Coach: “Do you have a repeatable pre shot routine?”
Student: “sometimes, but it’s not always the same.”
This week, a student of mine (a very good player who is capable of becoming a scratch handicap) asked me what he should be thinking about before every shot. “Do you have a repeatable pre shot routine?”, I asked. The answer, which could come from most golfers, was “sometimes, but it’s not always the same”. This is the first step in improving your mental game of golf. Going through the steps of a good routine, will have an enormous effect on your confidence and will (in addition to getting you well prepared) distract you from negative thinking. Although some routines work better for some than others, from my work with Tour pros, these steps are the fundamentals.
Annika Sorenstam says that her routine was 24 seconds every time. Making it that meticulous is key to making your focus as positive as it can be. Watch the world’s best players and they all have a strong routine, which follows this basic outline…
1. Analysis: The Thinking Phase of The Pre Shot Routine
Q: 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? Make your intended target half way between the ideal spot and the good miss.
A: Determine the good miss and pick a good target for a shot you feel comfortable with.
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 misses. He who misses best wins.” – Ben Hogan
You’ve probably also heard of Dr. Bob Rotella’s book titled “Golf is not a game of perfect”. A good round comes down to how good your misses are.
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 zone in on a very small target.
Other factors like wind and lie will come into your decision making and club selection.
2. Visualization In The Pre Shot Routine
Q: How is this shot going to look?
A: If you can visualize like Jack Nicklaus did, you will see the whole shot in your head during your pre shot routine: the shape, trajectory and even how it will behave on landing. Visualization gets into your subconscious mind, which ultimately controls a fluid swing (if you let it!). The more you can focus on that positive outcome, the less you will be thinking about a negative one and the better your swing will be. This is the time to start really zoning in on that intended target. Golf is a very target oriented game, and this is where almost all your effort should be placed.
3. Physical Rehearsal
Q: What does the swing feel like that will produce that particular shot?
A: Let’s find out with our rehearsal 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.
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.
4. The Trust Phase Of The Pre Shot Routine
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. The thinking phase of the pre shot routine is over and your now in “play” mode.
Take a few deep (full) breath in through your nostrils and slowly exhale through your mouth or nostrils. 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 over. At this point we can introduce a trigger such as a verbal one like “Commit” depending on what works.
You are now centered over the ball and can be completely confident that you have done all you can to ensure a good execution. 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” ( If you have a waggle we can put that in there too) meaning you align to your spot, take another look at the target and then “go!”. This can also be thought of as “ready, set, go!” or “aim and fire”. No more thinking is necessary. Ideally you will have no swing thoughts, unless tempo related.
5. 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.” Whether we react negatively or respond positively (and you do have a choice) is what the end of the routine, or Post Shot Routine, is all about.
If you are unhappy with it we are going to respond with something like “that’s interesting” and quickly move your mind onto something else (find something suitable for you such as one of your other interests outside of golf). Either way, good or bad, we are going to be clearing the mind very shortly after the shot and enjoying everything else the game has to offer (playing partners, beautiful surroundings, the sky etc).
This might sound like a lot to remember at first, but with practice it will become second nature. Getting the pre-shot routine right will do so much more for your game than thinking about your score or any possible negative outcomes. It’s going to require effort and increased concentration but you will become more process focused, instead of outcome focused which will massively improve the consistency of your execution.
Photo by Tour Pro Golf Clubs