What is Practical Golf? My Manifesto of Golf Improvement
Recently, I was listening to Annika Sorenstam describe what made her such a great golfer. What struck me the most was her comments on golf being like a puzzle. Annika states to achieve success, each golfer needs to find out what unique pieces fit in their own game. It’s not about taking someone else’s pieces, like their swing mechanics, but instead going on your journey to see what will fit for you.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, she believes there are endless combinations to make each golfer’s puzzle work.
Since I started Practical Golf four years ago, my primary goal is to help all of you make the pieces of your puzzle fit. In this article, I’d like to tackle some of my main philosophies. Think of it as my manifesto. For those of you who are new to the site, this will be a great introduction. If you have been reading for a while now, here is the “whole enchilada” in case you missed anything.
Overall, I hope that Practical Golf can be your golf coach. This website isn’t a place of instruction, where I talk about the mechanics of the golf swing. Instead, it’s a resource where you can learn how to play this game more effectively, and have fun doing it.
Why Golfers Have Been Lead Astray
I believe that the majority of golfers have been focusing on the wrong things for many reasons. The industry has decided that selling equipment and an endless loop of swing tips is the best way to market itself. What used to be several magazines distributing the information is now hundreds of thousands of videos and articles across various websites and YouTube. On top of that, golfers of all levels will share this information in a dangerous game of telephone.
There is more information than ever about the golf swing. Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of knowledge and expertise out there – the problem is relevance. If you’re on the hunt for swing fixes, there are so many voices and philosophies to choose from. But which ones are going to fit well with your learning style and swing tendencies?
On top of that, there are equipment companies, training aids, and plenty of other products promising the quick fix for your game.
I believe all of them are ignoring the correct path to improvement. That’s why I started Practical Golf. I want to give you the straight story.
I want to take you through several topics that are the cornerstones of my philosophy. My goal is to give you new ideas, and you can research them further in related articles that I’ll link to. Improving as a golfer is mostly about self-discovery; I want to help push you in the right direction!
Your expectations largely shape your experience in this game. This is a fundamental part of golf that you have to get right, or else nothing else will fit. Unfortunately, expectation management is part of golf that is rarely taught, and for golfers like myself, you learn through a lot of pain and frustration.
Expectations come in various forms. Some golfers believe they are entitled to lower scores, but don’t understand what kind of work they have to put in to get them. Other golfers have a completely warped sense of what is a good or bad shot for their skill level. Often, watching the highlight reels of professionals on TV is the main culprit.
The one thing I know for sure is that your happiness and performance as a golfer is primarily shaped by how well (or poorly) you can maintain perspective.
As you know, golf is challenging. Every player needs to shape his or her unique relationship with the game to be successful. Some golfers are on a quest to lower their handicap and compete. For others, it doesn’t have to be as serious an endeavor. Whatever the case may be, if you don’t have a clear understanding of what you want out of golf, the game can have a way of torturing you.
Expectations are a topic I discuss over and over again because it is that important to your happiness and performance on the course.
I firmly believe that the majority of golfers are capable of shooting lower scores with their existing swings. That’s not to say the swing isn’t important, or you shouldn’t work on improving it. The key is to be as efficient as possible with your technique, and your decision making on the course is a way to do that.
Strategy, or course management, comes in various forms. It’s a combination of evaluating the architecture of the course and choosing appropriate targets based on your abilities. Whether its a tee shot, approach shot, recovery shot, or on the putting green – your decisions will have an impact on your score.
Many golfers approach the course with no plan at all. Additionally, players choose targets and club selections that are needlessly aggressive, or in some cases too conservative. It’s one of the main reasons golfers are plagued by double bogeys (or worse).
If you can learn the proper strategy for your game, go on the course with a plan, and have the discipline to stick with it, I can virtually guarantee that your scores will drop. Strategy is one of the most important topics on this website, and I’ve got a ton of articles that can help. You can also sign up for our newsletter to receive my eBook on course management.
Showing up to the driving range or practice facility at your course does not entitle you to become a better golfer. For years, I made the mistake of believing that hitting hundreds of golf balls was going to lower my scores.
The key ingredient I was missing (and many others) is having a purpose. It’s not necessarily about working harder; it’s about working smarter.
99.9% of golfers are playing this game recreationally. We don’t have unlimited time to practice because of work, family obligations, and plenty of other things in life that get in the way of golf. Whatever time we do have to practice needs to be spent efficiently if we want to see results.
Speaking generically, I believe practice should be spent working on technique, building skill, and challenging yourself. No matter what you are working on, each shot should have some meaning. Plenty of golfers show up to the range and start rifling balls over and over again with the same club, and not even thinking about a target. That is not how golf is played on the course, and if you fall victim to this kind of practice, you should not expect to improve much.
There are many ways you can give your practice more meaning. Randomizing targets, playing games, using skill-based drills, or working on technical issues in your swing are a few ways to get it done.
Practice is also another topic I’ve devoted a lot of time to on Practical Golf, and I’ve uncovered some resources outside of the site that I believe can help as well. My friend Adam Young is one of the best resources in this area – I highly recommend his book The Practice Manual or his online course The Strike Plan. We also have a vast library of practice games and videos for our Practical Golf Insiders.
Here are other articles I have written about Practice on the site:
The Mental Game
You’ve likely heard every cliche out there when it comes to the mental game. Yes, golf is a game that is played “between the ears.” However, this is the hardest topic to quantity because we can’t get inside every golfer’s brain (yet) and see what’s going on.
I can tell you from personal experience that actively working on your mental game is a necessary part of becoming a better golfer. Controlling your negative emotions, having a mental routine before every shot, grit, and staying positive are all skills that need to be consciously worked on.
Most of all, remember why you’re out there in the first place…to have fun! This simple realization evaded me for years. I took the game too seriously and lost sight of the reason I was playing. If more golfers could focus on enjoying themselves, a lot of other issues in golf would start taking care of themselves.
Here is one caveat I would add though. You can never completely control your mind on the golf course, it’s impossible. You’re going to get upset, frustrated, nervous, and anxious. Every golfer on the planet goes through this, even the pros. If you can get incrementally better at reacting to these emotions, I believe you will see progress.
If you’re into books, I believe Dr. Bob Rotella offers some of the best mental game advice out there. David MacKenzie from Golf State of Mind has some fantastic online resources as well that I recommend.
Golf Clubs and Other Products
Since I started Practical Golf, I have evaluated hundreds of products in almost every category – equipment, training aids, apparel, and technology. I’ve also learned a lot about the golf industry and the truth behind whether or not they can help your game.
Here are a few pearls of wisdom I can tell you:
- There is no such thing as the right golf club for every player. Every major OEM is making quality equipment these days, but don’t fall victim to their marketing claims. Your best chance at finding the right mix of equipment for your game is to work with a professional club fitter who is brand agnostic. Getting custom fit clubs for your swing can help you improve (don’t expect magic).
- A lot of training aids are junk. There are very few that I recommend for all players. This article explores the topic more and lists products that I recommend.
- Tracking your stats is a great way to measure your progress and see which parts of your game need help. There are several products out there that can help automate the process for you and provide great analytical insight. Here are a few that I recommend.
- Having some kind of distance measuring device on the course can help you make smarter strategic decisions. For most golfers, I recommend a GPS, but rangefinders are very helpful as well. The costs have come down dramatically in both categories over the past few years, and you can buy many products for under $90-$200. If you are fine using a smartphone on the course, there are a ton of free apps as well.
- Launch monitors can be great practice companions. I’ve been using a SkyTrak launch monitor for over a year now. There is also an emerging market of affordable products priced at $500 and below that enhance your practice sessions.
Technique and Your Swing
I don’t want to minimize the importance of technique and your golf swing. However, it’s not something I discuss on the site much because every golfer’s swing is unique and requires different solutions. If you want the best chance at improving I believe you need to seek professional help.
Cruising YouTube (or elsewhere) for swing tips can work for some golfers, but the issue becomes continuity. Each instructor has their style and beliefs about the golf swing. If you start watching videos from multiple teachers, it’s likely you will get conflicting information. I don’t believe you will be able to make meaningful changes or confident swings on the course with multiple voices inside your head.
If you are not happy with your current swing and want to improve, I think it makes sense to take lessons. An instructor can give you a customized plan on how to improve, and if you stick with that plan, your chances of success are much higher.
Wrapping It Up
I’ve covered a lot! For those of you who are new to the site, or if you’ve been a reader for a while, I believe this gives you an overview of what Practical Golf is about.
Becoming a better and happier golfer is a unique journey for all of us. There isn’t one right answer for each of you, and I hope several topics in this article will help spark ideas for you to work on.