It’s so important to take where every player is and take the top half of players, or the top third, or the upper echelon 5% players, and see exactly what actions they take on a day to day basis. What do their days of practice and playing look like in specific detail? How do they practice? In what ways do they spend their time?
But even deeper than what do better players do is WHY better players do what they do. What makes a better player tick? What goes through the mind of a better player when they’re about to set their alarm for the next morning, or when they wake up in the morning; when they’re on their way to the course; when their friends ask if they want to play; on the first tee of a tournament? What goes through YOUR mind in these scenarios?
Asking yourself “Why do you practice?” is the biggest factor in determining what and how you’ll actually practice.
So first off, what defines a better player? Is it how far they can hit the ball? Is it how good of a putter they are? Is it how many different shot shapes they can hit without much effort? These are certainly attributes that tend to be in the arsenal of a better player, but the attributes themselves aren’t what define a better player. I think we’d all agree that what defines a better player is their score at the end of the round. Or combined over time, their scoring average. It doesn’t matter how many times you can get up and down if your scores are high. It doesn’t matter how many 30 footers you made if they were all for double bogey. It doesn’t matter if you can carry it over all those trees with your driver if you can’t break 100. It doesn’t matter how many range balls you hit if it all leaves you by the time you get to the first tee.
That is unless of course you’re “Why?” is being able to do these specific things. Maybe you want to have the fewest putts possible, and that’s your focus and your score is irrelevant. Or you want to be able to crush your driver. Or you want your swing to be picture perfect, matching precisely with those lines you drew on your phone screen. These are perfectly valid motivations. And trust me, the vast majority of golfers are here.
But if your “Why?” is to be a better player, then you would practice what would make you a better player. And what did we define a better player as? A golfer who has a lower scoring average. And scoring average only happens on the golf course. So what you are practicing needs to be things that translate to the golf course, and therefore to your scoring average.
So it is this journey that every better player has already embarked on. Which forms of practice and playing translate best to lowering your scoring average? Like Robert said, some players do better practicing more than they play, and some playing more than they practice. But I like what Dr. Kapil Gupta said in an interview with Mark Immelman’s “On the Mark Radio” podcast: “Golf is fundamentally a different game than the driving range.” And that’s because the course presents a multitude of challenges that the range can never simulate. Now, I’m not advocating that you never see a driving range. Going to the range and doing practice challenges afforded me the opportunity to practice the mentality of playing on a larger scale. I was able to bulk practice the feeling of pressure and competition through competing against a benchmark and against myself. But my motivation was never to simply do well on that practice challenge, or even finish all of the practice challenges, or get good on the range. My “Why?” was to shoot lower scores.
Since my “Why?” was to shoot lower scores, I practiced and played with that goal in mind only. Any time spent at the course for something other than that goal was fun, yes, but for me it wasted time. Instead of going through my bag with a bucket of balls I randomized my range sessions. I didn’t just putt around the putting green until I thought my putting felt good. I hit 18 random 30 footers. Or 25 random putts from 5-10 feet. I didn’t just chip from a few different lies until I was confident. Every shot was completely different from the one before it. I didn’t just play on the course to see what I would shoot. I competed against friends, sometimes non-friends, by myself, always putting pressure on myself and going through my exact routine like I would in a tournament. Everything was always like I was in a tournament, no matter where or what I was practicing.
All of this wasn’t because I wanted to please Robert. Or because it felt good to check off a practice challenge. Or because I wanted to have that point of pride as the guy that practiced harder than anyone else. My end goal was to play better in tournaments, so whatever it took to do that is what I did.
So don’t try to change your actions and hope you suddenly will become motivated to practice better. You have to first change your “Why?” and your actions will naturally follow.