I try to give students options based on the amount of time they will spend trying to implement any changes which we have deemed necessary for their improvement. If they are able to spend a lot of time on the game, or are certain they will now they know what they need to work on, then we focus on their two or three check points which will allow them to swing as efficiently as possible.
So once a player understands how to swing the club in a manner which will work for them and they have or make the time to practice it’s just a matter of time
before they become consistently successful right? Wrong. Practice is not necessarily a good thing. It can actually be a waste of time. You must practice with purpose to make it worthwhile.
I grew up playing backyard golf. I never had much access to a golf course and my only lesson was about five minutes long when I bought my first set of clubs off of John Irwin at St.Catharines Golf Club. He said I looked okay, changed my grip slightly and then left. I was a good athlete so when I started playing a lot of golf while working at the Banff Springs during university summers I started seeing some serious improvement. It was a total home made swing but I learned to trust it and my short game, which I spent thousands of hours on in the backyard, was excellent.
The thing is, as I figured out years later when I started teaching the game, my swing was very loose. I hit the ball a mile but I swung like hell to do it. It worked when I played a lot but was very reliant on timing and athleticism and could result in quite wide swings in scores from day to day.
I simplified it a great deal but as my business and family have gown over the years I have had less and less time(and inclination) to bother tinkering with my own swing. In the winter I fool around copying different PGA Tour players(indoors) and I have a few swings I love and with which I hit the ball more crisply and consistently than with any of the swings I feel really confident with. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to practice them purposefully often enough outside for them to become my go to.
If you want to lock something in you need to make each swing during practice properly. That means you likely have to slow way down and take many more practice swings than you are accustomed to. It should take you approximately an hour to hit a large bucket of balls thoughtfully.(If you are a type "a" go go go personality this can be very difficult to do). Either through self-teaching or with the help of an instructor you need to understand the cause and effect of the different results you are observing from swing to swing. You would like to get away from "hoping" to hit a good shot--stop having it be a random event where swings work or don’t as haphazardly as the teenage boy hits the toilet bowl while peeing in the middle of the night.
If the shot doesn’t turn out as planned you don’t scratch your head in stunned disbelief. You focus on what you know you need to do to succeed. Get into a routine which allows you to think this way.
If alignment is an issue you will have to put a shaft on the ground to help lock it in. If your hips(I used to have the Elvis thing going on) or head are swaying or bobbing all over you can use the sun to check to see if your shadow is staying still or a mirror or window to check your movements in the reflection. The key is to get feed back about the positions you are in to make sure you are doing them properly. You should also remember to stop practicing if you are getting bored or are tight for time and are just hitting balls to get rid of the ones you have left. This unfocussed practice often negates any good work you have done earlier.
Also, make sure you understand the golf course isn’t the place to be trying to lock in new mechanics. Set simple goals for yourself when you do play which won’t be diverting you from your long term plan. Something easy like were you able to keep making your new swing even under difficult situations or did you chicken out and go back to your old one at the first sign of trouble? Score should be irrelevant if you are making big changes. (There’s a book around called Quantum Golf if you have an open mind and want an interesting perspective on how to make mental changes to your game.)
If you are into the fine tuning stage be sure to figure out the exact yardage you are hitting from when you go to the range. This is particularly important when working on your scoring shots from inside the distance you hit your full wedges. You could hit every shot perfectly but if you don’t know fairly precisely how far they are going it doesn’t help you score much.
By practicing with purpose you will learn to trust and understand the cause and effect of your swing. Without purpose it’s just exercise. (John Piccolo is the golf instructor and runs Piccolo’s Custom Golf Shop at Eagle Valley Golf Club in Niagara Falls. e-mail him at email@example.com.)