Skill Practice vs. Technical Practice
“The answer is in the dirt”, these words have been cemented in golfers minds by the great Ben Hogan in his book Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons. The key takeaway for many is that Hogan’s greatness came from repetition after repetition honing his golf swing. He followed the simple equation of more swings in practice will lead to a better swing. The difference between Hogan’s simple equation and what we know now is that we know that not every practice swing is created equal. There is a staggering diminishing return on repetition in practice. Hitting 100 seven irons in a row is far less effective than hitting five seven irons at a 30ft circle with a goal of hitting ⅘ inside the circle. This is the difference between skill and technical practice. Skill practice builds control of the golf ball, technical practice is focused on changing your golf swing without an eye on the performance.
Social media has given the golfing public unprecedented access to technical advice, and most of the advice is correct…for the right person. Whether that tip posted on TikTok last week is the right one for you remains to be seen. What all this information leads to is an endless tinkering of one’s golf swing. A spiral of changes that leads to practice sessions dominated by how the swing looks, not where the ball lands. What we don’t know about Hogan’s practice is what his goals were for each session. I know that he wasn’t posting swing videos on Instagram looking to see how many likes he could get. What he did look at was where the ball went, how much control he had of that outcome, and what the divot looked like. The dirt gave a clue, but the answer was found where the ball landed. Hogan built a swing that focused on the skill of controlling the golf ball, not useless aesthetics. Your golf practice time would be far more valuable if there were less cameras and mirrors and more targets on the range. Your swing’s look has minimal influence on the outcome of the ball, but your control and skill of swinging the club directly influences the outcome.
For all the Range Rats out there, please stop measuring practice in balls hit but rather measure practice by goals accomplished. Create skill challenges, make it difficult, change clubs, just please stop hitting the same shot over and over and judging success by how the swing looked or felt. Would you rather play a 30 slice that lands within a 10 yard circle or a zero’d out path that misses left and right without warning. Teach your swing to control the ball not to generate likes on TikTok. When practice focuses around skill development rather than technical improvements you can see quick and sustainable improvements in your game. Whatever swing gives you the most control is the swing for you. Mr. Palmer may have said it best “Swing your Swing”.