Use Premack’s Principle to Improve Your Game
By Dr. T. J. Tomasi, Keiser University College of Golf Senior Faculty and Director of Research
I teach a professional player who hates to practice his short game. He’s a very long hitter who is much taken with the concept of distance –– he always checks out how far he hits it in relation to the people he is playing with, not just off the tee, but also the clubs hit on the par 3s. I know this because he tells me whenever we discuss his rounds.
This is OK if you’re not too concerned with your score, but it’s not good if you’re a professional player where score pays the rent. For pros, how far you drive the ball doesn’t make much difference as long as you drive it ‘far enough.’ While I may not break him of this habit, I did give him a training schedule designed to make sure he practiced his short game. My advice is based on Premack’s Principle, which proposes that you hitch a behavior you enjoy to a behavior that you should do but don’t enjoy. The key is to make the enjoyable behavior contingent on the unenjoyable behavior. It’s a principle that most parents use on their kids at one time or another: Clean your room, and then you can watch some TV. In our case, I told my student that he needed to hit 50 chips and pitches, and then reward himself with 10 drives. Another aspect of his schedule was that I suggested he make his practice task-oriented rather than time-oriented. Instead of practicing his short game for a specific period, say from 9 to 10:30, his goal was to make 25 2-foot putts in a row, then 25 lag putts to 2 feet, followed by 10 chips to within 3 feet, etc.
This young tour player is long off the tee, but she also loves to practice her short game – and this balance led her to claim a spot on the LPGA Tour. She’ll chip all those balls to “gimme” distance before pounding her driver.
When you clock-watch, it’s all too easy to feel that you’ve done your practice if you’ve done your time. This takes the emphasis off the performance of the task and can lead to inefficient practice sessions. You should evaluate your practice in terms of how much you learned, not how much time you spent. Another important part of every good practice session is laying out a system of goals and sub-goals. The goal of practicing your short game is to make your overall game stronger, but you also need to establish sub-goals like those above — a certain number of successful putts, chips, pitches, etc. Look at it this way: If you don’t establish sub-goals, you won’t know what you’ve accomplished. It’s like working all month and not knowing how much money you made.
I believe the most effective practice occurs when your practice comes out of your play. So keep records of your performance on the golf course (greens in regulation, total putts, up and downs, etc.), then use these records as the basis for your practice sub-goals.
If you’d like to study with Dr. Tomasi and other PGA Master Professionals, contact The College of Golf today.