Does Practicing Making Golfers Worse?

Rory McIlroy during the final round of the 2011 Masters, on a day when he spent plenty of time at the driving range before teeing off. Rory McIlroy during the final round of the 2011 Masters, on a day when he spent plenty of time at the driving range before teeing off. I haven’t hit a ball on my club’s driving range in two years, and during that time I’ve played the best, most consistent golf I’ve ever played. I’m not sure that’s a coincidence. In fact, I’ve often wondered whether hitting range balls didn’t make me worse. My first few shots on the practice tee would inevitably include my best shot of the day. Then, as I worked my way through my bag, my swing would deteriorate until I was shanking my wedges, fatting my irons, and slapping weak leakers with my woods. And then I’d go play. One day, I decided to skip the warm-up.

I also stopped using the practice green, and almost immediately I became a better putter. One possible explanation: when I tee off now, I’m the only guy in the group who hasn’t missed a putt that day. I’ll watch other guys on the practice green, to get a feel for the speed, but I won’t stand there lipping six-footers.

The explanation is probably just that I’m a bad practicer. In the old days, when my swing would turn sour I would attempt a frantic intervention, by churning through two or three buckets in the hope that at some point quantity would metamorphose into quality. All I was really doing was cranking my tempo into the red zone and filling my head with negative thoughts. I was also rehearsing, and therefore ingraining, whatever problem had sent me to the range.

But even for players who practice well, hitting range balls before teeing off may be overrated—as Rory McIlroy demonstrated on the final day of the Ryder Cup this year, when he nearly missed his tee time for his singles match with Keegan Bradley. He didn’t have time to go to the range before teeing off, yet he birdied four of the first nine holes and beat Bradley two-and-one.

Rory McIlroy at the 2012 Ryder Cup, after not going to the driving range  before teeing off.

Rory McIlroy at the 2012 Ryder Cup, after defeating Keegan Bradley two-and-one in their singles match, on a day when he didn’t go to the driving range before teeing off.

10 thoughts on “Does Practicing Making Golfers Worse?

  1. I’d say your issue is mental, and not about practicing.
    Practicing before a round is for warming, loosening up and for rhythm. It’s not a time to work on swing mechanics or to figure out how to hit the ball straight.
    Practicing at other times focuses on improvement and should be goal-directed.
    As for Rory’s case at the ryder cup, he’s young and played several rounds in the past several days, and I’m not surprised. If you play a golf on consecutive days, some people can skip the practice before consecutive rounds.

  2. I think Yo! has nailed it. For every example you can toss up of someone excelling without practice or a warm-up, I can offer hundreds to counter it. There is a reason we admire the work ethic of VJ, Tiger, Phil, etc, etc. If you’re doing it wrong, then fix that.

  3. Rory didn’t need to warm up because that all he does all day long…. play golf. That’s his job. However, that kinda sounds like your job too. Aside from a bit of writing. I believe Rory did hit a few putts to get a feel for the pace of the greens.

  4. I once asked the following questions on an internet forum and got quoted in Sweden´s national golf publication:
    If you’re having a bad day, if your ballstriking abilities are on temporary leave, will practice actually make you any good? Or is it maybe better to get back to the range another day when your body and mind is in good shape?

  5. I am a PGA pro and practicing correctly makes you better for sure but practicing incorrectly will definitely make you worse. Practice can be boring you have to find a way to keep it interesting so you don’t start thinking to much about technique. Find ways to make practicing interesting like how many targets can you hit in 10 shots or how many fairways can you hit in 10 drives etc. No one becomes a great player not practicing.

  6. I would agree with John Kelly.

    You need to be goal oriented when practicing to be successful. I’m usually not good at practicing because I am continuously working on my technique no matter if it’s good or bad. By the time I’m done I’ve got everything messed up.

    However, when I vision the holes that I am going to play per shot and have goals of working the ball according to each shot needed, it is fun and I am a lot more successful.

  7. I would say we first need to state the facts. Practice IS making average golfers worse everyday, because of they way they are practicing. Average golfers go out to the range to “work” on their game and they have no idea what they are doing right from wrong. Golfers want to “Gain Consistency” but yet all they practice is adjustments do to flaws in their swing. I say STOP! Lets focus on the way you are practicing and start to simplify the swing you’re making.

    No one teaches practice other than Edwin Watts Golf Academy. If you want to improve your golf game, I’d recommend what they do to any golfer that has the desire to get better.

  8. I have never liked using a driving range, though probably I should do it more often. One thing I particularly dislike is that you have nothing to do but hit the ball over and over from similar lies whereas in real golf you hit the ball and then there is an interval of time while you walk to the next shot, and the lies vary. I also don’t like that you are not really hitting at a target, or at a familiar target where you can judge your results properly.

    I play a fair amount of twilight (and rainy-season) golf by myself, and sometimes, especially if things get crowded or if I’m playing poorly, I’ll switch to practice mode and play multiple balls (some courses really don’t mind you doing this, especially the lower-level ones I often play). At twilight rates this is almost as cheap as a bucket at a driving range and I find it far more enoyable (and beneficial) than going to the range. I typically keep score and play as seriously as I can. And the course itself benefits (some around here need the business).

    Finally, though I pretty much agree with DO wrt practicing on the range and practicing putting, there is one other type of practice that he omits to mention and that kind I think is the most beneficial: practicing the short game.

  9. I am a person who hits it great on the range, but when I step out on the course, it all comes crashing down. I give up playing good in tournments and trying to win. I play cause I love the game.

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