'Practice till your hands bleed’ is the advice often given to young players who aspire to a career in professional golf.
'Repeat, repeat and repeat, so you play like a machine and mistake-free’ is another mantra preached by some parents and coaches. One of the mistakes I made to transit from England Schoolboy International player to European Tour 30 years ago, was looking to build a machine-like swing and then looking to burn this in through practice from dawn to dusk. Dedication, discipline and sacrifice are what everyone said – this is still the most common mistake I see amongst elite players today.
Let’s understand the emotional or psychological aspect of hitting the ball on the range and then hitting a shot on the course in tournaments are poles apart.
If you hit a poor shot on the range, you just take another ball and look to correct the swing in the next shot. On the course, first of all, you have the physical challenge the golf architect of that course set – perhaps water down the left, trees on the right, a fairway bunker, etc. But then you have the mental challenge – you want to do well, you are currently on a certain score, what other players are doing, etc. It’s very evident that these two scenarios bear little relation to each other, and that’s why burning it in on the range has insufficient value.
So, does that mean the practice is for nothing? Absolutely not. Practice is where you can develop your skills, but the critical point is how you practice and under what conditions. I had a conversation 17 years ago with Michael Campbell, who went on to win the 2005 U.S. Open, revealed a concept which he was taught as a former member of the 1992 New Zealand Eisenhower Cup winning team - the ‘1/3 rule’. In essence, it means dividing your practice into thirds whereby the first third you focus on progressing your technique, the second third you focus on rhythm and motion and the final third you simulate competition.
So, for instance, if Michael was doing a 60-minute-long game session he may divide it into: