“Why don’t the skills I practice off the course translate to my on-course play?” This statement, or some form of it, is a common lament from golfers, and points to one of the biggest problems in the sport; golfers don’t know how to practice. The main problem, as I see it, is that the skills most golfers are practicing are not the same skills that are needed to be successful on the course.
As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”; the more you practice a skill, the more proficient you get at it. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a skill as “a learned power of doing something competently”, then theoretically, any learned behavior will be strengthened the more we repeat it. It is this basic principle of repetition that drives golfers to spend countless hours honing their skills with the hope that it will lead to lower scores. But what if we’ve been doing it all wrong? What if those countless hours of honing our skills have only served to interfere with our development as golfers? What if the skills we have been practicing are not the ones needed to most effectively play the game? What are the skills necessary to succeed at the game of golf? My hope is that this article will begin to answer these questions, and a few others, so that we can make the best use of our practice time in an effort to maximize our potential as golfers.
So, what are the skills necessary to succeed at the game of golf? Imagine a friend of yours, who has never played the game before, asks you what skills they need to develop in order to be successful. What would you tell them? In a recent survey, I asked low handicap golfers this very question, and in no particular order, here’s the list of skills they came up with:
Ability to concentrate
A “one shot at a time” attitude
Hand eye coordination
Knowing how to compete
Disciplined decision making
Will to win
Knowledge of the rules
Respect for the game
Proper posture and set up
A good short game
Sense of humor
Understanding of proper weight transfer
Strategic understanding of the game
Playing within yourself and your abilities
Willingness to learn from others
Understanding of club design, function, and purpose
Ability to read a green
Ability to read a lie
Club face awareness
Understanding the mechanics of the golf swing
As you read through the list, what did you think? What would your answer(s) be? What did you agree with? How often do you practice these skills? Do you think if you possessed all of these skills your game would improve? When I ask better players these types of questions, I am always struck by how often the mental game is referenced (The skills highlighted in red are those I would consider psychological skills, or aspects of the mental game). My personal and professional experience tells me the above list of skills, although not comprehensive, would be a great place to start if you wanted to become a better player. If you agree, how many of these skills do you regularly practice?
If you’re not practicing these skills, or some variation of them, you’re doing yourself a disservice, and most likely, the skills you are practicing don’t correlate well with the actual playing of the game on the course. Very often, we don’t practice the skills necessary to be successful at the game. Instead, we practice skills that we believe will translate to on course play, but rarely stop to question whether or not they do. This disconnect between the skills we practice and those necessary to succeed at the game is probably the greatest impediment to our development as players. My sense is that we are wasting our time practicing in ways unquestioned by the status quo.