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I' a 13 handicap and want to get lower so I've taken lessons and feel I understand what I need to do to improve ball striking but struggle actually improving while I practice.

I have some drills to work on so last time I went to the range I did those and then hit a few balls, drills hit balls etc. Then when I get on course all the bad habits come back and I feel I'm back to square one.

How have you guys practiced irons etc to actually hit the ball better when it matters?

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A piece of advice I've heard a couple of ways:

-Take only one pill at a time, not the whole bottle

-Only work on one thing at a time-whatever you feel is your next worst problem.

One of my worst problems-taking a stupid shot after a bad shot-I have to constantly remember to not do that. I will shoot a lower score by reducing doubles and triples, not by getting one birdie.

One of my next worst problems-controlling the ball-Trying to improve the strike. Understanding how my swing and club face effect the ball. Spent some time just adjusting the starting position of my club face. Closed to open to see what the ball does-changing nothing else. Then changing ball position relative to my front foot to see what that does. Changing nothing else. Finding where my clubs bottom out to stop hitting the behind or on top of the ball.

Trying to swing like Rory does nothing for my ball flight. It just changes my swing.

Distance control-I had no idea of club distances. Spent some time figuring all that out.

Just raking and beating balls doesn't work for me.


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There are two opposing viewpoints on this topic. The first is based on motor control theory, which posits that since the mind controls the body, you have to reprogram the neuronal connections that make up muscle memory by repeating the 'correct' motion 10,000 times. Some people go so far as to say 20,000 reps are necessary. The second viewpoint is based on the uncontrolled manifold hypothesis, which posits that body movements respond to initial conditions (grip and setup) and locus of attention (the target or target line). Body movements self-organize from there. These viewpoints are mutually exclusive. You either follow one path or the other. There are a million books that assume the former, and golf has a long history of believing it to be true. Modern science, however, tends to support the latter viewpoint, and golf has been slow to transition. A good book that covers this topic is "The Practice Manual" by Adam Young.


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You always have to practice with a purpose. Know exactly what it is, and work on ONLY that.

If you're struggling with irons, one of the ideas that has worked for some people is to pick your favorite iron .... could be a 7-iron, 9-iron, whatever. Choose the one you're most confident in striking well consistently. Go practice with JUST that club. Hit it until you have supreme confidence in your mechanics with that, and you have a degree of consistency you like. At the next practice session, start with the favorite, then add in the next shorter club. Alternate between the two; if the "second" club is inconsistent go back to the favorite. Hit three or four with the favorite, then the "new" club. Once those two are consistent, then go to the next longer club.

If your 7i is your fave, start there, then add the 8i. When they are both solid, add the 6i. Rinse & repeat.

As someone noted above, it takes 10,000 repetitions to master something! (Malcom Gladwell)

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I'll look that book yo MountainGoat.

i decided to hit the range after work and work on a drill I was taught to keep the arms and body connected. (Which has been my biggest ball striking issue)

Started out hitting half shots and then longer. Once I felt confident I hit the ball like I was playing. Seemed to work well tonight, I've used this drill before with some success so I'll stick with it. When my swing got out of hand again I went back to the drill and things came around. I think I'll stick to this plan as it's been the most successful so far.

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I'll share what works for me.

The most important thing for my game is to stick to a process. I'll give an example:

When I get to a golf course, my #1 goal is to figure out green pace. What I do is I find a flat putt and I drop three balls - no hole, no aim. I hit three balls feeling like my arms swung back to 7 oclock (6 oclock being address) at the tempo that I want. I pace off those balls and make a mental note of about how far they rolled out (eg 5 steps). Then, I do the same with feeling like backswing reached 8 oclock. Let's say that works out to about 15 steps.

Now I know that a flat putt of 15 - 45 feet has my backswing between the 7-8oclock range. I adjust accordingly to slope etc.

When I'm under pressure in my round, it's nice to have this type of quantifiable experience to go back to.

When I'm practicing on the range, I look to do the same thing. I'll ask myself little questions that surface when I'm under pressure and doubting my swing. Some examples are: is my backswing too fast? Am I rotating my shoulders enough? Where's my ball position?

While practicing, I try to answer all these little questions which help to erase future doubt. My mind tends to race on the course, so this is a method that lets me calm my brain and reassure myself that I know the answers to all my own little questions.

It might not work for everyone, but it really helps me stay in the moment.

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Repetition is key when it comes to being consistent. Even the top players have swing coaches to spot check and or continually check on their swing. For those of us who do not play on a regular basis and are not in a golf environment on a regular basis, it makes it that much more harder. Best way to approach it is in halves. Meaning approach to the green i.e. off the tee box and your approach in to the green and the second half being your short game and your putting. You can be a great tee to green player but one miss of the green and your short game is not up to par and suddenly you are seeing more bogeys and double bogeys. So easy for the player to focus on the long clubs in his/her bag and its a shame because typically a strong short game can easily pick you up a few strokes per round. My focus personally now is to have a solid a short game as I can. I hit the ball consistent enough to to have a shot at the green and If I am in trouble, I developed a sound approach to getting up and down. That to me has been the biggest advantage that I picked up when a majority of my practice focused on shots around the green and lag putting. You are a 13 now and I can see you easily getting to a high single digit if you strengthen your short game. That to me will pay the biggest dividends.

