Rob McGarr is trying to get from a handicap of 10, which he's been stuck on for a while, to scratch.
I should be off single figures now.
In a competition at the weekend, I shot 37 on the front nine. If I’d matched that on the back nine, I’d have been cut to 8.7. Even if I’d just shot level to my handicap on the back nine, I’d have been cut to 9.3.
As much as I tried to block these thoughts out of my mind and take it one shot at a time, I was acutely aware of what I needed to do. As a result, I tightened up, my short game deserted me and I shot 43 on the back nine. That meant I only got cut 0.2, leaving me with a handicap of 10.1.
I’m understandably disappointed, but after last week's level par back nine, I’m encouraged by another nine holes that show I’m fully capable of shooting well below my handicap. I just need to put two decent nines together and I’ll be safely into single figures.
Single figures is one thing, and I’m sure it’s infinitely achievable in the short-term, but my journey is to scratch. I’m under no illusions: I won’t get to scratch in a couple of months. I won’t get to scratch by having a few lessons and playing a few comps.
I’ve always been willing to practise. Before starting this process, I would typically go to the range once or twice a week (excluding pre-round warm-up sessions), do one short game session and look at my setup and swing in a mirror every so often.
It’s more than most people I know. But it’s not enough.
From what my coach Mark has already taught me in our short time working together, I know that I could have practised eight hours a day doing what I was doing before and not got to scratch.
When it comes to trying to get better, golf isn’t like most sports. Once you learn to run, cycle or swim, you can get better simply by doing it. Admittedly, there are ways to optimise your training time and performance, but there is a direct correlation between the amount of time you spend practising and your level of ability. Run more and you get better at running. It’s simple. It’s rewarding.
Golf isn’t like that. If you’re not working on the right things, all the practise in the world won’t make you a fantastic golfer. In all likelihood, if you’re practising the wrong things, you’ll actually get worse.
That’s why people get sick of practising. If your score was guaranteed to drop by a shot every time you went to the range, there’d be a queue ten-deep for every bay. But most of us practise without ever really feeling like we’re getting any better. It’s because we’re not.
“I see it all the time,” Mark says. “People come to the range with a bucket of balls and no clear idea of what they’re trying to achieve. They start off hitting it alright, then they change something and hit it all over the place for the next 40 minutes. Then, near the end, they get a hold of it and start hitting it well for the last five or ten balls. They go away thinking, ‘Thank god I got that sorted. I’m hitting it well now.’ But they haven’t actually made any progress. They’ll do that again the next time, and the next time, and they won’t actually be getting any better.”
It rings true with my experience. In the past, I’ve come away from range sessions excited about my game, thinking I’d found the secret. I couldn’t wait until my next round, fully expecting to shoot the lights out. It didn’t happen, of course. Because I hadn’t really ‘found it’. I hadn’t actually made a step forward to being a better golfer.
But, if you have the right coach on your side, so you are working on the right things when you practise, how much time do you need to put in to improve?
“Getting to scratch takes work,” says Mark. “You need to be putting in three to four hours a day. Maybe an hour on the range, more on the chipping green, time working on your putting, time playing, and time working at home on your grip, posture, alignment and turn.”
He’s right, of course. The lessons are definitely helping, but I need to put putting in the time between them.
Dr. Bob Rotella agrees. “To be honest, I have never met anyone who got to scratch by playing Saturdays and Sundays and practising for a couple of hours a week,” he says, in his book The Golf Of Your Dreams, my latest purchase after being so impressed by Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect. “Players who get to scratch spend more time than that. They find an hour to practice or play virtually every day. Most people, if they really want to, can find that hour somewhere in their schedule, even if it means getting out to the course for practise at dawn, or giving up a favourite TV show or the evening news.”
If you are off scratch, or have been in the past, I’d love to hear about how much time you put into getting there. Please let me know on Twitter. I’m @robmcgarr.
“If at present you can’t spare that much time, you ought to scale down your expectations until you can. If you can only find three or four days a week to practise or play, you might want to think in terms of getting down to the four to seven handicap range. If you can only find two or three days a week, the best you might be able to do is around ten.”
I’ve always done two to three days a week, and I’m bang-on ten. Bob Rotella really does know his stuff.
The thing is... I don’t want to scale down my expectations.
I’ve made it my mission to get to scratch, and I plan to do whatever it takes to get there.
If that means dedicating far more time than ever before to practising, then that’s what I’ll do.
It won’t be without sacrifice. More time working on my golf will mean less time to work, which means less money. I need to work out exactly how much time I can dedicate to my pursuit of improvement.
But I am serious about this challenge. Succeed or fail, I need to know that I have given it my all. It’s time to go to work.