Quality vs Quantity in Practice

by Dan M | Posted on Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Special Contributor

“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”

That’s a great quote I use in all my golf clinics to drive home the point that how you prepare to play the game will have a lot to do with the degree of success you’ll have on the course. It’s early in the year and I wanted to share a short story about a guy( let’s call him Jack) I know who doesn’t like to practice at all on his game. He just wants to play and he figures he’ll work out the kinks once he gets on the course. Well, the other day one of his friends told me that he was playing with Jack at the golf club. He said,” All day long Jack was hitting the ball terrible. 50 yard worm burners, shanks, topped shots, and hitting 6 inches behind the ball taking huge divots. Then after a horrendous shot Jack blurted out, “ I’d move heaven and earth to hit a couple of decent shots out here!” I shouted back to Jack, ”I’d work on heaven, because you’ve already moved enough earth.”

The author helping actress Tanya Roberts make the most of her practice.

Listen, I don’t want you to become a ‘human earth mover’  like Jack so that’s why I have some ideas on how you can practice to improve your game this season. One of the keys to your success this year is to make sure you’re using your time wisely whether you’re on the driving range or golf course. Let me give you some examples of what I mean: There are those golfers who will head out to the practice range and pound balls unmercifully for hours and there are those players that have a clear, concise goal in mind about what they are trying to achieve. A lot of recreational golfers, especially with high handicaps, fall into the first category. Most of the time those golfers don’t get anything out of their practice sessions because they don’t practice playing golf, just hitting balls. How often have you heard people complain, ”If only I played as well as I practiced.” Other times golfers hit great on the practice tee because they are swinging freely, without any fear of failure or mechanical thoughts to burden their minds. Once they reach the course it becomes a different matter. Now they have to aim their shots towards targets like the fairways and greens. All of a sudden that freely wheeling spirit they exhibited on the range is gone because it becomes bogged down by swing thoughts and preconceived outcomes, thus creating stress and pressure. Their swings become jerky and quick, and their tempo is inconsistent, and they become upset when they hit the ball where they shouldn’t. They can’t transfer their practice game to the course because they haven’t prepared properly.

Just going to the driving range every day putting in the time isn’t enough to become a great golfer. You can have all the determination and diligence, but you need to have a game plan that will compliment your work effort. In golf, trying harder is admirable but, it’s all about ‘quality not quantity’. I realize most people don’t have the luxury of time to work on their games like the pro’s do, however when you do go out to practice make sure your working on the right things. We’ve all grown up hearing the expression, ”Practice makes Perfect.” But this isn’t always true when it comes to golf. Long and hard practices can give you a good workout and help you become a better player, but probably not a great one. An hour of quality practice can derive greater results than three hours of mindless banging of balls. That’s because we can only focus on the task at hand for so long before we become spent, both physically and mentally.

So what does a quality practice session involve? First, you need to have a clear goal of what you want to achieve as a golfer. This is where I would like you to start writing down on paper what areas of your game you would like to make some major improvements in. It’s important to be honest in your assessment of your skills. I’ve taught numerous professional athletes from all types of sports and they
The author helping actress Tanya Roberts with her game.
all have all told me they had a defined goal in mind to reach their dreams of success. This means every shot in practice means something. You have to put yourself in the same frame of mind as when you’re out on the course, where every shot you make is important. You need to fully concentrate on each shot at hand and pick your target, and begin your pre-shot routine because that’s what you would do on the course. By practicing this way, you’ll create good habits that will stay with you when the heat is on and you need to put your swing on cruise control. All of my students know that I will place them in game situations on a regular basis to simulate what they will encounter during the course of a round. It’s all about being prepared and accountable for your actions that will help you grow as a golfer.

Next, practicing from good and bad lies will help you to know what to do when that situation occurs. Also, hitting from side hill and downhill lies as well as awkward stances will help you work on your overall balance which is a must. Once you feel confident with your swing fundamentals I have players practice hitting controlled hooks and slices. Again, learning to shape the ball around a tree for example is a good way to become a great shot maker and it empowers you as a player to be in control of your swing.

In future articles, I will discuss in greater detail how to pull off those particular shots. Next time you’re on a par 3 hole try this hitting 3 shots to the hole with clubs you wouldn’t normally use. If the shot calls for a 7 iron for the required distance go ahead and hit a 6 iron instead. This can greatly help your rhythm and tempo and because there is no need to over swing or try to hit the ball harder than normal. Then hit a 4 or 5 iron and choke down on the grip slightly and make your swing. You want to become a consummate shot maker and not be one dimensional as a player. It’s a good rule of thumb to always have a few options on how to play the hole without having to go all out and try to hit the ball as hard as you can to get it there. Dialing it back a bit and taking more club and keeping a smoother tempo will make a world of difference. Learning to play with only one shot in your arsenal is like driving a car in only one gear. Finally, keep your practice session short on time, but high on quality. After you’ve worked on what needed tending too it’s time to move on to another phase of your game like chipping or putting.

These are just a few quick examples of how to approach the game with renewed vigor. Attention to detail and discipline are an essential part of the program to achieving success on the links. It can be a painful process if you aren’t prepared properly.

Speaking of pain that reminds me of what my dad once told me about the two pains of life. “There is the pain of discipline that weighs ounces and the pain of regret that weighs tons.” My hope this year is that you change your game plan on how you practice as it will lighten up your work load and free you up to having fun and success on the course. Finally, I don’t want you to end up like the lady who walked up to her golf pro at the club and said, ”I’ve been playing golf for nearly a year now. I don’t seem to be getting better. Do you have any advice on how to lower my score?” ‘Yes’ the pro said. ‘Just play the front nine!”

Tom Ward can be reached at


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