zone, not a giant leap. Small-chunk it. If you’ve mastered basic chips from clean lies, that doesn’t mean it’s time to hit Phil Mickelson-style flop shots; you’ll just thin ball after ball and feel lost. Instead, work up to pitches from tight lies, or hit three-quarter shots that run. Your new grip and stance will feel hopelessly strange, and you’ll hit many terrible shots, but it’s what you must do to improve. In fact, hitting both good and bad shots; plenty of bad, this is a sign that you’re achieving deliberate practice. Seeking out what we do poorly is not most people’s idea of fun, so few of us do it. But the best players find deep satisfaction in the challenge and immersion in the task.
- DELIBERATE PRACTICE MUST BE REPEATED AT HIGH VOLUME
The best performers repeat their practice at stultifying length. Sam Snead hit balls all day, then practiced by his car’s headlights at night. We’ve all heard that practice makes perfect. Now brain science reveals why high-volume repetition is critical. When Sean Foley was asked how his client, Justin Rose, had improved his long irons, he responded, “Myelin.” Many saw that remark as evidence of Foley’s supposed quirkiness, but he was right. Myelin is a substance in the brain that builds up around certain circuits, much like insulation around an electrical wire. Performing a motor activity repeatedly sends signals through a highly-specific brain circuit for example, the “high-3-iron-with-slight-draw” circuit; that builds myelin, creating what some call muscle memory. The great performers have myelin in exactly the right places. For you and me, years of poor practice have built up so much myelin around the “huge slice off the tee” circuit that it’s practically set in stone. Of course, repetition is vital, but it isn’t enough. That’s because…
- DELIBERATE PRACTICE REQUIRES CONTINUAL, SPECIFIC FEEDBACK
We all have blind spots, so we need a coach or, failing that, sound feedback. Whether you want to become the next Rory McIIroy, the research in various fields strongly suggests that you can’t improve if you don’t know how you’re doing. In golf, we see how each shot turns out, but we don’t see ourselves hitting it, and thus we don’t know why it turned out the way it did. What’s worse, we often think we know why it turned out that way — but are wrong. A good golf coach is the ideal solution; another option is watching and analysing video of yourself. From your flying right elbow to your swaying left hip, expert feedback corrects mistakes that you may not know you’re committing. Without it, progress is virtually impossible.
If we look at Tiger Woods for example. When considering the idea of deliberate practice, the behaviour of the world’s greatest golfer is instructive. In his book The Big Miss, Hank Haney, Woods’s coach from 2004 to 2010, observed that on the range Woods would rarely hit more than 25 balls before taking a seat in his cart, where he would stare silently and think about what he was doing. Haney wrote: “To me, it was an example of a great performer doing… ‘deliberate practice.’ ” In his own way (again, it’s highly personalized), Woods was engaged in the hard mental work of fixing a weakness. “A lot of players hit a lot of balls but focus only on their strengths,” Haney continued. “The great improvers are willing to get uncomfortable and make the mental and physical effort to correct a flaw.”
Some people may say, “Hold on. You can’t tell me that Tiger Woods didn’t come into this world with an incredible natural gift!” To which you could answer, “He did come into this world with an incredible gift; this being his father Earl Woods.” Tiger’s father was the force behind the fact that Tiger had 19 years and, some 12,000 hours of deliberate practice under his belt by the time he won the Masters in 1997, at age 21.
So for most golfers the message is liberating: Hard, smart practice can lead to huge improvement. More good news? Other golf studies show that you don’t need anywhere near 10,000 hours to see great results. Even a few hours per week can lead to better shots and lower scores.
Deliberate practice is a bit uncomfortable. It will take time.
So where do you start?
Having a professional coach will help, at the Kent Golf Academy we have the technology to help you plan your deliberate practice. We offer video feedback along with data from our launch monitors. This gives you a much better understanding of your performance and why we have to make certain changes.
During the lesson the swings are automatically recorded along with the ball flight data and they are sent to “the online cloud”. This is a personalised secure online area that only you can access and you can see your swings and learn the changes.
We also offer a practice bay for you to use at the academy so you can make your practice time very deliberate as you can watch your swings back and absorb the ball flight data just seconds after you have hit the shot.
If you have enjoyed reading this and are keen to improve your golf and lower your scores, then please contact me at the Kent Golf Academy using firstname.lastname@example.org
Senior PGA Coach
Manston Golf Centre