Yesterday I joined in a golf discussion on the Internet. Someone had asked this group of golf aficionados their advice on how to break 75. Predictably, all the comments suggested practicing the short game. Someone actually told him to reduce his putts, as if the guy who asked the question wasn't already trying to get the ball in the hole while he putted.
Here's what I wrote:
"I respectfully disagree with all the esteemed gentlemen who have commented above. In my opinion, you could practice putts, short game, and bunker play from now until the cows come home and it won't make all that much difference. In order to score in the high 70s like you are, you've pretty much mastered all the mechanics of the game. The reason you are leaving strokes on the course is simple and that reason is found between your ears. There are specific thoughts that you (and every other golfer in the known universe) are having during your golf swing that are keeping you from scoring better. Once you learn how to 'sidestep' those thoughts (and it's easy to learn how), your game will instantly make the quantum leap you so desire."
Almost every athlete practices as if he is making deposits into the Muscle Memory Bank. In other words, if he practices his backhand one hundred times, he will have deposited 100 backhands into his account at the Muscle Memory Bank. Then, in competition, when he needs a crisp backhand down the line, he simply tells the teller at the bank that he'd like to withdraw one of the backhands he deposited.
Needless to say, it doesn't work that way. All the practice in the world can fail you in competition. One classic example is Phil Mickelson's drive on the last hole of the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot Golf Club where he sliced the ball so severely it flew over the crowd and hit a tent over the refreshment area.
Perhaps he didn't practice enough, you say.
But that turns out not to be true. For weeks before the US Open, Mickelson practiced that hole over and over. He practiced it more times than all the other players in the tournament combined. In other words, Mickelson tried to deposit hundreds of gorgeous drives into his account at the Muscle Memory Bank so he could withdraw the perfect one and apply it to that final hole.
I guess the teller must have told him at that crucial time, "I'm sorry, Mr. Mickelson, our computers are down and we can't access your account at this time."
In my analysis, Mickelson must have had some "wrong" thought during his swing that disrupted his mind-body coordination, hence the atrocious slice.
It is vital that all athletes understand that the brain functions differently in competition than it does during practice. And if the brain is functioning differently, the body will necessarily function differently. Knowing exactly how the brain functions in competition is the missing element in the theory of muscle memory and why merely practicing strokes over and over will never improve your game in competition all that much.