“I would like to play consistent golf” is a phrase many of us may have used, it is definitely something we hear quite a lot when someone comes for a golf lesson. If I feel it is appropriate I may respond by asking the person to describe what consistent golf looks like to them. “I’d like to make the same swing each time” is an answer I have also heard, but which swing should we choose to repeat – our driver swing or 7 iron swing or our chipping swing. Clearly these swings need to be different enough to give us a desirable outcome for each club. The driver is off the tee so a divot or low point after the ball is not great whereas a chipping swing doesn’t really have the power to give us an effective tee shot. Then of course there is the conditions and terrain in which we play this wonderful game.
Consistency is an illusion that a lot of golfers spend so much time to try to perfect that it creates an anxiety that is detrimental to our overall performance. Just look at top tournaments from one to the next, you’re not going to see the same player winning every week although I except some players have good runs of form. There is a difference between improving what you do on a golf course and the literal meaning of consistency. You can end up with the same score but how you get to that score is going to vary.
One of the keys is to become good at managing your variability, develop skills that are flexible. For example your 7 irons swing mechanics can be good but it needs the flexibility within the technique to be able to hit this 7 iron from different lies.
I did some work recently with a scratch golfer on the range using a launch monitor and we looked at some of the numbers from this machine as feedback to let us know he was getting the club in place we wanted. A short time later we went onto the course and I took the launch monitor. Interestingly some of the numbers on the course were not as consistent as the range but he was still able to play very good golf. I am using this as an example of when trying to be machine like in golf doesn’t match up to the variability that can present itself when we are on the course.
By freeing your mind up from the constraints of being like a robot helps you develop the skills that can be useful in the varying nature of the game.
A quick word on repetitive (blocked) practice
Repeating our swings on a practice range has its value. If you are reasonably new to the game or are trying to make swing alterations this is generally the accepted stage where repetition will help sink these movement patterns more from the conscious to the subconscious thought process and also allow for a certain type of learning to take place. However if you are a bit more of an established golfer repetition is more about reinforcing the patterns perhaps by building the myelin that acts as an electrical insulating layer around some of our nerve cells. However this repetition of hitting balls will not make us machine like and we will not make these golf swings with exactly the same movements over and over again no matter how many balls we hit. We still need to develop the variability in the skill.
Paul Thompson has been the Fellow PGA Professional at Powerscourt Golf Club in Wicklow since 1995. In addition to providing coaching on-site he also is a coach with The Golfing Union of Ireland. Appointments with Paul can be booked via Powerscourt Golf Club Reception: Tel (01) 204 6033 or the Golf Shop Tel (01) 204 6031. Read more about lessons from Paul Thompson by visiting the Powerscourt Golf Club Website.