Playing vs Practicing

The difference between playing and practicing…
I would agree that trying to think about swing moves while attempting to execute golf shots is at best, a questionable approach.

Personally, I am extremely disciplined in regard to practice, flight testing, and playing.

For me, all practice regarding swing adjustments, or changes is done using drills and exercises. Once I believe the body is doing what is should, I flight test.

When I was on tour…
Flight testing I line up ten balls and rapid fire them, therefore not allowing my computer any additional time to be jamming up the hard drive. If the balls are struck solidly, with favorable flight patterns, I will then proceed to playing.

Playing is anytime I am attempting to shape, customize or design a shot, whether this be on a range or on the course. Makes no difference.

Playing a shot requires that I assess the situation, I must artfully make a choice of what kind of shot I am going to hit, what club I am going to use, how I will shape the shot. Once these decisions are made, I must let my mind construct the motion that the body must make, I have to feel this in every cell of my body before I execute…
a quick little practice swing or two, and once I cull the feeling I waste no time and just do it…

Years ago in my care free youth, I was driving across the US from coast to coast, and I read a famous book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and it impressed upon me the idea that there are those who’s passion is to ride the bike, enjoy all the feel and performance, wind in the hair and all that… then you have the one who really gets into understanding how it works, is almost more engulfed in the mechanical aspects of the design of the engine, various systems and so forth…

The artist uses the bike as a tool for expression, image, etc, but might have a real bum trip if the bike breaks down on the side of the road.

The mechanic welcomes the challenge of it breaking down, takes pride in getting back on the road as quickly as possible, but to the artist, doesn’t really get the idea of just enjoying the ride, scenery and such.

I quicky applied this ideology to the game of golf, and found myself in a way victim to either of those scenarios… the frustration of hitting the ball poorly and not knowing exactly what was wrong…
Later in my career I suppose I was too caught up in the mechanics, and creation of my swing, and would forget to just go out and play!

One year I was at the finals of PGA Tour qualifying and I was making big changes to my swing even during the event… it had worked through the first two stages, and suddenly I’m at the finals trying to put in the last couple of pieces that I had been implementing …
not so sure that was such a good idea in retrospect! … but my priorities were really to get these things integrated asap… tour school or not…! lol

It took me several more years before I really understood the concept of “practice vs playing” Now I NEVER practice while playing … EVER… I am very aware of intent…

This was a huge revelation for me well into my pro career…
When I understood this, I started to win tournaments…

It’s really amazing if you think about one shot per round on a player’s seasonal scoring average.
There’s nothing visible. Nothing obvious to the spectator… but a guy who averages 70.5 as compared to another at 71.5 will be up
80 shots during a season of 20, (4) round events. That is significant.

There’s much more potential in learning to strike the ball better.
When I won the Windsor Charity Classic in 1991 in Canada, I hit
18, 16, 17, 16 greens and shot 17 under. I had been putting well for a few weeks, but a week of better ball striking is what really made the difference. Even playing that good I only won by one stroke over Bradley Hughes! I didn’t have to make every putt, but it still felt like I had to with players like that breathing down your neck! Lol…

Getting back to motion… I think the less you think about the better.
If you can empty your mind and just try to feel the swing you have to make before you execute it, you’ll be well on your way. Understand the difference between playing and practicing.

When you get to the course, you should try to leave all the swing thoughts on the range. Sam Snead said it best….”Dance with the gal you brought!”

Cory Pavin once told me he always works on his games worst area.
80% there and 20% on the rest.

Don’t be afraid to practice with long irons, two or three iron will give you the most feedback on how well you are swinging. Feedback is king with both practice and playing.

Go back to basics, and use drills to make sure you are in all the right positions. I break the swing into 7 positions. I like to start from the finish and work my way backwards to the start.

On the course I keep it simple. Ball-target.

Trevino and Moe approached hitting a golf ball as if it was moving, say like in tennis… you don’t have time to think about anything when you are returning a serve. Get your body to the ball, and have a swing at it. They zero out their mind by not giving it any time to think.
Personally I love that approach, and I would side with that over the meticulous Nicklaus attitude. Not everyone has the ability to concentrate like Jack… certainly not me!

