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The Secret To Improving At Golf Is Easier Than You Think

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Ryan Dailey, PGA
Co-Founder and COO, Operation 36 Golf

As players, we want to improve at golf.  

As parents, we want to see our children improve at the activities they participate in.

As coaches, we want our players to improve.

But, why?

“The most effective form of motivation is progress. When we get a signal that we are moving forward, we become more motivated to continue down the path.  Each small win feeds your desire.”

James Clear - Atomic Habits

The question we get so often from players and parents is, “How much should they be playing/practicing?”  

To best answer this question, let’s set the foundation of this article here:

Golf, like so many other activities, is a DEPRECIATING SKILL.  

This means that if you don’t practice/play you won’t improve, you will get worse.  

Ouch! I’m sorry, that is the reality.  Ask anyone who hasn’t played a round of golf in a significant period of time how that first round back is.  VERY RUSTY!  

If my son doesn’t pick up a golf club this winter, when he returns to playing in the spring, his golf skills will have depreciated.  After this happening to him for the past 2 winters, he understands this and is much more accepting in the spring when he starts off the year with some tough rounds.  He may even choose to continue playing in the winter as he gets older and more committed to the game. Then his winters will be spent continuing to develop his skills and he will be ready to go in the spring, not playing catch up.

As coaches and parents, it is our duty to make our players aware of this.  If someone chooses to take an extended break, they need to be aware that they will regress.  Players must also be aware of how much practice and playing is needed to see progress at the different stages of development they go through.  For example, as a beginner golfer, they may only need to practice a minimal amount to see progress. As they move into the intermediate skill level in the sport, they will need to practice more often to see progress.  

How much practice/play does one need to see progress?

Over the last 10 years of coaching, and being able to accurately measure students' on-course progress using the Operation 36 program, we have a pretty accurate idea of what it takes to improve.  Each year as more and more data is compiled, we get better and better at being able to advise players/parents on what it takes to progress.

***Please know that WHAT and HOW someone practices will have a direct effect on how much they progress in their on-course skills.  We have seen plenty of practice routines over the years that players do that will never translate to improved skills on the course.  For lack of a better word, they are just exercising at the practice facility. For ideas on WHAT and HOW to practice to see progress in your on-course skills, contact your local Operation 36 program.  They are experts in this arena as they are held accountable for on course progress with all of their students.***  

For the below recommendation, the definition of PLAYING is a 9-hole round of golf.  For example, if someone decided to play 3 times a week, that would be 27 holes total or 9-holes each day.  For PRACTICING, we are using the duration of 1-hour as a general rule.

So far, this is what we have.  If a golfer practices/plays:

0 - Times Per Week - Without practicing and playing your skills will depreciate.  For intermediate/advanced players, your skills will not regress to being a complete beginner, however, your skills will drop from where they were when you were practicing regularly.

1 - Time Per Week - It’s a hobby/recreation and you do it for pure enjoyment.  As a beginner player, you will see progress in your skills up to a certain point.  An example of this would be playing 9 holes per week. For an intermediate or advanced player, they will experience skill depreciation picking up a club only 1 time per week.  

2 - Times Per Week - A beginner golfer will see a large improvement in their skills practicing/playing 2 times per week.  For a beginner, we LOVE to recommend 2 times per week. It’s not a huge commitment, but it is enough to see progress to get you to the intermediate skill level most of the time.  A player can go through at least 1 Op36 Learning Cycle (Play 1 day and then Practice 1 day). An advanced player may be able to maintain their skill level at 2 times per week, yet the most advanced players will continue to experience skill depreciation.  

3 - Times Per Week - At 3 times a week, a player has time to go through 1.5 reps of the Op36 Learning Cycle.  They can play 9 holes on Monday, practice on Wednesday the areas that they learned on Monday they need to improve upon and then play 9 holes on Friday.  This is a really good place for most of our beginner/intermediate players that have a strong desire to improve. It is enough time to see progress, but not too much time that they will burn out.  Once again, an advanced player may experience skill depreciation at only 3 times per week.

4+ - Times Per Week - This is for players who are physically, mentally and emotionally ready for the challenge of reaching their fullest potential.  We would NOT RECOMMEND this for beginner players. Most of the time, it is too much of a commitment from the start. A player can go through a full 2 reps of the learning cycle and possibly even more in a week.  Maximum returns are seen in this range and minimal skill depreciation. Advanced players practice/play at least 4 times a week. 

At Operation 36, we measure progress by players shooting lower scores and progressing back in yardages.  That is what the above recommendations are based on.  

My hope is that the above recommendation can be used by players, parents, and coaches to help paint an accurate picture of the level of commitment it takes to improve on-course performance.  In the last 10 years of running Operation 36, we have seen players get discouraged that they aren’t progressing “fast enough.” More often than not, they are not practicing/playing enough to see the progress they are expecting.  

PRO TIP!

As we have learned in helping players over the years, improving your golf skills is very similar to building muscle in the gym.  If you had 6 hours to workout a week, no one in their right mind would spend all 6 hours lifting weights on Monday. Why? We all understand that we need to stress the muscle, let it recover so it can grow and then stress the muscle again.  The more cycles of stress and recovery we can fit in, the larger our muscles can grow.  

Improving your golf skills is the same thing.  You need to give your brain and your body a rest period between your practice/play sessions.  It turns out when you are learning a new skill your brain needs breaks to download the new movement/knowledge to make them permanent.  It is that struggle the next day or next practice session to recall the movement/knowledge learned that will imprint it in your brain for the long term.  If you cram all 6 hours of playing/practicing for a week into one day, you aren’t giving your brain enough reps in a week to struggle to recall the movement/knowledge.  

A better alternative is to take those 6 hours and break them into 3 days a week of practicing 2 hours.  By doing that you give your brain 3 reps a week of recalling the movement/knowledge from the previous practice/playing session.  For example, if you had 6 hours in a week to dedicate to your golf game, the most effective practice might look like this:

  • Monday - Play 9 holes
  • Wednesday - Practice 2 hours
  • Friday - Play 9 holes

I might be biased, but there are few things as satisfying as improving in the game of golf.  Hopefully, this guide was able to shed a bit of light on your training schedule, and how it can impact your progress.

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Also known as Op 36, we are a team of golf professionals and golf enthusiasts that are aiming to change the way the golf industry introduces and progresses beginners in playing the game of golf.
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Operation 36 logo. 36 only
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