Rethinking Practice and Play

In his book Rethinking Golf, author Chuck Hogan – when explaining the purpose of his book –  wrote:

What this book asks you to do is be fearless. Go Play. Forget what you think play is and just indulge in the experience of play… Return to your origins. Just do. Don’t do “it.” 

Two weeks ago – before everything in this country went sideways – I spent 3 days in Scottsdale with two wonderful and fascinating people in the golf performance space: Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson. Lynn and Pia were the long-time coaches to Annika Sörenstam (…only the winningest female player in the history of golf) as well as many other highly successful players on the PGA and LPGA tours.

They have spent their entire careers growing in their own understanding of what creates great performances on the course  – and creating a framework for their

Pia Nilsson (L) and Lynn Marriott (R) teaching at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, AZ

students and clients to “indulge in the experience of play” as Hogan said.  (Incidentally, Lynn worked with Chuck Hogan for many years.)

And while I learned so much about myself and my game that week, among my key takeaways with Lynn, Pia and the Vision54 Team were these:

  1. Our practice sessions can be WAY more productive when we bring purpose to each and every shot.
  2. We can create much better outcomes ON the course when we set aside the need to fulfill swing mechanics objectives and instead focus on what Lynn and Pia refer to as our Human Skills…which we can control.

Practice Slower, Play Faster. This is one of our Alert Attitude of Indifference Big Ten Strategies we teach at our AAI playing schools. It means:

  • That we all benefit by taking a MUCH slower approach to our practice sessions.
  • That instead of raking over and hitting ball after ball after ball, we can be much more productive – and learn a lot more while practicing – when we hit fewer balls – not more.
  • That when every shot has a purpose outside of a technical skill, we can learn to practice hitting shots as an athletic endeavor – not a cognitive one. (Thanks Lynn and Pia for articulating that so well!)

So, what does that look like when I am practicing slower?

  • No more bucket of balls poured-out next to my hitting station. Hit one ball at a time. No more raking over the next ball!
  • Prior to each shot, I am thoughtful about where I want each ball to fly to, it’s trajectory, and perhaps a feeling I am trying to notice.
  • I leave all thinking behind once I step up to the ball…and just “play.” (yes…even in a practice scenario.)

Playing faster on the course is also an important way to rethink your approach to the game. It means:

  • Not lingering over the shot as you are about to hit it.
  • Leaving your THINKING behind when you are executing a shot. (Including thoughts about how to hit position 3, how to keep your primary tilt, how to transition properly…etc.)
  • Creating a deliberate system that gets you to execute a shot in 4-7 seconds instead of 10-20 seconds.

Why is this important? Because executing each shot is an athletic endeavor – not a cognitive one. (Thanks again Lynn and Pia!) The LESS time you spend hovering over the ball, the less chance there is for your (very) active brain to get involved in the process.

As you practice and play over the next few weeks, see if you can do these two things. Practice slower and more purposefully. And when you play, pull the trigger sooner. Stop lingering over the ball. Stop overthinking. Just do.

I think if you can do this, you will have taken an important step toward achieving what Chuck Hogan wanted for all of us to experience when we play. And what Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson preach and teach every day. Just play. Just do. Be fearless. Stop getting stuck in your head. Go out and have fun. Loosen your grip on the outcomes. Enjoy the game more.

Stay Healthy!


Paul Monahan

Paul Monahan

Paul Monahan is an International Coach Federation (ICF) - credentialed coach working in the arena of human potential. Paul’s clients are leaders, executives, athletes and musicians who are serious about transforming how they perform in critical moments. His experiences in leadership and development over a highly-successful 25-year corporate career have created powerful context and understanding for the leaders and executives he coaches. Additionally, his passions and experiences in sports and music have uniquely positioned Paul to profoundly impact his clients in those areas as well.

2 thoughts to “Rethinking Practice and Play”

  1. Great advice Paul. I heard about Vision54 in January and downloaded their book Be a Player. I saw many parallels between their program and the AAI school which I took from you last year. This article has inspired me to go back and read the book again as well as review my notes from the AAI school. My golf course here in Scottsdale is still open but I’ve been playing by myself a lot. This is a good time to “practice on the course.” Thanks and stay healthy.
    Nancy Powers

    1. Thanks Nancy. Great to hear from you. Glad the article inspired you to go back into the AAI content. And yes, Be a Player is a great book…lots of great ideas in there about how to practice on the course. Have a great time…and be safe!

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