by Jeff Skinner
There is good news for all of us hackers who want to lower our handicap and actually get really good at this game. The secret to this game is that there is no secret and according to author Geoff Colvin we “have as much talent as Tiger Woods.” That’s right, we have as much golfing talent as Mr. Woods of 18 majors and 79 PGA Tour wins. So I guess it’s just bad luck that I haven’t earned my tour card yet. Either that or Colvin is certifiable.
Whether Mr. Colvin is sane or not may be up for debate but he does raise an interesting argument in the October issue of Golf Magazine. All we need to do is practice more or more specifically, we need to employ deliberate practice. It is Colvin’s contention that the only difference between Tiger and us is that we haven’t devoted ourselves to the requisite 10,000 hours of practice that you need to become proficient at golf.
“The term (deliberate practice) was coined by the renowned psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, who did landmark research on how we attain mastery in a given pursuit. For our purposes — getting good at golf — deliberate practice is about improving by pushing your practice beyond your comfort zone. I don’t mean mindlessly pounding balls in order to build muscle memory. (Your muscles don’t have memory. Only your brain does.) I’m talking about expanding your abilities by putting your brain through something akin to an ongoing golf boot camp. Only by practicing with purpose and (a little) pain will you learn to bend the ball to your will.
Perhaps you’ve heard that it takes 10,000 hours to master a given skill. That number comes from Ericsson’s 1993 study of violinists at a music academy in Berlin. The researchers gathered vast data on all the students — the brilliant performers who would build careers with elite orchestras, and the mediocre performers who would become high school music teachers — and found they were mostly the same. In fact, they differed significantly in only one measure: total lifetime hours spent on deliberate practice. By the time they graduated, the best performers had racked up about 10,000 hours practicing, while the mediocre ones had logged about half that. Later research in many other fields has supported those findings: There’s something meaningful about that number of hours of deliberate practice.
I always thought “the secret” to golf was finding the correct physical sequence to make the clubface hit the ball hard and straight. It turns out that what happens in your brain is more important than what happens with your body. You can play all day, but if you aren’t intensely focused on doing a specific thing better than last time, you won’t improve.”
So according to Colvin we all are capable of being a world class golfer but we need to put in the time. Somehow I think there is some hand-eye coordination needed and maybe a bit of athletic ability but Colvin does highlight some important elements to improve your game.
His deliberate practice concept has four laws of perfect practice and they are worth noting.
DELIBERATE PRACTICE IS HIGHLY PERSONALIZED: What you need to work on is unique to you.
DELIBERATE PRACTICE SHOULD PUSH YOU JUST BEYOND YOUR ABILITIES: We’re talking about taking a step outside your comfort zone, not a giant leap.
DELIBERATE PRACTICE MUST BE REPEATED AT HIGH VOLUME: The best performers repeat their practice at stultifying length.
DELIBERATE PRACTICE REQUIRES CONTINUAL, SPECIFIC FEEDBACK: We all have blind spots, so we need a coach — or, failing that, sound feedback.
There is plenty more on each law in the full article and it is well worth the time. It’s an old adage “practice makes perfect” but it’s all about the kind of practice and if you are one of those golfers that mindlessly beats balls at the range you are doing it all wrong and Colvin’s plan can definitely help.
Get to the range…only 10,000 hours to go.