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Practice Does Not Make Perfect

The 26th Secret

When Practice Does Not Make Perfect !

There are times when practice does not show up in lower scores. When this is true, the following causes should be considered:

1. You are practicing shots for which there is little demand on your course. Years ago, I played on several courses which demanded a good drive followed by medium and short irons. If I had practiced with a two iron, it would not have shown up in the scores. Concentrate on practicing shots for which there is much demand on your course. Where most of the holes are from 325 to 370 yards, there is a big demand for comparatively short irons and birdie-length putts. If you are practicing woods, long irons, trap shots, and long putts, there can be only a limited improvement in scoring.
Of course, there is some danger in practicing only those shots which your home course demands. You will find that if you switch your playing to a shorter, longer, or narrower course than you are used to, your scores will rise. During the war, Cary Middlecoff was stationed at Fort Gordon in my home town of Augusta. The army had taken over the old Forest Hills golf course, and Cary had many opportunities to play. The course is comparatively short and requires accurate rather than long tee shots. Middlecoff had just won the North-South open at Pinehurst, playing spectacular golf on a demanding course, but Forest Hills gave him a good deal of trouble, and his scores, for some time, were between 70-74—scores which were being matched by a number of local golfers who had learned the shots the course required. Middlecoff finally established a course record with a 63, which he still holds with Mickey Gallagher, Jr. He did not do it, however, until he bowed to the special demands of the course, which meant sacrificing his reliance upon the big drives.

2. You may be over-experimenting, so that you are developing fair ability in several ways of hitting the same shot, but excellence in none.
It is possible for a person to become an excellent golfer with over-experimentation, but unfortunately he will be carrying a ghostly millstone about his neck. After a sound swing has been grooved, the function of additional practice should be to eliminate missed shots. If a fundamentally new swing is attempted for a flimsy reason, it will not lower your score to have two dis┬Čtinct methods of hitting the ball well, just as a person is not a better thinker merely because he can express his thoughts in two separate languages. Harvey Penick made a rather sad admission to me one day. He said, "I know so many different ways of hitting an iron shot that often I don't know which one to use."
Harking back to the matter of "missed shots," it may well be that the chief difference between the golfers in the '30's and those in the '50's is not in the swing, but is rather the result of excessive practice, which gives the moderns a higher percentage of correctly struck balls. When I was playing basketball, I prided myself on my ability to shoot fouls, and often engaged in friendly competition with a friend. We used precisely the same method of shooting, but whoever happened to be practicing the most generally sank the most shots. If one of us had spent half his practice time experimenting with other methods, it would have been lost practice.
Settle on one of the broad golfing methods permanently, then work on increasing your "batting average" with the shot. (One of the best amateurs produced by Texas would not practice anything but completely straight shots.)

3. You may be improving but it has not appeared in your scores because of the "plateau of learning." This means that there are often times in learning when improvement has to build up over a period of time before it bursts through to reveal itself in permanently better scores. As Art Wall said recently, "It seemed as if suddenly everything began clicking."

4. You may be improving but records may be inadequate, or your analysis of them may be in error. For instance, the more greens you hit, the more putts you will seem to take because you will not be chipping them close to the hole for one-putters.

5. You may be improving in one part of your game which you are practicing, but gradually losing skill in another part which you may be neglecting.

6. You are playing just as well or better as far as shot making is concerned, but course conditions have increased distances, affected the flight of the ball, or affected putting distances or breaks.

7. You may be over-practicing something, such as driving, that does not show up easily in scores.

8. You may be under-practicing something, such as chipping that does show up easily in scores. Also, the better you get, the more practice it takes merely to hold to the improvement you have made. A great pianist must practice hours each day just to hold what he has. Hence, to improve takes even more effort.

9. Practice has somehow led to confusion. The best antidote is to lay off for a while and give yourself a chance to forget recently acquired confusing habits.

10. The new technique may not have been properly incorporated into serious play. (See "Why Golf Lessons Fail.")

11. For some reason interest and attention have slackened. (See "How to Avoid Conditions that Kill Interest in Golf" ) 

12. You may be trying to learn a competing skill at the same time.

13. You have found errors in your form and are having to forget old techniques. This unlearning does not immediately show up in better play, but will eventually.