A common trap that many golfers fall into is that they'll spend countless hours practicing and assume that alone will entitle them to lower their scores. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. As a junior golfer, I used to get frustrated after hitting hundreds of balls and not seeing any real improvement. I think all of us can relate to this in some way.
There needs to be some balance between being on a golf course and spending time working on your game. While everyone's schedules and time commitments are different, I want to help you understand something critical 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 abruptly forget how to swing a club two holes later. The emotional "swings" that occur are part of what makes the game so unique and frustrating at the same time.
One thing that golfers lose sight of is that you need to be on the course going through all of those trials and tribulations to gain experience. Most players who progress in their game will tell you the same thing; you need to be out on a course playing. In a way, playing is the best form of practice.
Simply put, you need to be comfortable on a golf course. There are so many little elements to this game that require a certain amount of experience, and if you can't play enough, then it's hard to develop them.
What Is A Reasonable Balance?
I can't possibly quantify the number of hours, or what kind of ratio you need to divide between practice and playing time. What I can tell you is that at a certain point, spending more time practicing at the expense of playing will likely yield diminishing returns. I know most of you reading this have work, family, and all other kinds of time commitments that seem to get in the way of golf. That's part of the reason why I talk about managing expectations so much, and why golfers are usually too hard on themselves.
Many of us don't have unlimited time to work on our games and play as much as we would like. However, if you use that time effectively, you can see improvement.
I'll discuss three hypothetical scenarios to illustrate my point:
Scenario #1 - Practice With Little Play: If you are a golfer who can get plenty of 30-60 minute practice sessions in but can only play one or two times a month - it usually makes sense to temper your expectations. Some players are more naturally talented than others. Still, I often find that if you are not able to test your skills and learn from them often enough, it's challenging to gain any meaningful return on your preparation. Overall, if you can't play enough, I wouldn't expect too much.
Scenario #2 - Practicing Instead of Playing: If you do have more time to get on the course, but are choosing to practice more instead of play - I would urge you to find more of a balance. Every time you tee it up, it's an opportunity to learn and challenge yourself. The things you've been working on at the practice facility, or your backyard, need a chance to be tested out in live-action.
Scenario #3 - All Play No Practice: Some golfers don't want to practice at all, and use all of their free time to play. I get it. While I do think you still can learn and improve by playing plenty of golf, you are likely forgoing an opportunity to get better if you aren't working on your skills off the course. All of the clues about your game are hiding in your on-course performance. If you can take time to analyze what is happening during your rounds, and use that information to work on some of the elements of your game that are lacking, there are usually some low-hanging fruit waiting to be picked.
It's All About Comfort Level
Speaking anecdotally, the best golf I have ever played in my life has always been when I can get on the course often. I've also had the opportunity to learn and be around plenty of golfers who I have seen make significant breakthroughs in their game. They also were playing enough to allow those positive changes to occur. Better golf requires a certain amount of comfort level of actually being on the golf course. That's almost impossible to replace during practice.
If you can't play enough golf, that's OK - there is still an opportunity to get better at this game. I would caution you to be a little more patient with yourself, though. If you only get to play once a month, don't use that one round as a litmus test of your game. Playing once every 30 days is not enough to get any reasonable measure of where you stand. Please try to enjoy your time outside away from the distractions of the world and not put too much pressure on yourself.
The Best Kind of Practice
Not all of you will be able to do this, but if you can practice on the course - do it!
If my course is empty on the weekdays, I'll often go out for 2-4 holes. On each hole, I'll try to hit several tee shots and approach shots. I'll also throw a few balls down around the greens and hit wedge shots from various distances. This form of practice is extremely valuable, and if you can find small time windows to do this on a course without disturbing other players, I highly recommend doing it.
Wrapping It Up
Let's say you have an opportunity to play once a week. I think that's a much more reasonable opportunity to test what you've been working on in your practice sessions and strike a balance between playing and preparing. Indeed, there's no right answer for every golfer. But the two main points I would like to get across are:
- You can only capitalize on your practice if you play enough
- A large part of golf improvement is comfort level on a golf course
Keep this in mind as you enter a new golf season. It's impossible to find the perfect balance, but using some of these guidelines can help you make adjustments on how you spend your time and have healthier expectations for your game.