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Why is my Golf Different from the Range to the Course?

Why is my Golf Different from the Range to the Course?

By Nicole Weller


This question is a very popular one in the golf world. There is quite a lot of research from behavioral scientists that can actually show why there are differences. We had Dr. Robert Bjork guest speak at The Landings Club last year regarding his research on how to be a better golfer on the course instead of the practice range. He once held a prestigious UCLA Psychology Department chair position but continues to research, present and share. Vision54 also spends a lot of their share time on this topic, especially in their second book by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriot entitled The Game before the Game.

The following points may help provide ideas to play better on the course and not just at the range, with much of these pointers being research and science-proven. 
  1. Practice like you’ll play.  Blocked/grouped practice to the same target from the same lie with the same club in an effort to ‘groove’ something only allows us to ‘cram’ for short-term results. Random/variable practice allows us to create stronger learning neuropathways for long-term use. Various science experiments show that those who tossed bean bags repetitively from the same distance tested better right way than those who threw from various places but long-term, the variable throwers held up much better. The same goes for learning a 40-yard pitch shot. Those who practiced at just 40 yards did better immediately but in the long-term. Those who had to learn and adapt from only 50 or 30 yards did better in the long-term. Remember, performance and learning are different things, so if you didn’t perform well during practice, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t learn anything. Just because you learned something doesn’t mean it can always be performed at the same high level all the time (see research articles by Dr. Robert Bjork and also Dr. Bob Christina at Pinehurst). So, decide if you want to practice to be a better range player or course player. It’s scientifically proven grooving doesn’t work for longer-term/course transfer! 
  2. The range tee is usually a laser-level of beauty, but most courses aren’t flat like that for a challenge and also drainage. If you only practice and get good from flat lies, you won’t be as good on the course since most lies have some slope. I’ve taken a level out to test it and not many lies were completely flat. So, if one doesn’t practice and learn from these lies, the shots won’t match up from what was learned at the range. Vary your lies, targets and clubs. Out of ten 7 irons, warm-up with 3-4 and then hit the last 6-7 from all different lies. 
  3. I love the drill by Vision54 in which you get 30 balls and have to make them last for 30 minutes at the range. Think about golf with regards to the time between shots, yet golfers tend to practice one shot after another, oftentimes without even leaving the station or taking a fresh grip. Start totally fresh after each shot, back up, create a new shot and walk into the shot as you would on the course. Walking in rhythm is part of the shot and should be practiced as a package if one wants to get better on the course. 
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