Imagine wide receivers measuring the distance between their hands on catches during practice, baseball players measuring arm angles as they turn a double play, or a soccer player looking at footpath for their corner kicks. Every sport practices in a similar way, they replicate game situations and measure the success based on the result. Golf practice has flipped practice on its head and measures success based on technical measurements, not results. A shot that misses the target by 20 yards is a good one if the club path was correct. Golf skill practice focuses on using the golf swing you have and getting the most out of it. Treat your golf practice like you are a football coach, put yourself in game situations and learn to execute in those situations. This form of practice is what will lead to truly elevating your game, not just trying to improve your swing.
Skill practice can often be overlooked in golf practice because it is grueling, however it is the fact that it is grueling that makes it so effective. Technical practice is far easier because we can stand on a mat with a seven iron and hit ball after ball in rhythm trying to repeat the same motion. Skill practice is picking a target, setting a difficult goal for yourself, and critiquing yourself after each shot. Its a slow arduous version of practice that shows us our weaknesses rather than hide them in repetitions. A great skill practice challenge to try is to hit wedge shots to a target and holding a finger in front of your eye to measure distance. Give yourself a goal of x amount of shots inside a finger width out of five attempts. You can make a technically flawed swing but, if the ball lands inside the target the shot counts, just like when you play your round on Saturday. Skill practice gives you a goal that puts some game-like pressure on you, limits the amount of shots you hit in a row so you are not able to get into a rhythm, and most importantly forces you to analyze each shot as a success or failure based on the result.
Skill practice is not a magic formula, one session will show little improvement to your scores. This practice is about compounding gains, each session builds on the previous one until all of a sudden you are pin seeking with wedges on the course without worrying about if your takeaway is on plane. The biggest advantage about skill practice is that it can be more fun than any other hour on the driving range because each drill can become its own game. These games, when made just difficult enough, are the ultimate motivation to continue to practice your skills in all facets. Next time you practice chipping, instead of hitting 20 chips from the same spot to the same flag until you make one, try playing leapfrog for ten minutes and see how much better your touch gets. If you need some inspiration creating skill challenges our Legends of the Links trading cards have their own skill challenges associated with each card to make your practice more fun and effective.