The Great Ones Talk About Practice
While I am practicing I am also trying to develop my powers of concentration. I never just walk up and hit the ball. I am practicing and adopting habits of concentration which pay off when I play. . . . Adopt a habit of concentration to the exclusion of everything else around you on the practice tee and you will find that you are automatically following the same routine while playing a round in competition. Play each shot as if it were part of an actual round.
All my life I’ve tried to hit practice shots with great care. I try to have a clear-cut purpose in mind on every swing. I always practice as I intend to play. And I learned long ago that there is a limit to the number of shots you can hit effectively before losing your concentration on your basic objectives. I have to believe that some of the guys who virtually live on the practice tee are there because they don’t have anything better to do with their time. And I have to believe they often weaken their games by letting their practice become pointless through sheer monotony or fatigue.
At a tournament, I don’t really spend a whole lot of time there on the range, or even on the putting green or anything like that. When I get to a tournament site, I feel like my game should be ready. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t play as many weeks as a lot of these guys do, because I spend a lot of time practicing at home. I do most of my preparation at home. Once I’m at a tournament site, I’m there just to find my rhythm, tune up a little bit, and get myself ready to go play the next day.
Hogan, Nicklaus, and Woods all practiced with purpose. Hogan didn’t simply hit balls. He hit balls while developing his powers of concentration. Hogan knew that those two things—the physical movement of the golf ball and the mental act of concentration—become associated through repetition and time. Indeed, the meaningful elements of practice will group together into a cohesive framework when you are practicing the right way in a process known to cognitive psychologists as chunking.
Nicklaus was also working to habituate high levels of concentration while also attending to the third principle of skill acquisition outlined by Anders Ericsson: limited, focused practice sessions that had clear purpose. In reading his comment that “my game should be ready,” you can interpret that as “my habits should be ready.” If you practice effectively—purposefully with high levels of concentration—then you will not have to think about those habits on the golf course. They will already be there.