Let’s take the average golfer. He goes out once per week and shoots around a 90, drinks a couple beers with his buddies and heads home. When the thought of game improvement appears, he drives down to the nearest Dicks and buys the latest $400 driver. He takes his new purchase to the driving range and bangs himself into a frothy lather with a large bucket. Next weekend, he goes out and shoots another 90. Is this you? Not sure what you call it but it’s neither proactive nor reactive improvement.
Your golf personality determines how you prepare yourself for success on the golf course. You are either a proactive or a reactive improver. Proactive improvement is when you practice what you need to get better. You may already do it well, don’t necessarily enjoy it, but do it cause it’s good for you, like eating your vegetables. Reactive improvement is addressing weaknesses observed during rounds and trying to correct them. These can be physical or mental mistakes, with the former being more difficult to fix. Good players use a mix of proactive and reactive practice to improve. The balance just teeters towards one or the other.
I’m not a great player but consider myself a dedicated player and do both. Over the course of a season, my work includes reactive practice in the form of lessons with my professional. You could argue that this is proactive practice, but I go to him with a desire to fix my swing or show me how to execute shots around the green that I am struggling with or don’t know how to hit. Generally, this is the most rewarding type of practice because I feel like I learn something. Occasionally, the “ah ha” moment kicks in, and I experience a feeling of euphoria as the wave of super optimism washes over me. I love leaving the golf course with this feeling. A more common form of reactive practice is hitting balls with a specific technique change. When I miss hit a couple of wedges during a round, I’ll go to the range to make corrections. Incidentally, this is my most frustrating type of bad shot. Chunking or blading a wedge from the middle of the fairway in prime A position sucks. What’s yours?
My proactive practice is more common. It can take the form of mechanical work like hitting sets of 50 three-foot putts or short game work to simulate game conditions. Tom Kite used to work in a field and bang wedges for hours. Yeah that must have been boring, but he was a damn good wedge player when it counted. He ground in that habit with proactive practice. When I haven’t played for a while, and I have a game the next day, I’ll inevitably head to my practice green for 18 holes of up-and-down. Often, I’ll perform poorly because of rust, but it’s important to play every shot out. This proactive practice may not be fun, but it ingrains the great habit of toughness and the ability to manage through adversity. Getting a little angry with yourself is not the worse thing because it makes it real. Proactive practice is fine tuning mental and physical aspects that you do well. Like Tom Kite in the field, it’s time well spent.
I’m generally a stickler for planning and preparation, and will engage in a lot of proactive practice. I find practicing my strengths are more beneficial than always attacking a weakness. For example, I don’t have much problem with short bunker shots, but long ones kill me. I don’t practice them and try to avoid them on the golf course. It’s as simple as not hitting three wood into par-5s with greenside bunkers and back pin placements. With good course management, you can play to your strengths and away from your weaknesses.
Whether you are proactive or reactive, you need both. Remember to mix them up, work in some golf stretches and exercises, and keep your practice fresh. Are you proactive or reactive???