Pre-shot Routine

Mental Game Tip: Do You Have a “Go Trigger”? If not, here’s why you need one

Your pre-shot routine is crucial in hitting the shot as best you can.

One key part of a good pre-shot routine is starting the swing smoothly, which can be facilitated by a pre-shot routine trigger.

You want to keep positive momentum right up to your take-away. You don’t want to start having doubt over the ball or any technical thoughts. A swing or pre-shot routine trigger makes sure there’s no time for any negativity and tells you that you’re READY to give the shot one of your best swings.

Here are some of the “go triggers” used by the world’s best players. There is no correct pre-shot routine trigger – – some of us are more visual, some more kinesthetic (movement), some more verbal and some auditory (hearing). Here are a few ideas for you to try and see what works best for you.

A Physical Pre-shot Routine Trigger (movement) during the pre-shot routine

A waggle:

A waggle can set the tempo in your golf swing and can work to give you a running start instead of starting from a static position. Watch the tour players at the weekend and many of them will waggle the club during their pre-shot routine. This is not for show, it’s telling themselves they’re in ready mode, sets the tempo of the swing and eases tension in their hands. You could try to make the number of waggles the same every time, so every shot feels the same no matter what the situation.

A lot of players have a unique body movement which initiates the back-swing.

  • Sam Snead cocked his head to the left to start his swing, which was later copied by Jack Nicklaus
  • Tom Kite and Nick Faldo, bend their knees slightly before taking the club back
  • Gary Player kicks in his right knee
  • Mark Calcavecchia shuffles his feet
  • Greg Norman sets the toe at the ball and slides the club forward so the sweet spot’s behind the ball.
  • Harvey Penick told us in his “Little Red Book” that the back-swing should be started with a gentle forward press of the hands.

Some players make breathing their pre-shot routine trigger by taking a set number of deep breaths while looking at the target.

Verbal Triggers during the pre-shot routine

You might want to start your back-swing with a verbal trigger. This means you say something to yourself that gives you the feeling of confidence.

Some ideas are:


Super Solid


Jerry Kelly says to himself “I am 13” before every shot – his old Hockey jersey number.

You could also try counting e.g. “1-2-3” and going on “3”.

Pick your own special word.

Visual Triggers

You probably heard about Louis Oosthuizen and the “Red Dot”. This is exactly what the Red Dot was – a “go trigger”. It was somewhere to focus his mind shortly before swinging that told him he’s done everything he can to hit the shot well, and just let it go.

Try focusing on the number of looks at the target and ball you make. This could go something like Target, Ball, Target, Ball, Swing. I watch a lot of pre-shot routines of the PGA Tour players and something I notice is their pre-shot routine is EXACTLY the same each time even down to the number of looks at the target.

Another idea is to read the brand name on your golf ball. If you’re playing Titleist, you could spell the letters out and go on a specific letter. E.g. T-I-T-L and go on “L”. This can occupy your conscious mind, so it doesn’t wander onto anything negative.

Give some of these a go during your pre-shot routine and find what works for you. The important thing here is to keep your mind focused on the process of hitting good shots (right up to the back-swing), not the results.

Let me know how it goes with a comment below!

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David MacKenzie

is a mental golf coach and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind, a teaching program designed to help golfers condition their minds to overcome fear and play with confidence.

This Post Has 3 Comments

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    Troy Vayanos

    Great post David,

    I always remember seeing a lot of those great players initiate these little movements before they start their golf swings. It’s good to now put it all in perspective.


  2. Avatar photo
    David MacKenzie

    Thanks for commenting Troy. Yeah – it’s not for show, the top players will be doing the same thing before each shot to give them a sense of comfort, confidence and readiness. What’s the last thing you think about/do?

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    Mark Bentley

    I promote an out breath as a trigger to go. It’s a physical action which in my opinion is better than a thought process. It’s simple & effective. Give it a try & let me know your feedback…..

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