You Can Play Well Without Practice!

This fall, I’ve barely scraped out enough time for a once-per-week round of golf, and have not been practicing much between rounds but have been scoring pretty well.  Can you play effectively without practicing?  The answer is “yes” but it requires a mental adjustment, which we’ll go into shortly.

Before you remove practice, it’s best to understand what you need from it.  I score best when my play is preceded by full game practice.  That means range plus short game the day before a round.  Over the years, I’ve compiled notes for my practice sessions, whether it be ball striking, chipping, putting, or bunker play, and I’ll typically review those to identify what I practiced before successful and unsuccessful rounds of golf.  My data shows I practice short game 70% of the time.  For me, the quality of practice the day before is a good indicator of the score I can expect the next day.  If I struggle to concentrate during practice, or cannot make good contact, it’s inevitably followed by a poor round.  But if I’m focused like a laser, good things are going to happen.  Other folks hit buckets of pure shots in practice but can’t take it from the range to the course, or vise versa.  You need to know your trends and what to compensate for.

So what adjustments can every player make?  First, know that your short game is probably going to be affected the most by lack of practice.  A full swing is an athletic motion that gets repeated dozens of times during a round and with the reps comes consistency.  This is why our first round of the year is often a good ball striking round, but our chipping and putting are usually rusty.  Short shots are unique and require practice.  The subtle adjustments for distance, lie, and the speed of the putting surface demand it.  This brings us to our primary adjustment.  The key to playing without practice is to remove reliance on too much short game by taking a more conservative ball striking approach, i.e. keep the ball out of trouble.  It sounds simple, but it works!  Resist the temptation to go for the big hit, which may mean using a 3-wood instead of driver on some tee shots.  Also try to take more of the fairway on doglegs.  Course architects will tempt you to cut dogleg corners to save distance.  Don’t bite.  When playing in windy or rainy conditions, adjust your personal par to compensate for the increased difficulty and give yourself a mental break.  It’s much easier to play a long par-4 like a short par-5 from the fairway, than constantly pressing to recover from trouble off the tee.  This game is exponentially easier played from the short grass so make it easy on yourself.  Remember Tiger’s 81 in the harsh conditions of the 2002 Open Championship?  You’re not playing for a major; don’t be like Tiger.  tiger-woods-2002-open-ian-hodgson_640

I played yesterday in very heavy wind which was extremely difficult and added five shots to the par-71 scorecard before I started.  I played great and my 81 was only five strokes over my personal par which felt very satisfying.

So there you have it.  Exercise some sound course management, keep the ball in play, and enjoy!

Have you had any success playing without practice or do you got to have your reps?  Please share and play well!

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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6 Responses to You Can Play Well Without Practice!

  1. Brian,

    Interesting post! I often will play surprisingly well at the start of a season after months off, likely due to the big mind shift of just keeping it simple, trying to make solid contact and staying out of trouble.

    Cheers
    Josh

    • Brian Penn says:

      Josh, I am certainly in favor of practice and believe the right practice makes you a better player. Just needed a strategy for competent play when constrained by time. Simplification is definitely the way to go. Are you playing well?

      Regards,

      Brian

      • Brian – definitely. If we’re strapped for practice we shouldn’t let that defeat us before we even tee off. It’s a reality of us working golfers we need to deal with!

        Our course just closed for the season up here, but just a little over a month before we take a trip to Kauai!

        Cheers
        Josh

        • Brian Penn says:

          Oh, you are killin me! Sounds awesome! My season runs through an early November trip to the eastern shore for three straight days, then it’s hit or miss through late November. Last year I caught some good weather and played in December before putting them away for the winter. Enjoy Hawaii!

          Brian

  2. Brian

    Your point about managing expectations is spot on. Not practicing for a while will definitely be felt in our short game. ‘Touch’ is very important around the greens and without practice, mine disappears very quickly. I have never noticed any correlation between my poor practice and my round the next day. I will have to check this out next year. It is a very interesting thought. Thanks.

    Cheers
    Jim

    • Brian Penn says:

      Jim, in general, I find that the better I prepare in golf (practice) the better I perform. It’s not unlike practicing for other things like giving a speech, working problems for a math test, or shooting free throws. I’m fortunate to get a read off good and bad practice that way. The key is to figure out how to practice well more often. Wish I had the secret sauce.

      Thanks!

      Brian

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