When I was young, I played slow, and had a million swing thoughts all the time, and would not pull the trigger until I was ready… unless they had the clock on me… then I would rush and hit bad shots, and be cursing the officials the rest of the round! lol

By spending time with Moe, I realized I didn’t have to be like that to hit the ball well, so I would work on rapid firing balls like Moe would.

I rarely hit balls now, but if I do, this is the only way I do it now.
I will line up 5 balls or more, and just strike them one after another,
no more than two seconds between impacts…

Now I do drills, really exercises… and play… I don’t hit balls before I play, I might roll a few balls across the putting green to check the speed. I arrive at the course stretched, and I have already done my drills, so the body is already warmed up.

I only play now and rarely hit balls. If I go out and don’t feel I struck the ball as purely as I would have wished, then it is back to basics. I have a very strict routine I do without a ball, and I have exercises I do that would cover all of the bodies motion and positions. These rudiments I go through are applied as needed, and am in the process of incorporating them as ritual.

If I feel I need to make a somewhat significant adjustment to my motion, I might “exaggerate” a feeling or certain swing dynamic for a while, then go back to rudiments. Once I feel the motion is “whipped back into shape” I might place a ball in it’s path for a quick test flight.
If the ball shows that the correction has been made, I don’t need to hit too many, two or three maybe, and then I’m ready to go play again.

I have my swing set up so that it is basically the same from driver to wedge.

If I can hit it straight, then fades and draws are no problem. When on the course I almost always work the ball one way or another. I always eliminate one side, usually aiming toward but not quite at trouble then work my shot towards target. I have never liked to work the ball towards trouble.

Now with the short game, chipping and such, I like the hands to have a heavy deliberate feel, and if that feeling is not there, the best way to get that back is to chip a few hundred balls at varies targets. Once the feel comes back, I just then leave it alone. I might do that every couple weeks or so. I have some great putting drills I do from time to time, but I find the best practice is lag putting across the green. Long putts… if my feel is good for speed on long putts, it seems to be good on short ones too. Maybe that’s just me.

One thing I have learned and believe, is that if you really know how to do something, you shouldn’t have to practice it much. If it’s really YOU, and you really own your motion, practicing is not all that necessary. If you feel you have to hit 200 balls a day to keep your swing in shape, I would question the reliability and fundamentals of that swing.

I remember Robert Gamez being asked once, “aren’t you going to practice today?” and he replied, “If I can’t beat all these guys without practicing I shouldn’t be here”

Hitting balls with the eyes closed is an excellent drill. I have used it
and agree that a good golf swing will not have trouble hitting solid shots doing so.

On ball beating, it is fact that no amount of ball pounding will guarantee
better long term ball striking. There is a point of diminishing returns, and each golfer will experience that point differently.


My own experience found that ball beating was more required for swinging than hitting. Ball beating helped me loosen and oil the hinges, and also was important to aid my body in applying “A steady and even acceleration” from the top of the swing to the release zone
(parallel 2 to parallel 3). Hitting for me does not require loose and oily hinges as much… nor is steady, smooth, even acceleration so paramount to hitting solid reliable, and most importantly, PLAYABLE type shots.

I just can’t express the value in figuring out how to strike good long iron shots. The short irons will seem easy if you can hit the long ones!! I don’t think anyone is doing themselves any favors leaving the long irons at home in replace of combo clubs.

Nothing is going to test your swings health better than striking a 3 iron. Nothing could do your game better than to figure out to hit the tough sticks. Any player with any high ideas in their self vision should really re think this.

The problem I see with most weekend golfers is that they don’t understand where their low point is…or should be… You absolutely can’t hit good long irons with the ball too far back in the stance.
You can’t chop down on them like with a wedge or 9 iron.

Quick thought on the driving range issue…

I have always questioned the value of hitting off mats to the point that I no longer do it. The feel is just too different between grass and astro anything.

I find doing drills does a better job of keeping my muscle tone strong…
and keeps my focus on my body’s idealisms. I only need to hit a couple shots to quick test.

