The Myth of “Practice Like You Play”

Have you ever heard the phrase “practice like you play”?

There are those out there that swear that you need to practice like you play.  Exactly like you play… if you’re serious about getting good.

Take some time to think about that statement: “practice like you play”.  Do you know any other sport that practices exactly like they play?

Back in my football days, we didn’t wear our game uniforms.  There were plenty of times when we didn’t wear our hip, thigh and knee pads.  Monday practices were only t-shirt, shorts and helmet.

I knew a state champion in wrestling that would wear street shoes on many occasions.  He only wore his wrestling shoes during matches and tournaments.

There were basketball players that had two different pairs of shoes; one for practice, one for games- and they weren’t the same shoes.

If you were in any sports in high school and/or college, did you dress for practice exactly as you did for game day?

I’m going to guess the majority will say “no”.  To some extent, you didn’t exactly practice like you played, did you?

Why, then, do so many people think it’s the “it” way for golfers?

For real, you don’t have to dress up in your golf outfit for a half-hour or hour’s worth of work at the range.

practice like you play
I don’t dress up to practice. Never have, never will.

You don’t have to wear your golf shoes to hit some chips and pitches in the backyard.  Hell, I wear flip-flops when I do it.

You don’t have to use your “gamer” clubs for a range session.

Wait… what was that last one?

There’s a theory that many on the internet retell about people using blades to help them “home in” on the “sweet spot”, but have a different set of gamers.  Frankly, I think that’s BS, but just like the other “don’ts” I gave, there’s a caveat:

Do What works for you, end of story.

I don’t understand why people want to make golf sound like this Mt. Everest-like climb.  Damn, it’s tough, but so is trying to hit a home run in rec league softball, or getting a triple-double in rec league basketball.

The majority of golf work can be summed up in one sentence: do what works for you.  And yes, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out… but that can be said for just about every single thing in life.

It doesn’t matter if you want to shave time off your 5K, make more sales, increase your knowledge of pop culture… if you want to improve, you gotta work at it.

There’s no magic formula.  The late Seve Ballesteros hit nuts in a field with an old 3 iron.  Some learned on old, worn munis.

  • Want to hit blades on the range?  Go for it.
  • Feel like using a heavier driver on the range?  Cool.
  • Want to putt with a heavy putter indoors?  Great.

It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re working on something.  I can help get you started, but to see real improvement, you have to put in the effort.

I need to say that I’m not advocating just goofing off on the range.  You do need to have deliberate practice- if you want to learn how to hit a draw, for instance, you need to focus on that.  But worrying over if wearing your lucky polo, or the wing-tip shoes, or practicing with a different driver will mess you up is a waste of time and energy.

Don’t bother worrying if you practice like you play.  Worry about doing the things you need to do to lower your scores.  Struggle with the 8-iron?  Take a half-hour working on it.

Literally, there are tons of scenarios we can go through.  But let’s look at it this way: even if you did practice like you play, are you?

Are you, really?  It’s not a bad idea to go to the range and pretend to hit the shots on the first hole of your home course.  But let’s face it: if you pull-slice your drive, are you really simulating your next shot to the green?  If you pull that, are you really practicing that pitch shot?

It’s OK if you aren’t.  You’re not exactly practicing like you play, but you’re simulating what you’re doing.  Even if you can’t hit out of the rough on a mat, it doesn’t mean you can’t go through the mental steps and mechanics of hitting the next shot.

That’s what really matters.

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