The golfer so easily gets caught up in knots. She feels the only way to improve is to develop technique. Yet a technical change feels horrible…it feels alien. But there is another way to improve your golf and subsequent scores. You don’t have to feel like you’re swinging in a straight-jacket to deliver golf improvement. Here are my thoughts on golf skill.

Let’s get one thing clear first – technique and skill have a relationship, but they are not one and the same. From my book Golf Tough:

Technique is the ability to perform a physical task, whereas skill is the ability to perform a task in a game setting. This is a subtle yet cavernous difference that seems to have bypassed many golfers – from recreational, through to good amateurs, as well as professionals. It is one that shouldn’t be ignored.

Developing golf technique is different to developing golf skill. Technique is a component of skill – that is all. Technique doesn’t win trophies, nor does it reduce your handicap by five shots. Technique doesn’t hole putts and it doesn’t help players graduate to Tour standard. Technique is only a part of the process.

Golf demands the ability to control the ball over an ever-changing terrain in an ever-changing environment. And competitive golf demands you do this, under pressure. Isolating the golf swing and working on it is not the golf course formula for success. It’s the practice ground formula for success. Training yourself to hit from one spot with one motion is not golf skill. It’s driving range skill. Training yourself to stroke from one spot with one motion is not putting skill. It’s practice putting green skill.

Too many golfers incorrectly believe that within lower handicaps lies better technique. And too many golfers believe that the only way to shoot lower scores is to improve their technique. Wrong and wrong!

So there we have it. That’s my interpretation of the difference between golf technique and skill as discussed in my bestselling golf psychology book Golf Tough.

I like my golf clients to spend a lot of time engaged in developing golf skill. This means I ask them to do a lot of skills tests.

An example of a skills test could be this – create a fairway 20 yards in width on your practice ground. Take 10 balls and strive to hit 80% on the fairway. There you go – simple! When you achieve this you can narrow the target area or increase the number of balls you want to hit on the fairway.

Skills tests like the above focus your mind. They help you experience performing under pressure (ok not the same pressure as a tournament, but as close as you can get) and they help you build confidence.

As yo complete skills tests you are building skill. You are teaching your brain to react to a target. You are practicing coordinating your muscles and you are practicing striking a golf ball (but doing so whilst focused and under pressure).

And you are building skill through skills testing without tying yourself up in knots through a shift in technique. On that note, back to Golf Tough:

Let me be very clear. I am not saying that technique is irrelevant. I am not suggesting that technical excellence isn’t the mainstay of champion golfers. Having a repeatable motion is important, and this is why the next chapter is dedicated to the psychology of developing your swing and stroke technique. I am not anti-technique. Refuting its importance would be like denying the presence of the sun and moon and sky.

What I am arguing is that to be the very best golfer you can be, you need to practice in a manner that helps you improve your golf skill and not just your swing and stroke technique. You need to be able to package your technique so that you can transfer it onto the first tee under competition pressure. You need to practice in a manner that focuses your mind and builds confidence. These are essential acquisitions as you work towards being Golf Tough.

To build golf skill it is important to work on good technique. But it is not the only form of practice that helps you develop your game. Skills testing is a critical must in your practice log book.