Real swing not the same as practice swing

My experience (and I see the same with my high handicap friends) is that good practice swing sometimes do not lead to good actual shots. Any ideas on how do you ensure that smooth and confident good practice swings translate into well executed real shots?

Take smooth and confident swings!

Don’t overthink it when you get over the ball. Get up, get aligned, and swing. No need to stand there for too long and keep checking your alignment or looking at the hole. Get up and go

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Here’s the dilemma, there’s nothing you can do to ensure that your practice swing translates to your real swing. However, I’m a big proponent of having a very precise (and short) pre-shot routine that gets your body in an “automated zone.” That’s your best chance of quieting down your mind and allowing your body to make the swing it knows how to. Sometimes, our brain just gets in the way. But this is one of the biggest problems for golfers at any level.

If there is a technical problem, it’s best to take some lessons, and perhaps have a playing lesson where your teacher can see what you’re actually doing. Sometimes, what you think is occurring and what’s actually occurring are two different things, and some adjustments need to be made.


This is my #1 problem. I recently summarised for someone as like the tips at the top of my backswing.

  • Practice swings - absolutely perfect. I look like a slightly shorter and older Rory McIroy. My flexibility in my 51st year is still pretty good.

  • Put me in front of a ball* - I sense something at the top of the backswing, a feeling, where my body won’t do what I’ve just practised and I come over the top. I detect something I can only describe as a blockage in my brain and my arms fire first and my body won’t rotate. Sometimes I can get my body to rotate AFTER impact if I REALLY concentrate?!

I have a pre-shot routine and I’m working my way through different ways to distract my conscious mind during a shot. I’ve tried counting, singing, humming along to a track I played in the car pre-round, saying a phrase. I use David McKenzies Golf State of Mind mental scorecard to remind me my process goals per shot type. Sometimes it works for part of a round but rarely the whole round.

My wife despairs at my obsession with improving!


The big difference between the practice swing and the actual shot is the ball. I know that sounds obvious, but when you make your practice swing you don’t care about where the club face is pointing nor the path it’s on. When you put a ball down, you do care where the club face is. Subconsciously you know if you make your practice swing you’ll either miss the ball completely or hit it so far wide of where you want to you’ll be shocked.

If you’re feeling brave and have a trusting friend, set up video from down the line. Set up to it, close your eyes and have your friend either leave the ball there (20% of the time) or move it away (80% of the time) and once he says go just swing (eyes still closed). Do that a few times and watch the video. Either you’ll learn that you should just make your practice swing or you’ll understand why you don’t.

Bottom line is if you want your actual swing to look like your practice swing you have to learn how to swing well enough for that to happen.


JohnM you’re someone I can completely sympathize with! I tend to become more “armsy” during my real swing vs. my practice. I’ve tried similar things like counting, singing, etc. to have consistent tempo between the practice and real swing. I haven’t found anything that works consistently yet.

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A few things

  1. many people make good “feeling” practice swings, that are actually non-functional. For example, when a player lays the shaft down nicely, swings from the inside more than their normal over-the-top move and releases like a pro, it might look and feel great. But if you were to astutely look at the face at impact, it would send the ball 45 degrees right.

The unconscious then overrides this during the actual swing. P.s. this is only an example, not applicable to all. It’s just to say that in many cases, a nice feeling swing is often non-functional, and players revert back to old habits to increase function (albeit in a mixed-bag-of-errors way).

  1. If it is genuinely a good swing that is not translating, it is often a “locus of attention” shift.

Our brains encode movement patterns with where our attention was. If, for example, you make a beautiful practice swing focusing on the movement and THEN switch your focus to the target/result during execution, your brain will fire the motor pattern that has been encoded with that focus - I.E your old pattern. More info in THIS LINK here

When I’m making a change with a player, I use certain tactics, like scaling, precise feedback etc. to direct a player’s attention more.

