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Effective Golf Practise

European Tour Mind Coach Dr Karl Morris has worked for several years with US Open Champion and Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell – and rarely has the test of a player's nerve and resilience under pressure been so thoroughly examined as GMac's was at Celtic Manor.

“It has been a huge thrill to see GMac become a truly outstanding world player,” says Morris. “One of the things that I always admired about him was his diligence and willingness to work on all aspects of his game including his mind. A good part of that time we spent together focused on making his practice more efficient and game specific. He does not play well when he gets to bogged down with swing mechanics. A naturally competitive individual, GMac just love to play and practice in some of the ways that I am going to share with Gi readers in this second article.”

So here's your opportunity to apply the same methods and techniques used by the world's top golfers to achieve the mind-set that leads to ultimate performance. Pay attention!

I can assume with a fair degree of certainty as a golfer, you will spend a lot of your time practicing in one form or another. You may not be on the range all the time but my definition of practice is any time you are on the course or range in a non competitive situation. The question I want you to ask yourself and to answer very truthfully is this: ‘Is the practice you are currently doing making you a better golfer?'

Now, if you are like most people, you have probably answered with ‘Of course it does!'

Just dig a little deeper though.

Can you honestly say that as a result of the way you practise you have continued to improve at your game? If you can truly say ‘Yes' then you are almost unique! However, I think if you are honest and you are like most people, you would probably have to say your game has stagnated – it may not have got much worse, but chances are your improvement is now fairly minimal.

Once you are pretty good at a sport, the amount you can improve is, of course, going to reduce incrementally. However, I think there is a concept in practice which is so profoundly important, but so few golfers really take the concept to heart and practice it on a daily basis.

A while ago, I was asked to do a series of lectures and workshops in Australia about the subject of Mind Coaching. Now, as a generalisation, your average Aussie is (a) pretty mentally tough and (b) just absolutely loves sport, any sport. During the series of talks, I heard a wonderful story about Sir Donald Bradman, the legendary cricketer.

To put Bradman into some kind of perspective, if you average 50 as a batsman in Test cricket, you are regarded as one of the game's greats. Well, Bradman averaged 99.94 and would have finished his career averaging 100 if he hadn't been out for a duck in his final test innings. 99 is so incredible as to defy belief. The next best Test average by anyone else that has ever played the game is in the low 60's! The equivalent in golf would be someone who came along who had a scoring average of 64! As a statistic in sport, Bradman's average is simply off the scale!

Anyway, back to the story. I was intrigued to hear how part of Bradman's practice ritual was to work on his batting with a golf ball and a cricket stump. He would throw the golf ball at a wall then defend it with his cricket stump. Just imagine the speed the ball would come off the wall and the difficulty in defending himself with a stump which was not much bigger than the ball itself.

Hour after hour Bradman would practice in this way. Just to make things even more interesting it was also said he would try to find a wall that was completely uneven just to make the exercise even more difficult.

There are many other examples of great sporting legends who had their own approach to perfecting their art. Michael Jordan, when at his peak with the Chicago Bulls, always played a game in practice whereby he would get 3 defensive players to mark him so tightly, when he played for real it seemed easier.

Ernie Els practices occasionally on the range with a Persimmon- headed driver. The old fashioned club has a much smaller head and a reduced sweet-spot compared to the typical modern-day metal wood. After a few minutes hitting balls with his wooden driver, Ernie says he finds hitting the modern club so much easier. The challenge of swinging accurately to find the sweetspot with the old persimmon head effectively makes his swing better and more repetitive. It is said that one of the reasons Tiger Woods is so mentally strong is that his father, Earl, used to have Tiger hit balls while he would do his best to distract him.

Seve Ballesteros learnt to play golf with just a 3-iron. I can still remember standing open-mouthed at a clinic he gave when he displayed his skills with the long iron, hitting high lob shots over a trap with the narrow blade. How simple must using a traditional sand wedge seem after hours working on your skills like that?

Nick Faldo used to set himself targets playing a 2-ball scramble – but not in the conventional style that you and I might enjoy. Faldo would play two balls off the tee and then have to play the next shot from where the poorer of those two shots finished. When it came to putting, if he holed a 6- footer for a birdie, he then had to hole it a second time for the score to stand. And so on.

Just consider on a fairly basic level (in terms of human beings) if you give a human being a task to do and he succeeds in that task, if that task is difficult and challenging he will grow as a result of responding and overcoming that challenge. There is a mountain ‘nobody' can climb it, it's too high! Yet, someone says ‘I will find a way to climb it'. You can't put a man on the moon but we did!

If I go into a gym and lift a weight heavier than yesterday, I will stress the muscle. It will break down, repair and then be stronger than it was before. In comparison, if my eyesight is failing, I will need to wear glasses, which is fine but, unfortunately, my eyes will get progressively weaker and weaker. The key point I'm making here is that in sport, if you want to train your brain at the same time as your body and build mental toughness, you need to make a portion of your practice more difficult than the real game.

