The Difference Between Learning And Practice
I’ve been in Virginia for the past few days, working on business planning and playing golf every day with my EIDOLON partner and close friend, Ralph Thompson. Joining us the past weekend was another friend and business associate, Jack Glasure, a PR guy from North Carolina. Today, we’re going to talk about Jack.

He’s a natural athlete, but not a kid anymore, and has just recently been bitten by the golf bug . . . hard, I might add. But he’s frustrated that it doesn’t come as easily as he would imagine. I’ve become Jack’s personal coach.

We spent hours talking about golf and swing technique, from the grip to positions at impact, to conceptual aspects of the game and swing that guide you to learning faster and more accurately.

But this article is about the difference between learning and practice.

Learning and practice are not the same thing, but two very different aspects of getting better at this game. The learning part is that process of becoming aware of and understanding new thought and process, the internalizing of that knowledge, and the application of it to your swing and game. The practice part of the equation is the ingraining of that knowledge – after it is learned – so that it becomes second-nature.

Let’s start with learning.

Making progress in your golf through swing changes, whether it is something as simple as a grip alteration or modification to your set up position, or as complex a new positions and moves in the swing, requires first that you clearly learn the new stuff.

Only after it's learned can you begin to practice it so that it becomes ingrained. Let’s talk about a swing change to illustrate this.

If you're trying to learn and perfect an improved path of your hands through impact, for example, the first step is to learn it. That means starting with stop-action posing in the positions so that your muscles and mind can absorb your new objectives. You can then progress to slow motion swings that allow you the time and coordination to feel the muscles finding these new positions and producing this new coordinated motion through them.

As your body begins to get familiar with this new muscle activity, you can gradually speed up the moves with your attention focused on making sure that you are performing as you were taught. THE GOLF BALL IS NOT PART OF THIS PROCESS !!

Once you get familiar with the new muscle activity, you can begin making practice swings at half speed, then ¾ speed, and finally full speed, all the time analyzing whether or not you are achieving your objectives of the new moves. This is the first stage of the practice process.

Only after you feel like you can really repeat the swing motion with your new method do you begin to put it into practice with a golf ball in the way. And even then, you should make your swings at half or ¾ speed so that you can concentrate on making the new swing – not hitting the ball.

The practice element of the process begins after the learning process is nearly complete. Practice allows you to ingrain this new learning so that it becomes the new habit. And to make your golf ball practice most effective, make several practice swings for each ball you try to hit.

I hope all this makes sense. Separate the learning from the practice, and get them in the proper sequence, and this game will get a great deal easier.

As always, share your thoughts and experiences with all of us, OK?
The Wedge Guy is sponsored by SCOR Golf, where Terry Koehler is President/CEO. He encourages you to submit your questions or topics to be considered for his columns on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each submission automatically enters you to win a SCOR4161 wedge to be given away monthly. Click the button below to submit your question or topic today.

[ comments ]
Kan says:
When I am working on swing improvements, I find it more effective to alternate between making swings without the ball and hitting balls on a tee. The problem when practicing alone is: how do you know that you are making the correct movement? How do you know that you have the correct understanding? I often need to test a change by hitting balls and making small adjustments to see the effect on ball flight.
Jack says:
Hey coach:
Thanks for the learnings last weekend in Virgina. And I get the hint - if I don't practice this week, the swing muscles will remember the old bad form.
One of the most meaningful tips you demonstrated on the range was the followthrough on short chip shots around the green. I had been hitting "at the ball" rather than swinging the club all the way through and rotating my hips.
Look forward to our next session.
Most appreciatively,
Jack Glasure
Mike Douglas says:
Great article.

Sometime during the past 20 years of teaching, I started telling students that every golf swing is a practice swing. It's just that the ones that count start behind the ball.

I enjoy your blog.
wedgeguy says:

Practicing alone is what golf is all about, but you make a good point. I think your approach to making practice swings (learning) and then swings at a ball (testing) is the routine you want to continue to pursue. The key when you are trying to learn something new is to rehearse and practice it in slow motion so that your body can really learn the new moves and positions. As you get more and more comfortable with it, repeatability will come.
blue_crush says:
practicing a shot and changing ones swing to make a shot go straight is 2 different things. if you don't know what your doing and just whack balls and get them to go straight, that does not make the practice valid... it only makes bad habits. very few golfers can hit a draw or fade when asked too. why, cause they don't know what to do with the club or swing to produce one. good practice sessions come from knowing what caused you to have trouble in the 1st place and then practicing it. if you are just trying some new shots or working on your short game that is one thing. or if you have a plan before you hit some balls as to what you want to accomplish that's great. but to go out and hit 60/200 balls with your driver and still not come away with anything good is not good practice...IMHO
JWHpurist says:
A very good statement. This is the same method the teaching pros used in the 50's, when I learned the game, to develop a sound foundation for skill development. JWHpurist
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