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Senior Golfer - On The Green

Play much better golf with deliberate practice

The Putting Green

Believe it or not, we don’t have any idea how good we can get with our golf games. It’s something I firmly believe, and now I know how it can be accomplished—through deliberate practice.

I came across the concept of “deliberate practice” when reading the October issue of Golf Magazine. I read the article several times and came away very impressed. So, I’m recommending it to all my readers as a “must read,” and I’m going to highlight some of its major points in this column. Geoff Colvin wrote the article, and he believes that we all have the ability to play much better golf than we ever believed possible!

If you want to become great—or just good—at anything, then it will take more than just practice, says Colvin, who is also author of the best-selling book, Talent is Overrated. It will take hard work and a new understanding of what’s effective on the practice range, what isn’t, and why. It will take something called “deliberate practice.”

Now, Colvin is not a sports psychologist, teaching pro or raving lunatic. He’s a golfer like you and me. He’s 59, has a 17 handicap and is always complaining that he works too much and plays golf too little. I’m 69, have an eight handicap, and utter the same complaints about life.

I always thought that the secret to golf was working hard on the range, so that I could groove my swing. Colvin said this is all wrong. He cites 30 years of scholarly research into great performances—that of brain surgeons, jet pilots, musicians and athletes—to tell you that they attained excellence in their respective fields through deliberate practice; and for golfers, this means spending more than 10,000 hours on the range.

Now, we’ll never spend the 10,000 hours on the range doing deliberate practice, but research shows that we can all be much better than we ever imagined. We have a job, a family, a life, but we can still improve our golf games by grabbing hours of deliberate practice. Colvin puts forth the four laws of perfect practice, and I urge you to, at the least, consider following them—or better yet, making them an integral part of your golf games.

  • Deliberate practice is highly personalized. What you need to work on is unique to you. You need a personalized plan that stretches your comfort zone, and only you know what that is. Find the areas where you want to improve, and then focus on the drills that challenge you. For me, it’s sinking those five-foot putts that turn bogeys into pars and pars into birdies.
  • Deliberate practice should push you just beyond your abilities. This is not a “big leap,” but rather a small step forward. For example, if you have your three-wood fade down pat, try hitting hook with the three-wood. Seeking out what we do poorly is not most people’s idea of fun, but those striving to get better find great satisfaction in the challenge.
  • Deliberate practice must be repeated at high volume. Sam Snead hit balls all day and then turned on his car’s headlights to hit them at night. Pistol Pete Maravich shot baskets in the school gym from dawn until dusk. Repetition is vital to improving our golf games, but mindlessly pounding golf balls on the range is not the answer. Your have push yourself.
  • Deliberate practice requires continual, specific feedback. We all have blind spots, so that’s why we need a coach; and if we can’t afford one, we need, at least, someone who can give us some honest feedback. A good teacher is the ideal situation, but you can’t improve if you don’t know what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong.

For the average golfer, Colvin’s laws of deliberate practice have a specific message: We can get better at our golf games. Hard, smart practice can lead to huge improvements. You and I won’t ever get to spend the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice that touring pros such as Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson do, but even a few hours a week can lead to better shots and lower scores. Join me next month to learn six drills to help with your unique “deliberate practice.”

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