Some examples of ‘harder practice'?

On the green, try putting to a tee and not a hole. Stick a peg in the green and challenge yourself to see how many putts in succession you can hit into that tee from 2-feet, 3- feet and so on. From short range, by putting to a tee your perception of the size of the hole changes. When you then revert to holing out short putts into the hole it will seem ridiculously easy.

Follow Nick Faldo's example and play 9 holes of ‘Worst Ball'. Hit two shots off the tee, take the worst shot and continue in this vein until you have completed nine holes. This will reveal how bad your ‘bad' really is – and you will set yourself a target over nine holes that you can then set about beating next time.

Many coaches talk about working hard, but it is usually judged in terms of time by the number of balls hit and standing on the range for hours.

Well, anyone can make their hands bleed or get blisters on their feet by spending too much time practising. The concept of hard practice here is making the specific task more difficult than the game itself, just as Bradman did with his golf ball and wicket, not just the time spent practising.

In other words, for the time you have available to work on your game to be truly effective, you need to move away from this archaic interpretation of what good practice is. Far better we have a short practice session which is difficult in the way it is appropriate to your own golf, but builds mental and physical toughness by stretching the system in a way which leads to genuine self-confidence.

Just consider now how you could make a portion of your practice more difficult than the game.

One of the players I have worked with for many years is Darren Clarke who loves to play a short-game drill called ‘Par 18' The simple short game drill which has you playing 9 par twos from differing locations around the green but (and this is the most important part) you must write down your score at the end of the session.

You can take Par 18 to a different level in that if you score 21 or better, you play the game again but this time, with two balls! Taking the worst ball score of the two balls for a further 9 holes. If you shoot 21 or better with the two balls, you get to play the game again this time with 3 balls!

As you can see, with this system you never stop making the game more difficult. The better you get at the game the harder it becomes. The Bradman effect!

Remember, you are only allowed to play Par 18 once in any given day unless you shoot 21 or better.

Take to heart and emblazon it on your soul the key concept of making practice more difficult than the game. I absolutely guarantee that this way each time you go out to work on your game, you will be stressing your system and the system will respond by becoming stronger.

Just consider now other areas of the game to which you can apply this key principle in terms of your improvement and maybe more importantly the challenge and enjoyment. Also bear in mind another critical key to improving through practice and that is the concept of consequence. Golf is a unique game in the sense every single time you make contact with the ball there is a consequence to that action.

Whether we like it or not, each shot we make has a consequence because it is going down on that scorecard. So, if we are playing a game which is high in consequence, then surely a BIG portion of our practice should involve the same principle.

Yet, consider what we see on every range up and down the country and across the world.

How many balls carry a consequence?

How many shots carry any pressure?

For most golfers, the only ball that carries any sort of pressure is the last one! And far too many times I have seen a golfer hit ball number 48 out of 50 like a bullet, then actually kick the last two balls out onto the range!

That isn't practising – that is cheating!

If we practice in a way which creates consequence, then we will get better at dealing with the very same situation out on the course. Understand the person, a human being, who he is most competitive with is himself, so then if you devise strategies which create a score and a consequence, then you can let human nature do the rest for you.

Also, tied in closely with consequence, we need to understand that confidence needs to be based on facts not feelings! If a 100 metre sprinter was working each day with his coach and the coach kept telling him he was improving but had no means to actually prove it, how do you think the confidence levels of the athlete would be?

The great beauty for an athlete is the clock will give him a factual example of his improvement.

For too long now in golf people have been basing their confidence on feelings as opposed to facts. Hitting it great on the range this morning felt great! However, as soon as that first ball travels offline on the course, where do all of those good feeling go?

When you are building your confidence on facts then you are building a process which will stand up over time and build unshakable self confidence. Facts not feelings. Build consequence into your practice by playing games that involve a score that you have to record. As soon as a score is involved we create pressure.

This is where the principle of having a small notebook with you as you practice comes into play. Play games like Par 18 but make sure that you record your scores so that you can see factually that you are getting better.

There is significant research that has been done to suggest that if in practice we create a small amount of pressure then we will be able to deal with greater amounts of pressure when we get out into the actual sporting arena.

Above all I would strongly recommend that you really take a long hard look at how you practice and consider that there may be a better way of achieving the results that you want. Yes, of course you need to hit balls to groove your swing, but just hitting balls over and over again does tend in the long run tend to slow down any real progress.

This is a serious holing-out drill – can you handle the pressure?

Find a straight three-footer and create a ‘gate’, placing two tees just a little wider apart than the width of your putter-head. Left hand stabilises the right forearm

The challenge lies in gliding the putter through the gate, meeting the ball square-on and rolling it home centre cup

Use the alignment mark on the ball to help square the putter-face at the set-up –
aiming that mark down the line of the putt should be part of your routine

Stabilising your right forearm with the left hand will help you to appreciate the stability that you want to develop in the right arm through the stroke – and that’s one of the keys to a solid action

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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