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October 1, 2015

Don’t Practice, Have a “Recital”

By: Steve Whidden, PGA

When a musician or a dancer performs a recital, by the time they take the stage their routine is so engrained that they’re just going through the same motions they’ve done a thousand times in rehearsal. Their brains and actions are in tune, because during rehearsals they imagined that they were performing on the big stage. And when the lights come on, they don’t have to think to produce beautiful results. The game of golf can be thought of in the same light. Golf is a motor skill, which means the way that people swing a club is formed by an image in their brain. Much like a dance or playing an instrument. In addition, it is a skill that requires knowledge, feedback and stimulation.

When someone is struggling with their game they usually come see us, PGA teaching professionals, for a lesson. When I first meet a struggling student I go through a four-step process:

1. Diagnose and understand what’s going wrong with their swing. Then explain it to them using easy-to-comprehend terms.

2. Educate them on the correct motion using a concise verbal description.

3. Prescribe drills they can practice. These drills should provide instant feedback, so they know if they are executing properly.

4. Finally, and most importantly, develop a “recital” plan, which will break practice into two parts: (1) the implementation of the skill through drills and (2) a practice recital on the range that simulates actual on-course play.

This formula, which culminates with a “recital,” is a deliberate way to practice golf, but it is the fastest way to long-term success. I’ll give you a specific example. Let’s say someone comes to you and they have been topping the ball for the last three rounds. After the first three steps (finding out why, how to fix it and giving them drills) help them develop a 20-minute practice session that may look something like this:

  • They now know they top the ball because the club head bottoms out too early and is on its way up at impact.
  • They’ve been told the proper way is to hit the ball first and then the grass after impact.
  • The drill is to put a tee a half-inch in front of ball and work on hitting the ball and knocking the tee down.
  • The practice/recital session should be broken in half:
  • Practice 10 minutes on the drill
  • Practice 10 minutes hitting each range ball like they would on the golf course. Stand behind the ball, pick out a target, take a practice swing, strike the ball and evaluate the divot. Now go to another target with another club. Same routine. Their brain has just repeated the motion through a drill for 10 minutes, now it needs the real life “recital” to get it to stick.

The actual recital is what takes place on the on-course, but the rehearsal is done on the range. If your students began to think of each practice session as a mini “recital” by the time they reach the course, they’ll be like the musicians and dancers I mentioned earlier. They won’t need to think to produce beautiful results.