A New Way of Practicing

Does this happen to you? You go to the range and get loose. You hit a few balls and they’re perfect. Or you go to the practice green and the first few chips you hit end up right next to the hole, or the first few putts go right in.

And after that, you can’t do a thing right. You hit ball after ball, trying to get back the magic you had at the start, and you never quite get there. Well, maybe you shouldn’t try.

James Sieckmann has a new book out, titled, Your Short Game Solution. In addition to invaluable short game advice, Sieckmann spends a little time talking about the difference between block practice, which you do a lot of, and random practice, which you probably don’t do at all.

Block practice is hitting the same shot over and over again. Random practice is where you have a shot for the first time, and you hit it. Then you pick a different shot and hit that one.

Sieckmann suggest that you spend a only few minutes in block practice, then the rest of the time in random practice – hitting different shots to different targets with different clubs. The reason is that you train your brain much better that way.

He refers to an article in the blog, The Bulletproof Musician, that says our brain is wired to respond to change. It gets dulled by repetition.

What about practicing to perfection? Again, that’s not how our brain works. It was designed to improvise, not do the same thing over and over again, according to the work of Stanford engineer Dr. Krishna Shenoy.

Sure, you do have to practice a golf technique (the RIGHT technique) enough to have learned how to do it. That means a lot of repetitions. But you don’t pile up those repetitions. You do them over time, along with other techniques you’re learning.

Along the way you spend lots of time giving yourself problems to solve with each technique, even as you’re learning it.

So here’s what I would recommend. It’s how a practice session goes for me.

I get a small bucket of balls, 33. I’ll warm up with dry swings (no ball), then hit a few 9-irons, a few 7-irons, a few 5-irons, a few hybrids, and a few drivers. Back to the 7 or 5 and hit few fades and a few draws. I’ve hit about half the bucket.

This part is just to remind me how my swing works, to keep the feelings fresh.

Then I take out my wedges and hit to random distances. I’ll play with trajectory next. When maybe three or four balls are left, I’ll go back to the long clubs and hit a driver and a few irons. Done.

At the practice green, I’ll drop four balls and chip them to different holes. Or, I’ll pick one hole and chip to it from four balls different places around the green. This goes on, hitting different shots all the time, until I’ve gotten all four balls up and down twice in a row.

Finally, putting. Eight three-footers in a circle drill to a cup that is on slanted ground. Then a dozen or so 20-footers to different holes and from different directions — never hitting the same putt twice. Four balls to the same hole on the same line from 35, 15, 45, and 25 feet (in that order) until all of them go down in two. End with five straight-in two-foot putts, to go home with success in mind.

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