A little diddy about Practice & Golf

Practice, Practice, Practice

“I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re in here talking about practice. Not a game; we’re talking about practice. How silly is that? I know I’m supposed to be there. I know I’m supposed to lead by example. I know that. I know it’s important, but we’re talking about practice. … How the hell can I make my teammates better by practicing? They are supposed to be used to playing with me anyway. So my game is going to deteriorate if I don’t practice with those guys?”  –  Allen Iverson, Press Conference after elimination from 2002 NBA Playoffs.

 “Yeah, I’m anxious to come to practice,” a grinning Iverson told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “And that let me know that my career is definitely turning for the better.”  “We don’t have time to waste,” Iverson continued. “We’ve got to get it done right now somehow. The concentration level has to be that much higher in all of these practices, getting things taken care of on the court. We’ve just got to adjust faster.”  –  Allen Iverson, after Sixers acquire Chris Webber via trade, Feb 28, 2005.


The most used and least understood word in sport.  We hear it from our first days in pee-wee sports.  Everyone, from our parents, our coaches and teachers tell us that if we practice more we can achieve anything we desire.  I wish it was so easy.

 Practice has both positive and negative meanings for many student-athletes, especially for athletes playing an individual sport such as golf.  This conflict usually stems from grappling with time management and striking a balance between committing to golf, school and your social life. 

In order to get a scholarship for playing golf in college, performance excellence is essential both on the course and in the classroom.  I believe that there is a connection between how one prepares for academic success and how they prepare for athletic performance. 

 This is why I love to watch athletes practice.  Practice tells me everything.  I will watch a frustrated golfer continuously beat balls on the range, dragging one ball onto the mat after another, only to hit each successive shot worse than the one before.  It takes about 8-10 shots before the individual gets frustrated enough to go on “tilt” for a few shots, then they calm down and hit a few nice shots before starting the process all over again.

 Sound familiar?

 We seek answers and everyone around us tells us to practice more.  Practice more?  What does that mean?  While there is a cause and effect between more practice and performance improvements, if this was the only solution, than anyone could pick up a club and eventually compete with Tiger Woods. 

 Have you ever thought about how you practice?  Do you mindlessly hit balls on the range, to the neglect of your putting, your short game and shots inside of 100 yards?  Do you pound your driver or your favorite club at the range, while avoiding the clubs in your bag you need to work on the most?  

 Tough questions to answer, yet I ask them because research indicates that most athletes seek to work on their strengths, while avoiding their weaknesses.  Yet, in the heat of competition, various situations arise which often require your ability to handle the “tool bag” of shots that arise on the course.  It is in these times that mental and physical preparation are revealed

 There are only so many things an athlete can control during competition.  I believe that preparation is the number one thing an athlete can focus on and control.  If you play golf long enough, the really good and really bad days balance themselves out.  In the end, we strive for consistency, yet many golfers focus on consistency in scores instead of consistency in approach.

 Preparation is about self awareness and is self-imposed.  It is not inherently fun.  It must be deliberate.  It must be purposeful.  Preparation is created, crafted and cultivated in the practice environment and the challenge becomes how to translate your preparation to competition.  Sound like fun?

 The comparison I like to make is that of taking a test in school.  I am sure many of you have received a lower grade on a test and you knew that, had you studied, you would have done better.  Studying is not always fun, kind of like practice, and I ask you to consider the similarities between how you prepare for both.

How do you feel when you really study for a test and really know the material?  How much confidence do you have going into and during the test?  In the end, why were you confident?  The answer is somewhat easy and based in common sense:  you were prepared, you were competent and both fostered true confidence in your ability to do well on the test.

The only way I know to truly develop confidence is to first develop competence.  To develop competence, one must be able to accept that improvement and practice are linked together, both in the long and short-term and that change will not come overnight.  This is the hardest concept for most athletes, especially athletes in individual sports, such as golf, to accept. 

It is difficult for many athletes to commit to something that they know will pay benefits to their long-term game because they are so consumed with wanting to put up good scores now and to have immediate feedback and gratification.  But, real change takes time and the number one rule in learning is that learning takes time. 

This is why preparation is ultimately self-imposed.  At some point, many athletes tune out their parents, coaches and others who try and help them reach their goals whenever the word “practice” is uttered.  At some point, it becomes your individual choice to either give yourself the best chance to succeed or remain stuck where you are.

 The average high school golfer understands what they need to do to improve, yet they do not take consistent action.  The above average golfer has embraced practice and works on their physical game consistently.  The excellent golfer has learned how to integrate both the mental and physical into their preparation on a consistent and purposeful basis.

Take fifteen minutes, grab a piece of paper and a pen and apply the following questions to your golf game:

 1.  Identify your strengths and weaknesses in the following three areas:

            a.  Your physical conditioning.

           b.  The fundamentals of your golf swing.

            c.  Your mental game.

 2.  Based on this information, plan out activities you can do during one day of practice to do something productive in each of these three areas. 

3.  Set aside a time to work on 1-3 areas of your game that need improvement. 

 4.  At the end of this day, take 15 minutes to write down your experiences and insight gained through working on both strengths and weaknesses in practice.

 5.  Based on this insight, identify 1-3 things you want to work on the next day in practice and figure out how you will accomplish this. 

 The challenge becomes, can you do this?  Can you set aside 15 minutes at the end of each day and think about what you did that day to improve, gain insight from your work and apply this knowledge to your practice the next day? 

I know that you know you can do this.  The question becomes, can you do it consistently and with purpose?  Can you do it so practice takes on a more personal meaning?   Can you challenge yourself to take ownership over your preparation? 

Difficult questions to answer.  It is easier to think about more immediate and pressing issues, like wanting to shoot low scores, being happy when you do and being upset when you don’t.  The irony is, whether you shot an 82 or a 72 yesterday, you still want to shoot a low score today.

1 Response to “A little diddy about Practice & Golf”

  1. 1 mcuccaro September 29, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Really enjoyed this one Doug! I will direct some students to this article. I recently did a workshop on practice and showed the Iverson video to highlight people who try to get by on talent alone…always worth a good chuckle.

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