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I hear you. Definitely a killer when you feel like you are not striking the ball well. Best drill a friend of mine had me do when I asked him for a lesson. He was at that time an aspiring mini tour player. Anyhoo, he had me work on punch shots that started almost from a chip and worked its way up in terms of the length of my swing. He got me to hit punch shots that start at hip level, than shoulder level than finally for me ear level which is my full swing indicator. Thing he was trying to sell home was literally getting me to feel my hands leading the way through impact. Even with my 3 iron, my hand was slightly ahead of my ball at impact and of course as it went down the line with my wedges, my hands were right up front. At first you wont think your club head will deliver on time and thats when we develop our miscues. So he wanted me to get the feeling of having the hands not provide the power as more the release of all the lag Ive created. Leading into it, I was losing a lot of both distance and consistency in my impact with my brain not thinking the club is not gonna get there in time and I bail out and try to have my hands flip the club over. Worse thing ever. As soon as I sold out on getting the punch shot feel, I was delivering the club both with much more oompth since more of my lower body was being involved and I was covering the ball real well, but more than anything, the ball at impact felt really flush and solid sounding. Give it a try and see if it helps. You might lose some distance at first getting the whole punching thing down but once you get the technique of having your hands ahead of the ball even after impact for a very minute point in time before they are forced to turn over, the sense of less effort since you start to involve more of the lower body to power the swing comes into play and you suddenly have something going. Good luck and soon enough you will have a breakthrough for sure.

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@nev adams, I feel your pain. I gave up on my last set of lessons after a year and a half because I was always back to lesson one no matter how hard I drilled and practiced. I did see some swing improvement but not all that much really. It is possibly that the bio-mechanically correct pro swing I was being taught does not suit me or maybe just to much LOFT. I don't know. I felt like I needed my instructor with me every time I practiced or I would go off the rails. I couldn't afford that!
I do recommend Adam Young's book the practice manual also. @MountainGoat's post above is an excellent description of how we may learn the golf swing! I would add that skill beats technique every time. I think that swing change improvements often work because of the practice involved which improves the golfers skill at hitting the ball more then the actual swing change helps the golfer.
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@Nels55 -- Thanks for the support! Another book that covers the same territory is Ian Highfield's, "Golf Practice". I really think the European teachers are way ahead of the Americans in putting new learning theory to work. The US emphasis on repeat, repeat, repeat is really out-dated and not at all consistent with experimental evidence. Unfortunately, block practice derived from motor control theory has become so accepted, no one challenges it.

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I always thought that golf lessons are maybe the hardest thing to sell in the entire world because they are one of the few things you buy that have the exact opposite of the intended effect as soon as you buy it. Lessons are guaranteed to make you a worse golfer at the beginning. This is why they are generally sold in packages. This is also why most people give up on them after one or two lessons.

Its important to realize “Feel is not Real” It may feel like you are making a good swing. If immediately played back to you on video chances are it would look nothing like what you thought you were doing. It’s why a coach gives you drills. A drill is normally not a shot you would make while actually playing golf. A drill is meant to impart a swing feel to slowly trick your body into a proper swing.

My advice is to continue with lessons knowing that you will get worse before you get better. Only take lessons if you are being recorded during the lesson and are able to immediately see the swing you just performed Ie. golftec etc. And, imo most importantly, play way more golf than you spend time at the range. For even better score results spend more time on the practice green.

Just my 2cents

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Yes we do tend towards cause and effect. For instance "Oh I shanked that one therefore I did X wrong and I will not do that anymore!". When in fact the shank was caused by a lack of skill at hitting the ball in the middle of the clubface and not by some body movement that is 'wrong'.

There have been a number of teachers over the years who taught or teach an external focus on the club and some who teach a target focus. Earnest Jones for instance with the focus on swinging the clubhead taught an external focus that worked very well with a great number of students. Ron Sisson teaches similar now days and also the Frankel brothers and Manuel de la Torre disciples.

I believe that Adam Young's approach is a higher level where he does not dogmatically stick with one focus but helps his students find what works for them at their current level. He did mention that some fairly rare students are best served with an internal focus on what certain body parts are doing. The internal focus is where most golfers are stuck as evidenced by a lot of the posts and advice that I see on the internet.

Just my random two cents, stuff that you are already aware of I bet!

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As long as I'm making controversial comments, I might as well continue...

There's a wonderful book by psychologist Martin Seligman entitled, "What You Can Change and What You Can't" that examines the false self-improvement strategies that pervade our culture.  Turns out, you are less changeable that you think you are.  Most pearls of self-improvement wisdom turn out to be little more than pablum for the gullible. They're a good for selling books and not much else.

