Do's And Don'ts Of Practice

By Ralph Simpson Illustrations by Lou Beach
April 07, 2011

Have you ever wondered why you stripe shot after shot on the range but then fall apart on the course? It's probably because you're practicing to be a good practicer and not preparing for a round of golf, says UCLA professor emeritus Richard Schmidt, Ph.D., a long-time authority in psychology and motor behavior. Golfers should change tasks and goals with each swing, known as "random practice," he says. Most golfers train with "blocked practice," meaning they perform one skill over and over until they can do it without much thought.

"In blocked practice, because the task and goal are exactly the same on each attempt, the learner simply uses the solution generated on early trials in performing the next shot," says Schmidt, who addressed the World Golf Fitness Summit in Orlando in November. "Hence, blocked practice eliminates the learner's need to 'solve' the problem on every trial and the need to practice the decision-making required during a typical round of golf."

After reviewing many studies on how we learn physical skills and writing the book Motor Control and Learning -- a Behavioral Emphasis, Schmidt and research partner Timothy Lee concluded that random practice is much more effective for golfers because they have to "work the problem from scratch" every time they attempt a shot -- just as they would on the course. Making the brain work harder to come up with a solution improves retention of that skill.

In learning any motor pattern (full swings, chipping, pitching, etc.), the only time blocked practice proves more effective is with rank beginners, Schmidt says. But once they learn the basics, random training is far more effective.


Random practice takes, well, practice to master. Here are some tips to get the most out of the researchers' studies. Note: If you're working on swing mechanics instead of a general practice session, give the skill some time to fade from your memory before each attempt. Schmidt and Lee suggest taking a one-minute break between shots.

1. Full swing (15:00)

Vary as many things as you can from ball to ball, including club selection, target, shot shape, etc. Even if you don't execute the shot, move on to another scenario. Just make a note to try it again later.

2. Around The Green (15:00)

Avoid practicing from ideal conditions, and alternate among chips, pitches and bunker shots. Set up unusual lies to keep your brain in problem-solving mode. If you don't have to think about how to play the shot, change it up.

3. Putting (15:00)

Practice with only one ball, trying to hole it with each successive putt. Once you make it, move to a new spot on the green, and restart the process from a different distance and slope.

--Ron Kaspriske



You've tried drugs, you've tried ice, you've been doing wrist exercises, but nothing seems to help the tendinitis in your elbow. This might sound desperate, but try baking soda. "For three straight nights before you go to bed, mix one teaspoon of baking soda per 100 pounds of your body weight into some water and drink it," says Tom House, Ph.D., nationally known trainer, performance analyst and advisor for the Titleist Performance Institute. Too much uric acid in the blood can force acid salts to deposit in the joints and help keep tendons inflamed. Baking soda is thought to reduce the acid level and move the blood's pH balance closer to neutral or alkaline. "I'd avoid red meat and beer for a while, too," House says.