Practice Makes Perfect

By Mary Hafeman

Even when we learn something that makes a task easier to perform, we often revert to the old ways of doing things.  That’s why habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to learn.

This frequently happens in golf.  We try out a new tip on the practice range or after a lesson with our professional work on a specific fundamental of our swing.  Hey …that works! But on the golf course its back to the same old bad habit or swing.  How can we avoid this?? By slightly modifying that old saying: it’s not practice that makes perfect; its good practice.

Because golf is such an individual sport, it’s a great game for “practicers.” While some good golfers are natural athletes born with exceptional skills and physical talents, it has been my experience that good players can also be developed from people with modest or little natural talent.  Jack Nicklaus once said: “Nobody but nobody has become a really proficient player without practice.”

Learning how to practice golf demands a skill all its own.  Everyone learns and practices differently depending on his or her own personality.  Take a look at the PGA and LPGA Tour and you’ll see how each player works differently on their games. But I do believe there are some important guidelines that can make everyone’s practice sessions more productive.

  1. Start every practice session by reviewing your basic fundamentals with fun games.  Make it a routine to check your grip, stance, posture and alignment positions.  Become aware of maintaining good rhythm, timing and balance on every swing.  Hit and hold your finish position.  Your set up is the foundation of a good golf game.
  2. Each practice session, select one or two areas of the swing that could be improved and concentrate on those.  As I work with my students, we discuss the area we are working and narrow it down to a “one point” lesson.  I ask them to work on that specific area during their practice sessions.  Isolate those moves that we are working on, and repeat them until they feel natural.
  3. Plan each practice shot with a definite purpose in mind.   Picture or visualize the shot and correct swing first, make the images vivid, complete your pre shot routine, swing and then assess the results.  Practice like you would play.  This take discipline –it’s different than just “beating balls” But the quality of practice is more important than the quantity of the balls hit.  Attaining your mental goal for each shot will help you build confidence that carries over to the course.  Play your home course on the range in practice.
  4. Strive for consistency and accuracy.  Select a target within the range of your capabilities, and attempt to increase the number of balls landing or stopping in those target areas.  While using a driver, I worked to land the ball within a 30 yard fairway.  I count how many balls out of 25 that would land in that specific area.  My goal is for 100%; I started my practice, documented my progress and reviewed what I need to do to make my goal.  When I was successful I rewarded myself.  With this type of practice, I was able to not miss one fairway in the 1981 US Open in Boston.  I was not worried about the narrow fairways in the Open or the spectators because I practiced it many times before at my club in Jacksonville.
  5. Balance practice and play.  Attempt to keep the length of your practice time and intervals between practice periods relatively constant.  It’s important to create a routine.  Learn and develop skills from lessons, and work on them on the practice range and course.  Eventually test those skills on the course and keep your records.  Review with your golf professional/coach and repeat your practice sessions till you change your habits.  Seek consistent instruction along with consistent practice and play time.
  6. Allocate practice time wisely.  Hitting balls with your favorite club or smashing drivers against the back fence maybe rewarding, but may not reduce your scores.  For that you need to spend at least 50% of your practice time on the short game…at least.  Make fun games while you practice short game – its fun and you’ll see yourself become more creative with shots that you will use on the course to lower your score.
  7. Create a personal logbook of your practice sessions and your instructional sessions with your coach.  A written record helps you track your progress and remember what you have learned.  It’s a great reference for the future, and it helps capture those inspirational “a ha – I get it now” moments that you don’t want to forget.  I like seeing my progress over the past couple months.  Sometimes it’s easier to see your improvements over a longer period of time or it helps me get back on track.

In the end, it’s what you put into practice that determines what you get out of it.  I keep in mind the story of a young person who approached Ben Hogan to ask him how to become a champion golfer.  “Son,” Hogan asked the lad, “Do you have a practice bag?”  “Yes, sir,” the young man replied.  “Use it,” Hogan said and walked away.

I have honestly loved to practice as much as I loved to play golf.  In today’s fast paced world, to be able to go out to practice for an hour is not only great for my golf game but also a wonderful place to be outside, away from the computer, with friends and family and gives me a peaceful place to think.

Make your practice time fun as well as purposeful, and you’ll soon see how good practice will result in great golf!

For more ideas and programs that can be specifically crafted for you- contact Mary Hafeman, PGA & LPGA or – 904-233-0989


ireland_2008_165-1_full1-150x150About the Author
Mary E. Hafeman, President and Owner of Fore in One Golf Services, is a highly regarded, accomplished player, instructor and operations specialist within the golf industry. In 2009, she created Mary Hafeman Golf Experience, a web-based community to fit the needs of a growing network of people interested in all facets of the game. Mary Hafeman Golf Experience provides a realm of experiences, from exceptional golf instruction, inclusive player development programs, customized travel, tournaments and outing series, to social networking opportunities for players of all levels.  Mary is a former player on the LPGA Tour, one of the games’s “Top 50 Teachers” according to Golf for Women magazine and recognized as a ”Top Teacher” by region by Golf Magazine.