Repetition or improvisation?

As the daylight hours shorten, just like our backswings as we get older, many golfers will be turning their attention to a winter game improvement programme. 

With the aim of sorting out your swing to finally achieve more consistency at the forefront of your mind, traditionally this is when most golfers start to head for the range after work to hit hundreds of balls from the same place to the same target with the same club. 

“Repetition, repetition, repetition”. “Must get the reps in”. “Practice makes perfect”. All the old clichés start to rear their ugly and nonsensical heads. 

Think about that for a moment. If it sounds all too familiar, think about it for a bit longer. If you have gone down this path before, only to find it is a dead end, think about it for a few minutes. If you have been doing this for the last five years with limited or no apparent signs of success, what are the chances of year six being any different? Correct, pretty slim.

If hitting hundreds of balls from the same flat stance with the same club to the same target pays dividends, please continue as you were. However, if this kind of regime doesn’t work, perhaps it could be time for a rethink. Time to look at how you aim to improve from a different perspective. If your previous winters have been spent grinding away at honing your swing, only for that very same swing to let you down in the season that followed, do you really want to put yourself through that again?

The idea that practice makes perfect is one we have been fed by the golf industry for decades. At best, practice makes permanent but it will never guarantee perfection, whatever perfection looks like?! We know it doesn’t ring true but so many golfers cling to this fantasy in the hope that if they put the hours in and hit enough balls, their dreams will come true come the following spring.

All the scientific research backed up with countless tales from golfers around the world reinforce the fallacy of trying to repeat the same ‘magic move’. Quite simply, it doesn’t provide the results we hope for. As human beings, not robots, we just aren’t wired that way. Our brains and bodies cannot reliably repeat the same move time after time. This is good news because when we go out onto the golf course, thankfully we are not required to repeat the same move to hit the same shot to the same target from the same spot. Just as well. Can you imagine how boring golf would be if that were the case?

Rather than working on repetition, spend your practice or training time on improvisation. After all that is what you will undoubtedly have to rely on at some point during any given round of golf you play. There will be times you have to bend a shot around a tree, or land your approach shot short of the green and run it up towards the hole. You will be asked to pitch over a bunker or chip from off the green from a less than perfect lie. You will be asked to navigate your way around the golf course. In short, you will be asked by the course and its designer to play golf. 

Don’t get me wrong, driving ranges have their place and serve a purpose but if you really want to improve, make sure you pay sufficient attention to creating some or indeed all of the shots you will face on the course. Rather than machine-gunning dozens of balls at the same flag, explore what is possible with a golf ball from tee to green and everything in between. Break free from the shackles of how ‘conventional wisdom’ suggests you should swing the club and let your creative juices flow. Set yourself some challenges. Rather than trying to perfect what cannot be perfected or repeat the unrepeatable, discover what it is possible to achieve with your golf clubs. High shots, low shots, fades and draws. Chip and run shots, high floating pitch shots. Short putts, long putts, left to right putts, right to left putts. Uphill and downhill. You are limited only by your imagination.

Improvisation is not only essential when you play golf, it is extremely enjoyable and rewarding. Give it a go, you never know what you might achieve over and above an enormous sense of satisfaction when your experimentation and improvisation starts to pay dividends on the course.