How Much Should You Practice?

What’s the Right Amount of Practice?

I’ve noted before that golf fetishizes players like Ben Hogan and Vijay Singh who beat balls until their hands bleed.  That leads many people to answer the question in the heading with things like, “All the practice!”  In this lesson, I’m going to suggest that the correct answer is a little more complicated but much less extreme.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You care at all about your golf game.  Seriously.  This one is for everybody.

The Answer is…

“What does your talent allow?”

Every golfer is different.  Based on our age, playing experience, natural ability, and other factors, we need different amounts of practice to maintain our current level of play.

As I discussed on a recent episode of the podcast [listen HERE], I have found how much practice I need to maintain my current level of play.  If I hit 10 putts, 10 chips, and make 10 swings every day, I can play golf at a reasonable level of competence.  In truth, I’ll probably make slow improvements on this plan, but I’m just trying to tread water.

I have friends who would laugh at doing this much work to maintain their current play.  One such friend laid up his clubs for a couple years, walked onto a major championship course, and proceeded to shoot in the 70s.  That’s what his level of talent allows.  Every golfer is different.

What About Improvement?

If you’re not content with your current level of play, you need to figure out how much practice it takes to maintain your skills and go beyond that.

In my case, if I wanted to see lower scores, I’d need to put in a very solid session each week with the driver and make time for wedge work from 100 yards and in.  My current putting regimen consists almost entirely of four-footers, so I’d need to add more speed work, too.

*It’s worth noting that, for many golfers, time alone will not improve their game; they also need instruction.  If you’re trying to find a coach, click HERE for a good place to start.

The Final Piece of the Puzzle

Discussing the right amount of practice would be incomplete without mentioning goals and expectations.  If you expect your scores to drop, you need to practice a lot more than if you expect to keep shooting the same scores that you have for the last few years.  The beauty of expectations is that no one but you gets to control them.  You can set your expectations to match your ability and practice time, two things you have significantly less control over.

Right now, my expectations for my game are aligned with my ability and practice plan.  I want to get the ball around the course and hit a couple memorable shots along the way.  The bar is low, my practice demands are minimal, and I have enough ability to make this work.  I’m a happy golfer.

I hope this lesson helps you to match the pieces of your puzzle together to find more joy in your game.

Matt Saternus
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  1. Interesting subject. I suspect golf growth is a “step function” as opposed to linear. We see pilots, scuba divers and other domains requiring X number of hours training before some level of mastery is assumed. Matt’s 30 a day equates to about 1,000/year. I reckon significant improvement might be an order of magnitude greater, around 10,000/year, to achieve measurable and significant change. One reason very few golfers have their handicap dramatically differ from when first measured.

  2. As someone in the pharmaceutical industry, I appreciate the minimal effective dose analogy.

  3. Good article Matt. I follow a basic plan of trying to do at least 5min daily. It varies, however much of it is chipping and pitches in the yard. I can work from up to 50 yds down. Also have a putting mat that I keep in the hallway, have an understanding wife. Long story short, all these swings are of no use if there are no goals. My goal has been to be super confident in short green side approach shots – the area I found myself in more times than not. Shot confidence has allowed me to be more accurate longer approaches, from 150 in. Time to go hit a ball….

  4. TaylorMade lover

    looking for a plan for a 20 handicap looking to get to a single digit. practice typically about once a week. any ideas? current 7i distance 135, driver about 210-230.

    • Matt Saternus

      Step 1: Get ShotScope
      Step 2: Log 20 rounds
      Step 3: Use strokes gained to figure out where you’re losing the most strokes relative to a 10 handicap.
      Step 4: Fix those things

  5. TaylorMade lover

    what is shot scope? also i don’t really have any money to get that stuff too if it costs money

  6. TaylorMade lover

    can you point me in the direction of some cheaper (or free) shot tracking systems?

  7. Jonathan Compton

    Hi Matt. What have you heard of the Top Speed Golf online program? Am 69 with 10+ years golf (15-20 rounds/year), 190-200y off the tee, 45% FIRs and 19% GIRs, -2.26 strokes gained (lost) putting/round with 36.5 putts/round, and -3.29 SG on approach shots; (these stats are from Shotscope :). I have the Divot Board, Down Under board, Orange Whip, and a putting mat. Suggestions? Thanks.

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