Mental Game 101: Does your Performance Suffer from The Way You Practice?

Does your game suffer from inconsistency? Do you play well one shot, one hole, or one round only to fall apart the next? Do you practice better than you play? Does your game suffer when the pressure to succeed intensifies? Does your practice swing disintegrate into a series of slashes, swats, and lunges when hitting balls? Do you have difficulty developing proper mechanics? If so, you are not alone. These problems encompass the bane of all golfers, including touring pros. It’s not golfers that are flawed but the system that we use to learn and practice – hitting balls to develop physical fundamentals. This method violates most sound learning principles. Below you will find just a few of those principles and why traditional practice methods fail.

First, Learning Specialists agree that no more than 24 hours should pass between practices early in learning. Otherwise, most of the short term memory developed in one practice is lost before the next practice and you have to learn all over again. Long-term memory is developed through constant activation of short term memory. If you were learning a musical instrument you would be practicing every day. How often do you go to the range? Most golfers are lucky to make it once or twice a week, leaving too much time between practices so memory is lost. The more time between practices the more memory is lost.

Second, developing competing memories for the same activity makes it difficult to retrieve the correct memory when needed. There is only way to swing a club correctly and an infinite number of ways to do it wrong. The golf swing is unnatural and so complex that it’s impossible not to develop competing memories with traditional training methods. Every time you swing the club incorrectly you develop short term memory for that particular flawed swing. The more often you swing that way the stronger the memory. When you attempt to correct your flawed swing, but are unsuccessful, you develop a new flawed swing. The more often you are unsuccessful in your attempts to correct swing flaws the more different flawed swing you produce. The more often you unintentionally produce different flawed swings the more swings you store in memory that compete with your correct swing, if you ever develop sound swing fundamentals this way.

If through a process of trial and error, which is really what happens when we hit balls trying to develop sound swing fundamentals, even with professional instruction, you develop the memory for just three different swings (one correct and two flawed) every time you swing the club in the future your brain has to choose between each of these three memories. Since this is done on an unconscious level you never are sure which memory (swing) will be retrieved when you hit a ball unless you have the appropriate attentional focus. Since golfers aren’t trained to focus properly prior to and during execution of the swing there is greater likelihood that the wrong swing will appear.

Even if golfers are trained in attentional focus, because golf is an achievement activity with expectations for success, the fact that we failed so many times in the past increases the pressure to succeed. This undue pressure triggers the fight-or-flight reflex which releases hormones into the body putting us in survival mode. Since our nervous system doesn’t know the difference between threats to our life and the fear of failure to meet our golfing expectations, the same physical, attentional, and visual changes occur. While these changes help us survive life-threatening events it wreaks havoc on our golf game. Because golfers aren’t trained to inhibit or reverse this process their performance suffers even more.

There are many other factors that affect golfers’ ability to develop sound golf fundamentals; all of which are related to a flawed learning system. Target Oriented Golfhas spent the last thirty years perfecting an alternative approach to training that is based on scientifically accepted learning principles, motor learning, biomechanics, behavioral conditioning (NLP), and Sports Vision. More about a cutting edge approach to learning golf’s fundamentals will appear in future posts.

Photo by pocketwiley

Get your FREE Mental Game Scorecard

Dr. Tony Piparo

Dr. Piparo has 25 years experience as a teaching professional, 15 as a head pro. He has also worked the last 20 years as a Sport Psychology Consultant, working with golfers of all ages and ability levels, from beginner to seasoned professional and elite level amateur. He earned his doctorate in 1992 from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and winning the American Psychological Association’s Dissertation of the Year Honors for his work on concentration and performance in golf. He has a Masters from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Kinesiology (Study of Human Movement) with emphasis in Biomechanics, Motor Learning, and Sports Vision as they apply to golf. He also has a Masters in Educational Evaluation and Development, specializing in Learning Theory. Dr. Piparo’s education training and field experience allowed him to study the golf performance needs from both inside and outside the sport to develop the most effective, efficient, and comprehensive training system available to date. His programs and protocols are a benefit to all golfers and he is capable of assisting the individual needs of each golfer he works with. His books include Kingdom of the Tiger: A Golfer’s Guide to Playing in The Zone, Master the Art and Science of Putting and his latest collaboration with Colin Cromack, Target Oriented Golf: Training the Eyes, Mind, and Body for Success, all of which can be purchased here at www.golfstateofmind.com.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. blank
    Gerry James

    Highly accomplished player that is looking for keys to break through. Just played in the US. Senior open and played to about 1/3 of my capability. Golf channel just did a small documentary on me in there Champions tour Learning center. You can pull that up to see some of my background. I am seriously looking for someone that has a passion to help a world class player break through and reap the benefit of that endeavor. If you are a guy with a bunch of metaphors and platitudes selling a program and training please dont wast my time.

    1. blank
      David MacKenzie

      Hi Gerry,

      Great to hear from you! Dr. Tony Piparo will be in touch – he’s one of the best. Looks like with the other 2/3 of your capability you’ll be very successful on the Champions Tour and majors to come.

      Look forward to hearing how it progresses.



  2. blank
    Tony Piparo


    I work with elite golfers and am not into metaphors and platitudes, tricks or quick fixes. Getting control over one’s focal attention, proper mindset, and the ability to inhibit/reverse the effects of stress and anxiety is serious work that requires an organized ste-by-step approach. If you’re serious about becoming the best, contact me at drtee_1@hotmail.com.


  3. blank
    Troy Vayanos

    Nice post Dr Piparo,

    I think from reading this the best thing to do if you are playing a round on say a Saturday, is to make sure you practice at the range on the Friday. As long as it’s constructive and beneficial practice the mind will remember the key points before the next days round.


  4. blank
    Tony Piparo


    Actually, the old method of hitting balls to learn or fix your swing gets your mind focused on mechanics, the ball, the outcome (ball flight or the consequences of hitting the ball poorly). You take this habit with you to the golf course and why everything breaks down. Thinking about the mechanics and ball flight while swinging causes unwanted unconscious eye movement (you don’t evene know that your eyes are moving). Focuisng on the ball cause golfers to become ball bound where their body becomes so rigid during the swing that it freezes at impact and destroying any chances they have of hitting the ball well. The purpose of the article is to suggest that new training methods must be employed that teaches mechanics without thinking during the movement phase of the swing so the eyes and mind stay quiet, allowing golfers to establish and remain targeted oriented during execution of the swing. This is what we are speaking about in the webinar tomorrow and the training program that we will be offering through Golf State of Mind.

    Thanks for your comments,


  5. blank

    Dr. Tony. Good evening and thanks for the posts. 2 questions. First you say “learning Specialists agree that no more than 24 hours should pass between practices early in learning”. Can you please name these learning specialist and cite specific work? Second you speak about Freud. Do you believe Freud’s methods to be correct? I have read some people that disagree with some of his framework and I am curious to know your opinion. Thank you and happy golfing 🙂

    1. blank
      Tony Piparo


      It’s been a long time since I was in grad schools for Learning Theory, but if I rememebr Piaget, Skinner, and Pavlov all worked with those beliefs. Also, I never quoted Freud. As a Behavioral Psychologist my methods were also in conflict with his work. Thanks for the comment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *