Don't be like this guy.
Practice? We are talking about ... PRACTICE???
By Kickntrue on 5/6/08
By Mike Kay, oobgolf guest contributer

Why We Practice
Let me quickly tell you a story to show you that I am not just making this up. In my previous athletic endeavor, I was a rock-climbing instructor to some world-class lacrosse, football, hockey athletes. And I could out-climb all of them with my scrawny 130 pound frame. In the beginning, there was one constant over all students, even the non-athletes. They did not practice for climbing, they just climbed. They were getting stronger, but not better. Why? They had wrong muscle memories, and nothing they did would develop the right muscle memories. Most of what I PRACTICED with them had something to do with developing the RIGHT muscle memories.

But this is an article about golf, so let's parlay this into muscles memory for swinging the clubs. Have you ever bladed a shot at the range that skipped and rolled straight on the ground? What am I asking, of course you have. How did you feel? Pretty terrible, right? You probably knew you mis-hit it right away and turned away while trying not to swear.

Have you ever bladed a shot on the course? Again, of course! But here's the caveat, if the ball skips and rolls to 150 yards where it doesn't hurt you too much, you'll probably feel a little more LUCKY than BAD. This is perfectly natural, and unfortunately, completely wrong for your development.

Why Bad Practice Doesn't Work
Here's the deal. On the range, you made a terrible shot but your muscles didn't learn anything from it. On the course, your made the same terrible shot, but your body probably interpreted it as a POSITIVE memory.

First, lets see why in the first shot you didn't learn anything, while in the second you learned something. It's because you looked away. If you make a bad shot, you better make sure that you watch it the whole way. Hold that finish, no matter how ugly, and taste your own failure. That's right, you gotta teach your body what failure feels like. This is NEGATIVE reinforcement. And if you happen to hit a great shot, you still have to watch it!!! Make sure your body knows what POSITIVE reinforcement feels like.

By now I am sure you are rolling your eyes at this article, thinking "I am not a little kid! I'll hit a thousand practice balls and by the end I'll know what's right!" Wrong!!! Your muscles really are little kids with attention spans shorter than ten seconds, and the only way to communicate with them is to have your brain send them a message though the neurons. If you look away in disgust and started reaching for another ball, your brain is sending a message, but the muscles are already doing something else.

Secondly, if you are watching your ball skip and roll through the rough, over a bunker and right into the middle of the fairway, your muscles are not doing anything, but your brain is sending them the wrong message. This the the wrong kind of reinforcement. You may be excited that you got so lucky, but you simply have to try to hold that adrenaline in check and realize that you DID NOT make solid contact. Take a few practice swings afterwards to make sure that the bad swing doesn't stick with you.

Why Good Practice Does Work
I am sure you've all heard the old mantra "Hold your finish!" from your golf pro, friends, books, and Golf Digest. I am telling you that this is why the old mantra works.

Perhaps you believe that you should hold your finish and say "Fine! I'll watch all my bad shots at the range, but your reasons are still crap! There's no way my lucky hopper during the round is a bad thing. Why should I beat up on myself? I can still make par!" True, you can still make par. But let's examine your whole day at the golf club, and try to spot instances of muscle memory. I'll put an asterisk where I think it enters, good or bad.

For argument's sake, say you came early enough to hit the range*. But did you try every club in your bag? If you made your lucky shot with a 6-iron, was this the first time you picked up the 6-iron that day*? If that's your first 6-iron that day*, how can you be sure that you won't make the same swing mistake on the next hole*? And if you already hit some good 6-irons*, how can you discard that some little kink just ruined your last one*? Did you feel what that kink was*?

That's seven asterisks, but really it's the number of all the swings you take, even the practice and mental ones. Every time you even think about a swing you made or a swing you are about to make, your brain is communicating with your body and invokes muscle memory.

The point is that holding your finish develops a rhythm to your swing, but it also develops a rhythm for finding the right swing from your memory banks. Golf is not a game where you fire all your shots at once. You have a chance to examine your prior shots and adjust your future ones. Just like practice!

Good luck at the links, and I can't wait to read the comments on this one!

[ comments ]
golfgirl says:
It's funny because when I hit a really awful shot at the course... one that somehow bounces off a tree or otherwise gets lucky, I'll lament it and hate on it because it was so ugly and obviously bad, but my playing partners will say, "why are you being so're going to mess up your mental game with all that negativity." So I'm thinking it's a slippery slope between keeping your confidence up and seeing the bad shot for what it actually was.
klangdon says:
Another good point about mental reinforcement is the social aspect. I usually go to the range alone, but play golf with friends. I am sure my brain is working a little harder when I have a friend feeling sorry for my shot into the woods than when strangers are just rolling their eyes at the range...
jerdman says:
I notice when I hit a shot thin I usually don't finish my follow through and immediately jerk the club back down to take a few anger swings. All my sweet shots go straight to a held follow through. I wonder if getting to that follow through on every shot will help me hit better shots, or make me look like some hack who thinks that worm burner was a dandy shot.
volleyhart says:
I think you might be right ... basketball players are told to reach toward the sky and "hold" their shot to make sure they extend properly, and I'd bet this is one big reason for that advice. Food for thought - can I use it to guarantee a huge improvement in my game?
TaylorFade says:
I'm pretty sure the old "hold your finish" thing is to reinforce proper weight transfer and a balanced swing. I do hold my finish after bad shots so I can check alignment, posture, foot position and the like, but not to reprimand my brain. I find this article a little counterintuitive and confusing.
skulptor says:
I hold my finish on bad shots as well...I figure if someone is watching me swing from a distance and they did not see where my ball went they will think I hit a good shot if I hold my finish.
PapaJoe says:
Oh, Jesus, help me please! A bad shot and a bad swing is just that. Forget about the finish and forget about the swing! Sure, it's going to happen to everyone. But why consternate about it by trying to make a good finish look like a bad swing? If you're on the practice range tee up another ball immediately and make a better swing, no matter where it goes. If you're on the golf course under actual playing conditions walk away from the bad shot, put your club back into your bag, and concentrate harder on the next shot. Did you ever hear of: "Make the best out of a bad situation?" I once skulled a 7-iron on a 150-yard par 3, watched it skid up the fairway, bounce out of a sand trap and into the hole for an ACE! Ugliest hole in one I've ever seen! But I still had to buy for everyone in the club house! Only those playing with me knew HOW it looked! Nobody else cared as long as they got free drinks! Moral of story? It ain't HOW it's HOW MANY! Cheers and good swings to all!
Rick.Surratt2 says:
I agree with Taylorfade in regards with the check list of possible errors; "alignment, posture, foot position and the like." After that I just make simple mental notes and ask myself a few questions....did I swing to hard, keep my right arm in, line up my shot, follow through, and so on. That may seem overboard, but for me, it seems to be second nature. HIT'EM STRAIGHT
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