Mid-week Lesson: How to practice productively

Years ago, I was fortunate to help one of the game's best teachers write an instruction book. The book never got a lot of recognition, but those who read it have told me it really helped their games. It's called How to Win the Three Games of Golf and was the brainchild of Golf Digest Teaching Professional Hank Johnson, who for many years was the No. 1 Teacher in Alabama. Hank was also a noted player, who had a stellar run at Auburn University and qualified for the 1969 U.S. Open at Champions Golf Club, won by Orville Moody.

Hank came up with the brilliant idea of breaking the game down into three distinct parts: The Golf Swing, the Golf Shot and the Golf Score. If you keep these separate when you work on your game, I promise you'll practice better, play better and score better.

Hank based his ideas on tested motor-learning and educational research. He found that when you're working on your swing, it's best to do it by not hitting golf balls. You'll make much faster progress and the changes will stick if you work on your mechanics and positions away from the range (certainly away from the course) and even without a golf club. Swing a broom or other similar object in front of a mirror, and repeat the correct positions you want to get into. If you try to hit balls and work on your mechanics at the same time, everything often suffers and you often regress and lose confidence.

When you get on the range and start hitting balls, forget about the mechanics you rehearsed without balls. On the range you should be concentrating on hitting golf shots. Pick out specific targets and hit shots to them. Visualize the ball flight and trajectory. If you start thinking of your mechanics, get away from your pile of balls, work out your mechanical thoughts with practice swings, then return to hitting shots thinking non-mechanically.

When you're on the course, all you're doing is putting the shots you practiced on the range into play. Here you should only be concerned with the conditions, your strategy, club selection, and where you want the ball to go. You're simply trying to make a golf score. If you need to think of something in your swing, make sure it's a non-mechanical thought, like visualizing the target, swinging in a smooth tempo or holding your finish.

This approach might be difficult to do at first, and it definitely takes time to start trusting it and staying with it. But if you do, you'll start to play some of the best golf of your life. And you'll also notice that you're not so mentally tired at the end of your rounds. Because you're finally playing golf--really playing golf. Not stressing over your mechanics shot after shot.

Good luck with your game this week, and look for Fitness Friday in two days.

*Roger Schiffman

Managing Editor

Golf Digest

Twitter @RogerSchiffman*