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A common trap that many golfers fall into is that they will practice countless hours and assume that only they have the right to lower their scores. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. As a junior golfer, I became frustrated after striking hundreds of balls and seeing no real improvement. I think we can all be involved in this in one way or another.
There must be a balance between being on a golf course and spending time on your game. Although the schedules & time are different for everyone, I want to help you understand something important about what it takes to become a better golfer.
Better golf requires experience
A lot can happen in 18 holes. You can go through periods of great play and then suddenly forget how to swing a club two holes later. The emotional "fluctuations" that occur are part of what makes the game so unique and frustrating at the same time.
One thing golfers lose sight of is that you have to be on the course to go through all those trials to gain experience. Most players who make progress in their game will tell you the same thing; you have to play a job. In a sense, playing is the best form of practice.
Simply put, you have to feel comfortable on a golf course. There are so many small elements in this game that require a certain amount of experience, and if you can't play enough, it's hard to develop them.
What is a reasonable balance?
It is impossible to quantify the number of hours, or what kind of ratio you should divide between exercise and playing time. What I can tell you is that spending more time practicing at a certain time at the expense of playing is likely to produce a declining return. I know that most of you reading this work, family and all other kinds of time commitments seem to stand in the way of golf. That is part of the reason why I talk so much about managing expectations and why golfers are usually too hard on themselves.
Many of us do not have unlimited time to work on our games and play as much as we would like. However, if you use that time effectively, you will see improvement.
I will discuss three hypothetical scenarios to illustrate my point:
Scenario 1 – Little Game Practice: If you are a golfer who can get many practice sessions of 30-60 minutes but can only play once or twice a month, it usually makes sense to you to temper expectations. Some players are naturally more talented than others. Yet I often find that if you are unable to test your skills and learn enough from it, it is a challenge to achieve a meaningful return on your preparation. In general, I wouldn't expect too much if you can't play enough.
Scenario 2 – Exercise instead of playing: If you have more time to go on the track but choose to practice more instead of playing – I would ask you to do more to find a balance. Every time you set it up, it is an opportunity to learn and challenge yourself. The things that you have worked on in the practice facility or your backyard need a chance to be tested live.
Scenario # 3 – Play All No exercise: Some golfers do not want to practice at all and use all their free time to play. I get it. Although I think you can still learn and improve by playing a lot of golf, you probably have a chance to get better if you don't work on your skills outside the course. All clues about your game are hidden in your performance on the course. If you can take the time to analyze what happens during your rounds, and use that information to work on some elements of your game that are missing, some low-hanging fruit usually waits to be picked.
It's all about comfort level
Anecdotally speaking, the best golf I have ever played in my life has always been when I can often hit the course. I have also had the opportunity to get to know and assist many golfers who have seen significant breakthroughs in their game. They also played enough to make those positive changes possible. Better golf requires a certain level of comfort to actually be on the golf course. That is almost impossible to replace during training.
If you can't play enough golf, that's OK – there's still a chance to get better in this game. However, I would like to warn you to be more patient with yourself. If you are only allowed to play once a month, do not use that round as a litmus test of your game. Playing once every 30 days is not enough to get a reasonable reading of where you stand. Please try to enjoy your time outside the distractions of the world and do not exercise yourself too much.
The Best Kind of Practice
Not everyone will be able to do this, but if you can practice on the job – do it!
If my course is empty on weekdays, I often go 2-4 holes. In every hole I try to make different tee shots and approach shots. I also throw a few balls down around the greens and make wedge shots from different distances. This type of practice is extremely valuable, and if you can find small time windows to do this on a job without disturbing other players, I highly recommend doing it.
Suppose you can play once a week. I think this is a much more reasonable option to test what you have worked on in your practice sessions and to find a balance between playing and preparing. There is indeed no good answer for every golfer. But the two most important points that I want to convey are:
You can only benefit from your exercise if you play enough
A big part of golf improvement is the comfort level on a golf course
Keep this in mind when entering a new golf season. It is impossible to find the perfect balance, but using some of these guidelines can help you make adjustments to how you spend your time and have healthier expectations for your game.