Competitive Practice For Golf

Why You Need To Do More “Competitive Practice”

If you really want to make this your most successful year yet, it’s important that you not only practice your physical skills, but that you work on your mental and emotional skills during practice.

How do you do this?

With what’s called “Competitive Practice”: Games and challenges that apply pressure and make practice as hard as it is on the course.

Let’s take a look at why Competitive Practice for golf is an essential part of getting better.

On the golf course:

  • Every shot counts
  • Every shot is a unique challenge
  • There is space between each shot
  • There is a consequence for each shot

If we don’t spend at least a part of our practice time with challenges that meet all 4 of these conditions, how can we set ourselves up for success in tournaments? Implementing Competitive Practice drills will change this for you.

How does Competitive Practice for Golf help us get better?

  • It simulates how we feel (mentally and physiologically) in a tournament
  • It teaches us to control our mental and emotional state in times of stress
  • It improves focus
  • It helps us develop a “Performance Process”
  • It increases confidence
  • It tells us more about our strengths and weaknesses

It simulates how we feel in a tournament

On the golf course, there are consequences (good, bad or neutral) for each shot which can cause us to feel stressed (think about having a putt to win a tournament or shoot your best ever score). If you don’t practice for how you will feel in these moments, then you’re lowering your chances of success when they arise.
Competitive practice is about creating an environment which induces stress, so that you develop the mental and emotional skills to manage it.

It teaches us how to manage stress and our mental state

Success in tournament golf comes down to how well you can manage your mental and emotional state when the stakes are high. It’s hard to recreate this perfectly, but we need to do our best to set up practice to create stressful situations and learn how to overcome them.

An example of a stressful challenge would be a short game challenge where you make a certain number of up-and-downs (from different spots). To make the final putt and complete the challenge is a lot easier without the physiological feelings of stress and consequences for missing – so we need to add that component. Run around the practice area a few times, do 10 push ups and then return to the final putt. You’re heart rate will be up and your arms will feel heavy (just like it would feel before a putt to win). To be successful you will need to use stress management techniques, stay in your process and not get distracted by negative thoughts. If you fail in the challenge, you will get the opportunity to learn how to deal with that too, with your “post shot routine”. Hence there is no such thing as failure, only success and learning.

It Improves Focus

“It’s not how long you can practice for, it’s how long you can stay mindful for.” – Kobe Bryant

Many of us practice in a way that doesn’t train us to focus properly. Instead it’s lazy practice. Without the constraint of “I only have one attempt at this”, focus is weaker. Instead of hitting from a pile of balls, place each ball in a different spot, or (on the driving range) place the bucket of balls behind you so you have to walk to get the next one. Hit each shot with focus and purpose.

We can develop/practice our Performance Process

Your Performance Process is your “anchor” or go to under pressure. It tells you what you can do/focus on NOW, to maximize your chances of success. What you do in your shot routine is part of your process. Do you have clear steps for your pre shot routine? If not, then experiment with it in your practice and them put it to the test in your competitive practice for golf.

The shot routine is very much an individual thing – what works for one player might not work for another. Use your practice time to discover what “cues” help you the most. One of the modules in my Ultimate Mental Game Training Program is dedicated to finding out your best shot routine.

We can practice the time in between

Another aspect of the golf course that few of us practice for, is the fact that there is at least a few minutes between each shot and the next one is always a completely different shot. Adding time between your shots during practice is something that motor learning experts call “spacing”. Spacing adds the necessary time to reflect and plan (to improve motor skills) and removes the benefit you’d get from having the previous shot in your memory (which you don’t have on the course). It also gives you time to sit with your thoughts and practice being more mindful and less reactionary. Make sure you take at least a minute between each shot when you are doing your Competitive Practice for golf and don’t hit more than one shot from the same spot.

It increase confidence

If you are able to succeed under tough conditions in practice, you will increase your self-efficacy and belief that you can do it in a tournament. If you are getting up and down 6/9 times on a tough short game challenge, then you should feel confident in your ability when challenged on the golf course.

We learn more about our weakness

Pressure exacerbates our weaknesses. It’s why playing under pressure is a win-win. By succeeding in it we gain a huge sense of accomplishment and a boost of confidence, but failing in it tells us a lot about our weaknesses and our tendencies under pressure.

Practicing under pressure can help you do the same. By raising the intensity and the stakes in practice, you’ll get a look at what are the weakest parts of your game. This is why many of my students keep a practice journal to reflect and determine what they need to work on.

Competitive Practice gives us the opportunity to test what we’ve been working on with our technical practice. This is how many Tour players practice. Let’s say that you’re working on your putting distance control for lag putting and you’ve made some changes to your stroke to improve it. After some random putting drills, you will want to apply pressure to test it. It’s better to test it in practice, than it is on the course!

Adding Consequences and Raising “Intensity”

In order for you to get the feeling of accountability for every shot, like you are on the course, we need consequences during our Competitive Practice for golf. You want to feel frustrated if you don’t complete a drill. The Competitive Practice drills I have in my practice system all have a “pass rate” to complete a challenge (which depends on your skill level) and that in itself will add pressure and frustration. However, you can increase pressure further by adding consequences for failing such as:

  •       20 push-ups
  •       Putting a time limit on the challenge and having to re-do it
  •       Running laps around the practice area
  •       Loss of a bet with your practice partners
  •       Hole at least one bunker shot
  •       Hole 3 consecutive 8ft putts in a row

So what specific drills can you do to create the pressurized playing environment, so you can develop these mental and emotional skills? Please check out my Golf State of Mind Practice Book, which contains over 70 Random and Competitive Practice Drills.

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David MacKenzie

is a mental golf coach and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind, a teaching program designed to help golfers condition their minds to overcome fear and play with confidence.

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