  1. If a player doesnt have great control over their attention, we can use “constraints” to train the unconscious.

For example, if a player is suffering with fat shots, rather than hit off a range mat, where the margin for error is bigger, we will move to a fairway bunker (MOE is much smaller). As long as the player has a couple of cues to enact a change in this, the “constrained” environment will keep a player’s focus better during the shot and/or simply train them on an unconscious level more.

There are loads of examples of constraint’s led tasks, from using clubs with different lie angles, placing objects in the way, environmental changes, rule-based games etc.


Adam, thanks for the tip about considering the same “locus of attention” during my real swing as during my practice swing. Of course, this assumes my practice swing is actually good.
You, Jon and Ty bring up a good point about confirming my practice swing is sound. It’s been awhile since I’ve consulted a golf pro so it may be time to have a seasoned eye look at my swing.

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The big guns are here!

As others have mentioned, the big difference between a practice swing and a real swing is the ball. I have a simple solution to this personally, not look at the ball! (Or at least the ball isn’t my focus point). I try to focus on a spot in front of the “ball” whether or not there is a ball there (practice or real swing). Also, unless there is something strange about the lie, I don’t take a practice swing (maybe that’s my even weirder thing). It’s not perfect system, but these things along with using a consistent routine seems to help me.


I’ll give it a try. Thanks.

This worked well for me, I look at a spot about 6 inches in front of the ball, and it helps me with clean contact.


That’s what I do now too. Stops from focusing or worrying about the ball.

The guys game like training have some really good stuff on their instagram and YouTube channel. They do the exact thing with removing the ball in the middle of the back swing l. Some really good content from them and they made a really good practice book backed up with 10 years of scientific data.

Thanks everyone for sharing your tips. I tried focusing in front of the ball on Saturday with uneven results, about 1/2 the time I struck the ball well and the other half I was topping or chunking the ball. Then on Sunday, while I was warming up on the range before my round, I realized that I was subconsciously gripping the club tighter for my swings where I was trying harder to hit at target greens with flags and that this tension was affecting my transition to the downswing. So I softened my grip to the lowest possible strength to hold onto the club before starting my backswing and magically started hitting the ball solidly. Grip tension was my killer!


One issue I had was that while all my practice swings looked really nice, my clubface was wide open where I’d normally be contacting the ball. If I actually hit balls like that I’d be in the right trees all day long. My body instead subconsciously made these ugly looking motions - but they were in fact necessary compensations.

I have found I can usually match my practice swing when I focus on the back of the ball until my club hits it.
When I stop looking at the ball, I tend to straighten up a bit and my swing is way off.

Hi JohnM,

Almost a half year later, did you find something what helped you? Very curious…

Gr, Marc

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I am a huge proponent of practice makes “perfect”. I totally agree with Adamyounggolf. 1) you need to find a place to practice where you can make your MOE as small as you can get it. 2) focus would be on one club, one swing at a time. meaning, practice is NOT hitting 5 shots with this club, 10 shots with another club and so on. Try hitting 200-300 balls with say a five iron. One drill my I used and my teacher used was to line up like 30 balls in a pattern and just rapid fire your swing, bang, bang, bang. Look, you are still going to hit bad shots, Bryson hit a topper last week for goodness sakes. See he doesn’t even let that creep into his mind because his swing is so automatic, that’s not what good players think about, if they even think at all. Align, preshot, another quick alignment check, and pull the trigger. The trick is to make yourself automatic, when you find your swing, that you can hit the ball where you want it to go achieving your desired results, make that repetitive. Ya know, if you can hit a 15-20 yard cut or slice everytime and execute that everytime…what’s wrong with that, Trevino made helluva a living doing that.

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What I think I need to do is to practise off the course well to ingrain the foundations of a good swing (Adam Young’s book “The Practice Manual” is a great reference) and a consistent pre-shot routine to make full swing shots more automatic. What is also important is to understand the laws of ball flight and how to make adjustments on the course when things don’t go as expected (or desired).