In that spirit, I'd like to suggest that your golf swing is less changeable than you think it is.  There are only three things you can change: 1) your grip: 2) your stance: 3) your external focus.  That's it.  Any attempt to consciously change your path or method of release or hip drive or anything else will fail.  I don't care how many muscle memories you try to create. Conscious motor control does not work.

A zillion studies have aptly demonstrated that our conscious mind follows our actions, it does not precede them.  It explains things after they occurred.  It's your personal Press Secretary.  It pretends to be in control but isn't.  Our actions are driven by subconscious desires and are based on initial conditions (in the case of golf, grip and stance) and our internal sense of the goal (external focus).  Outside of your equipment, those are the only things you can change.  Address those things, and your swing will self-organize and adapt.  Focus on 10,000 repetitions of the "right" way, and you will fail.  


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In my experience I believe that what you have written is correct though it is possibly not absolute and I think depends on the person who is doing the learning and their ability to do different motions and control their body. There are exceptional freaks of nature who seem to be able to change things that are unchangeable for the rest of us. Also it has been shown that kids can learn correct golf movements by imitating a good swing. I think that the opposite might have happened to me when I was kid... LOL

Here is a boring story of my attempts to change a simple part of my own swing: I have tried to change my hip movement several times over the years and I did learn a movement from reading Jimmy Ballard's book and watching some video of him way back in the 80s. This was the movement back to load into the trail hip on the backswing getting the trail leg straight up and down. Then later on I trained my hips to move more like Jack Nicklaus with the trail leg staying at the same angle the hips rotating in place on the backswing. LOL the problem was that before I started my downswing my hips would move backwards to where I had originally trained myself to move them. Looks weird on video and is the opposite of what high level swings do in that all pros I have seen move there hips towards the target during transition. Adam Young did a video analysis of my swing and suggested that I learn to fall towards the target in the pro manner. I could not figure out how to do it and still hit the ball. Failure on my part. Also my more recent teacher wanted me to drive the swing with my trail glute which would produce a similar movement to the pro movement. I failed miserably at learning that also.

I seem to do a lot better just swinging the club and I have certain goals or feels of how I want the club to go through the ball that I try to load into my unconscious mind and then I try to turn my brain off for the duration of the swing. When I can do that I get surprisingly 'good' results.

As for self improvement, real self improvement often comes from habit forming. And forming habits is hugely controlled by a persons environment. For instance if you want to get up every morning and exercise then set your alarm every night and drag your butt out of bed and force yourself to do at least one rep or one lap of the pool or whatever. Once started such habits can make a big difference. Or if you want to eat better then surround yourself with healthy foods. Changing lifestyle habits is not a great feat of will power it is a lot of constant small victories and the ability to get back on the wagon when you fall off. I lost about 30 lbs using this approach 4 or 5 years ago and it works.

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In that spirit, I'd like to suggest that your golf swing is less changeable than you think it is.  There are only three things you can change: 1) your grip: 2) your stance: 3) your external focus.  That's it.  Any attempt to consciously change your path or method of release or hip drive or anything else will fail.  I don't care how many muscle memories you try to create. Conscious motor control does not work.no. if this were true how would you explain how a gymnast -- or skate boarder, or figure skater, or diver, etc. -- learn new movements? or are we talking about different things?

though golf is a different sport with different movements, i don't believe it is any less possible for a golfer to learn a new path or release method or hip drive (etc.) than it is for a skate boarder to learn a new trick.

perhaps some people may have limitations which prevent them from doing this. and maybe others just don't have the time or aren't willing to put in the work. but i don't believe for a moment this holds true for everyone.

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Question. When you do your practice on the range and you're trying to make these changes and actually doing the right moves, do you have a target or are you just hitting out into space?

Thing is your focus on the range is "do this movement", but your focus on the golf course is "hit the ball there". Subconsciously, you know that doing the move you're trying to incorporate isn't currently compatible with hitting the ball there. It's a bit like certain faults (early extension for example) are the result of your subconscious knowing that something isn't right and if you don't do that, the results are going to be worse than if you do. There is something else that you need to fix first so that your subconscious will let you not early extend.

The way to get through this I would think is when you're on the range, do your drills and then hit a shot to a target. And do it for real. Pick a target, then go through your routine and then try to hit it there. See what happens. It may take a while for your subconscious to start to trust it, but if you hit it where you're aiming while the drill is fresh, then you'll start to believe in it. Then it'll be easier to bring to the course. If you don't hit it to the target, then at least you understand why you can't bring it to the course. Then you need to figure out if the reason it's not going to the target is because you're doing the move wrong or if the move was a compensation for something else that you now need to fix. There is an old joke about how the outcome of a lesson will be to remove the one fault that kept all the other faults playable. That's also why people say you have to get worse before you get better, but it doesn't have to be that way. There are coaches out there who can see what changes you need to make to just improve without the intermediate step (of getting worse).

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