By Tom Huttunen
PGA Teaching Professional, Oulton Hall
This is a question which is often not considered by golfers. Most are aware that if they are to improve then they will have to put the hours in at the range or the course but not many will have a plan of action for improvement. Here is a classic example:
John is an 18 hcp golfer who, with the best of intentions, takes the time to turn up at the driving range in a bid to develop/rescue their game before the next day’s Weekly Medal. Sure enough, he picks out his favourite club and proceeds to hit 100 balls back to back to the same flag on the range. Sure, this golfer may walk away feeling better about their swing and ability to hit a 7 iron in a sterilised environment. Unfortunately, these feelings may quickly subside the next morning when he’s stood on the first tee facing a stiff left to right breeze with out of bounds running tight down the right-hand side! “But I hit it so well on the range…”
The 2 most commonly used forms of practice are block practice and random practice. John is a classic example of how block practice should not be used!
Let’s use the following example to explore a little further…
We have 2 beginner golfers, Barry Block and Ryan Random. They are given 2 hours to practice as they see fit for a putting competition which is to be held the next day. The only information they are given is that each hole in the competition will be played from 4 feet from the hole around a sloping green.
Barry Block chooses to spend the time perfecting his technique. He goes to a quiet part of the green and finds himself a nice straight 4-foot putt and goes to work. It doesn’t take him long to figure out how to aim and how hard to hit the ball to get it in the hole. In fact, Barry gets very proficient, very quickly and doesn’t miss a single putt for the last hour! “This will be a piece of cake!”
Block practice is done in a fixed environment which can enhance feelings of confidence and repeatability of the given task. The obvious shortfall here is that this specific task may not often be encountered in the real-world game environment.
Ryan Random spends his time a little differently. He seeks out every single possible slope on the green and never hits the same putt twice. He finds it difficult to hole anything as each putt is moving in different directions and different speeds. After 2 hours Ryan isn’t feeling too hopeful as he looks over and sees Barry Block holing putt after putt on his corner of the green. “I don’t feel good about tomorrow!”
Random practice is chaotic and ever-changing which demands higher level thinking and versatility. The downside here is that the player may not experience as much success and limit their self-confidence building.
Which golfer do you think would fair best over a 4-foot putting competition around the green?
What we know…
These two practice styles have been extensively tested for research into skill acquisition/retention. The overwhelming consensus is that block practice enables the best short-term learning of a skill, however, when tested in a game environment or retested after time has passed, random practice is the runaway winner!
Why is this? The most popular theory is that when we are faced with a new situation it forces the player to assess and plan for the demands of the task (both consciously and subconsciously) and thereby developing their problem-solving ability. Block practice only has this effect for the first attempt before the player begins to become automatic and numb to the environment and therefore bypassing this crucial planning process and not allowing the brain to develop the neural pathways associated with the movement. It is important to stress that this process may be happening at a subconscious level and for some sports can be almost instantaneous (i.e. table tennis). In a self-paced sport such as golf the process tends to be a little more conscious as we have plenty of time to take factors such as wind, lie, break, trouble etc. into account.
In any case, the most skilled performers are those which are able to adapt to any situation and let’s face it… the golf course is anything but predictable!
What does this mean for me?
You may be thinking… ‘yeah okay but I’m not a beginner, I need to improve my technique to take my game to the next level!’ You may well be right. It would be fair to say that most golfers would benefit from developing their technique in order to be able to execute shots to a higher level. There is a difference, however, between technique and skill and that should be carefully considered when deciding how to spend your practice time.
Right okay… so what do I do now?
Firstly, you need to analyse your game and discover where your strengths and weaknesses lie (look out for an article on best practices for that topic in the near future). Without that you may as well be trying to escape a pot bunker with a driver… not the most effective strategy!
You can then start to develop a more dynamic training plan with some form of block practice for technical changes and some random practice for developing skill and shot-making.
This may seem like quite a challenge but that is where your PGA Pro would take the lead. We can help you get on track and stay there using the latest and best technology in the business.
Get in touch today to talk about your game and book your half price introductory lesson!
PGA Golf Coach
Oulton Hall Academy
Tel: 0800 242 5002