I like to just take swings with no ball… try to take 10 divots that all look the same… same depth, length… this will help you loosen up and show focus and intent. We all know that what we see on the range often doesn’t transfer well to the course… so take it as a lesson learned, and go play golf… I like the idea of bringing good thoughts to the first tee, not a recent memory of a bunch of snap hooks minutes before on the range…

I like feeling totally warmed up before I get to the course, so if need be, I can step from the car right to the first tee with confidence. I do like to roll a few putts across the green to get a feel for speed, that is all. Long putts are best. Maybe a couple chips from the rough to get a quick feel there…

If you do range it before the round, use it to tell you what the tendency for the day might be… fade, draw… etc…
Sam Snead once said… “Dance with the gal ya brought”

Your not going to rebuild your swing the morning of your round so why try…

Ball- target…

go play golf…

I believe if you really know how to do something, you shouldn’t have to practice much. Of course to learn, to get there, of course it takes much dedication and practice.

I can assure you that I learned more about my game taking off 15 years than I ever could have imagined. Not that anyone should go to such extremes, but most all of us have taken off some time from the game at one point or another, and when you come back, inevitably some parts of the game still seem to be pretty solid while other parts really show a weakness.

For me, the first thing that goes after “time off” are the feel shots,
wedges, chipping. Things that involved the smaller muscles more.
Even putting was pretty good after such a time off, but again my putting stoke is very pivot related and not a lot of hands. It’s interesting to look at my rounds (listed a few posts back) this year since the layoff, and see that it took about 5 rounds before I started to get some of the feel back in my hands around the greens and with the wedges. There is a sudden drop in my scores… I could really feel the difference, almost like there was suddenly more blood flowing through my hands.

What seems to fall apart the most for all of you when you take time off the game? I think this could be of great interest to all the readers here especially me…

“Where is your mind”
In 87 I was paired in the Final Round with Bob Shearer and David Graham and I couldn’t help but be reminded of this exact concept “where is your mind” as one stands over the ball.

Nothing could be more opposite than these two. Shearer, one or two waggles, a quick look or two and bang! Graham on the other hand… stands over the ball like he is about to perform surgery, careful looking, calculating, and certainly never in a hurry.
Tennis or chess?

This is just a great question… what do people think about? Is there a best way to do this?

One explanation is that the slow player may have to go through a process or checklist before they can “empty the mind” and then “just let go” and execute. The fast player might be choosing to not let anything “get into the mind” in the first place.

From my own perspective, I became a faster player as I became a better ball striker. The more confident I became in my ability to hit the ball on line, the easier it was to let go of a lot of the nonsense that would bounce around in my coconut. Watching Moe Norman rapid fire balls on the range, one every second and a half, showed that you don’t have to think about a lot… to hit a ball long and straight.

Right now, as I play the game, I use the practice swing for two purposes, one to gently loosen the muscles, but more important, to rehearse what I want to feel in the body. I like to work the ball one way or another, and I use a different release action for a draw or fade, so a quick rehearsal there. On full shots, nothing more required, but on partial shots, or wedge shots of varying distances,
I might make a few practice swings to really feel just how hard or soft I am going to swing. These days I play without using yardages, I have to rely more on intuition and feeling, visuals, and feeling the wind and so forth. So once I have a clear sensation of what I need to feel, I aim “the machine”, take a quick waggle or two to establish my swing plane, and then fire. Never a swing thought…

I like to feel my way through the swing rather than think my way through the swing.

I think the more you play by instinct, the better you will play. As an example: I once played 18 holes with a buddy of mine from the golf team during practice that we finished in just over an hour, walking. I hit all 18 greens in regulation and he hit 16. We both hit every fairway. We didn’t walk off any yardages, take practice swings, or even read putts except when we were standing over the ball.
Both of us were playing really well before this round, but I think a lot of how well we were striking the ball had to do with the more brisk pace of play.

A lot to be learned from that post… thanks…

I’m sure Trevino would agree too…

I love watching how Lee would just completely commit to the shot and waste no time…
You can do that when your golf swing is rock solid like Lee’s…

Site: 1996 Open @ Oakland Hills. Practice pairing group: Nicklaus, Watson, Woods, and Woody Austion ( before the goggles ). Thought I would share something I thought was pretty cool.

Forgot which hole it was but there was a lightning delay. When it was over the four guys came of of the trailer to the tee. Nicklaus, Watson and Austin were making practice swings to loosen the wheels. Where’s Tiger? He’s at the tee markers with some kind of wedge. He opens the face wide wide open and is hitting the ball with full swings nearly vertical about 50 feet high above him and the ball drops to ground in nearly the same spot. He did this about 20-30 times. I just thought is was a pretty cool way to loosen the grease versus what the other three were doing.