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Practice in the Goldilocks Zone

Harder Isn’t Always Better

Golfers come in all shapes and sizes, but golf practice tends to come in one of two flavors.  “Too Easy” is the guy who is smoothing the same 8I shot over and over.  At a glance, he looks like a stick, but then you realize he only has one shot.  “Too Hard” is the golfer who hasn’t hit one good shot in the whole bucket because he’s attempting a high draw with an old MacGregor 2I.

In this lesson, I’m going to discuss the pitfalls of these two types of practice and how to find the blissful middle road.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You’re practicing and not getting results

You want to make your practice more effective and less frustrating

Too Easy

Everyone likes hitting good shots.  Good shots make you feel confident, and confidence is important, right?

Confidence is absolutely important, and I would suggest hitting lots of good shots before you head out to play.  However, if you’re going to the range to practice and improve your game, you need to be challenged.  

Too Hard

If challenge is good, that guy with the 1960’s 2-Iron must be on his way to the Tour, right?

Not so fast.  Challenge is good, but if you’re not ever having success, you’re not getting any better.  You need feedback to get better; you need to know when you’re doing it right.  If you’re not having any success, there’s no positive feedback and no chance to for your body and brain to think, “That was good, let’s do that again.”

If higher challenge automatically meant higher learning, we’d put college-level physics in front of Kindergartners.  The reason we don’t is that you need a challenge that’s appropriate for your abilities.

The Goldilocks Zone

For practice to be effective, it needs to be in the sweet spot of challenge.  You need to be able to attain success but not without a focused effort.  Let’s look at some examples of how to put this theory into practice.

On the Putting Green

Too Easy: Making 2-foot putts.  From 2 feet, you don’t need to be precise with your line or speed to get the ball into the hole.

Too Hard: Expecting to make 15-foot putts.  The best players in the world make around 25% of their putts from 15-20 feet.  If you are beating yourself up over missing most of your 15-footers, you’re being unrealistic.

Just Right: Work on two-putting from various distances.  Work on making 4, 5, and 6 foot putts.

In the Short Game Area

Too Easy: Hitting the same shot, from a perfect lie, over and over again.

Too Hard: Expecting to hole out chips, pitches, or bunker shots.

Just Right: Move to a new situation for each shot.  Depending on your handicap, try to get up-and-down or on the green and two-putt every time.

On the Range

Too Easy: Hitting the same shot with the same club repeatedly.

Too Hard: Asking yourself to hit a shot that’s not in your wheelhouse.  If you can’t execute the shot at least half the time, it’s probably over your head.

Just Right: Have a purpose for the practice session and for each shot.  Hit your stock shot, but switch clubs after each swing.  Hit the same club but with a different shape each time.


If you want to see real improvement from your practice sessions, make sure you’re challenging yourself.  Set a goal that’s realistic, and work hard to achieve it.  You may not look as good on the range as the guy who’s hitting the same shot over and over, but you’ll score a lot better on the course.

Matt Saternus
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  1. And spend some time hitting, chipping, Putting, or whatever you need.

  2. Excellent article Matt. I have enjoyed your practice with a purpose articles. They are straight forward, simple to follow and they have helped me enjoy this crazy game.
    Keep it up

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