How you look, your score, your last shot, your swing, the trouble – everything but a positive intention for shot you are about to hit has to be shut out for at least that thirty seconds from when it’s your turn to play, to when you put the club back in the bag.
Following the steps of the shot routine keeps you focused on everything that’s going to help you and eliminates anything negative.
Repeat the same routine EVERY time
The routine that I’m about to share with you is the back-bone of any scratch player’s game. If you practice this routine, you’ll build something that repeatable, no matter how much pressure your game is under. Annika Sorenstam said that her routine was 22-24 seconds every time – making every shot feel the same, whether it’s a shot to win a tournament or a shot in a practice round.
What the shot routine will do for you
The shot routine takes you into the concentration zone and gives you confidence through proper preparation. If you’re standing over the ball knowing you’ve done everything you can to execute that shot as best you can, you’re going to swing a lot more confidently and aggressively at the target.
Before a golf shot is NOT the time to have any doubt or negative thoughts. By following the steps of your routine meticulously, you squeeze out time for those counter-productive thoughts which keeps you focused on the positive and in the present moment.
7 Steps To Better Golf Shots
1. Analyze and choose the right shot to play (have a good course strategy)
Ben Hogan said that he only hit about 3-4 shots per round that came off exactly how he visualized them. The rest were good misses. Golf is a game of percentages and misses, and we have to factor that in to every shot. Those who miss best win most. You’ve probably also heard of Dr. Bob Rotella’s book titled “Golf is not a game of perfect”. Point being, we all miss our desired target (most of the time), it really comes down to how good our misses are.
Where is the “Good Miss”?
Ask yourself this question: Where is the most ideal spot for this ball to land? If I miss this target by 10 yards where is the best spot for that to happen?
Determine these spots and make your new target halfway between them.
If we take an example of water being short-right of the green, then clearly is it better to pick a landing spot on the back/left quadrant on the green, giving us the largest margin for error. This sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many good players don’t think about (inevitable) misses and just aim at the pin or center of the fairway. This is an integral part of the thought process of the top players (called a “conservative-aggressive strategy). They are not thinking or swinging any less aggressively, but by allowing for a miss (which even for the tour pros happens 1 in every 3 shots if you look at the Greens In Reg stats), they avoid bigger numbers and save valuable strokes per round.
Once you have decided on your target, find a spot on the horizon in line with it (e.g. tree branch, spot where a tree meets the sky etc). Be very decisive and have it clear in your mind.
Make allowances for your lie.
If you’re in the light rough the ball is going to release more when it hits the green vs being on tight fairway. If you’re in heavier rough the ball isn’t going to fly as far through the air, but will release further when it hits the green.
Assess the wind
Q: What’s the wind doing?
A: Let’s check it. Hold a pinch of grass and let go of them (don’t throw them in the air) to see the wind direction and how strong it is. This is one of those things that will come with experience, but you’ll start to notice winds in terms of “clubs”. E.g. “That wind is going to hurt by one club”, so we’ll take a 4 iron instead of a 5.
2. Visualize that shot (shot shape) and see the ball going to that precise target
Q: How is this shot going to look?
“I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head. It’s like a color movie. First, I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I “see” the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behavior on landing. Then there’s sort of a fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality. Only at the end of this short, private, Hollywood spectacular do I select a club and step up to the ball.”
– Jack Nicklaus, Golf My Way
A: Learning how to visualize is something we can all do. Once you can see the whole shot in your head, the closer you will get to hitting it. See the shape, trajectory and even how it will behave on landing. Try it! If you’ve hit a good shot previously on that particular hole, see that same shot in your mind’s eye. Johnny Miller said that he used to see everything about the shot, even down to the number of bounces the ball would take on the green before it checked up.
Focusing more on the positive outcome, the less you will be thinking about and blocking out the negative one. Golf is a very target oriented game, and learning to focus on this instead of your swing will really help you improve.
3. Feel that shot with a specific number of practice swings
Q: What does the swing feel like that will produce that particular shot?
A: Let’s find out with our practice swings!
These practice swings are not to simply loosen up or practice a swing drill, it’s about rehearsing the shot in your mind. This increases our commitment to it and will also take our mind from anything technical. Actually imagine the ball coming off the club face and flying to the target. This is especially important with the shorter shots where feel and speed are required. Try to make the number of practice swings the same every time.
4. Align – make sure you align correctly to your starting target
Alignment is a cause of poor shots and swing problems even for the best players in the world. It is key that we get something in our routine and make this meticulous. Several things may work for you but my preference (and for most of the top players) is for a spot 6 inches in front of the ball and then aligning the club-face to that.
5. Breathe – a deep breath can get rid of any tension/nerves and improve focus
This is the time for the sub-conscious mind to take over. The logical/analytical mind has done its job. We are as prepared as we can be.
Take a deep (full) breath in through your nostrils and slowly exhale through your mouth. When you have fully exhaled, then (and only then) approach the ball. This will ease the tension in your body and allow you to feel your center (abdomen) and improve your balance.
If any negative thoughts creep in at any time, START YOUR ROUTINE OVER.
You are now centered over the ball and can be completely confident that you have done all you can to ensure a good execution.
6. Have a “go” trigger
This could be a waggle, glances at the target, a verbal cue like saying “commit” in your head, whatever it is you need to do to say “I’m ready for action!”
This is not the time to hesitate or create time for our positive work to be undone, so I like to make this part fairly quick. You can try something like “Align, Look, Go”! This can also be thought of as “ready, set, go!” or “aim and fire”. You are ready to swing aggressively.
7. Control your reaction with a post-shot routine
Bob Rotella said “It’s not what happens to golfers, but how they choose to respond to what happens, that distinguishes champions.” How we choose to react (and you do have a choice) plays a big part in how we perform.
Choose to react indifferently to bad shots and always try to take a positive.
This might sound like a lot to remember at first, but with practice The Shot Routine will become second nature. Perfecting it and choosing process over results will do so much more for your game than thinking about how well you are playing.
Thanks for reading. Look out for lesson 2 coming to your inbox shortly!