Pre-shot Routine

The Optimal Pre-shot Routine

Follow these steps in your pre-shot routine to increase your chances of success for every shot you hit.

Step 1: Switch On Your Golf Brain

You’ll need to make the transition from broad focus (in between shots) to narrow focus during shots. Whatever conversations or thoughts you were having in between shots need to be put aside and all your attention must go to the shot at hand. You can do this with a trigger.

Step 2: The Planning Phase

The Planning Phase is where your thinking about the shot is done. It’s important that it’s done here and not over the ball, where your mind will need to be quiet. The purpose of the thinking phase is to pick the optimal shot given:

  • The challenge ahead of you (the golf course layout and weather conditions)
  • The risk reward of each possible option and your confidence level in each

Thinking phase questions:

  • “Where is the good and bad miss?”
  • “What is the lie like and what’s the wind doing?”
  • “What are the options available to me?”
  • “Which is the shot/target with the greatest reward that I feel at least 75% confident I can execute?”

Once you feel confident about your type of shot, you need to prime your body and mind to execute it.

Step 3: The Rehearsal Phase

The next step in your Pre-Shot Routine is the Rehearsal Phase. This is where the shot switches over from left brain activation (logical, thinking) to right brain activation (creative, sensations). Your swing will benefit from your brain knowing what the sensations of the shot are going to be. This will “prime” your subconscious to making a similar movement during your shot.

Instead of getting technical and thinking about what you need to do during your swing, let your intention for the shot create the swing.

From my experience, different people create this intention in different ways and it’s usually a combination of the following:

  • Focusing in on a very small (or wider) target
  • Seeing an intermediary and final target to create the shot shape
  • Seeing the ball flight like a movie or using a colored “shot tracer” line
  • Imagining the sound, rhythm and tempo of the shot
  • Verbalizing what they want the ball to do

This is what your brain will remember a few seconds later when it moves your body to play the shot.

At the end of this phase, you’ll feel confident that you’ve picked the best possible shot, rehearsed it and be 100% committed to it. Now you have to stay focused and connected with it until you start your swing, in the “Engagement Phase”.

Step 4: The Engagement phase

The Engagement Phase is the time from when you start your walk into the ball to when you start your back-swing (or from when you put the club or putter behind the ball for a chip or putt). The purpose of this phase is to:

  • Quiet your mind
  • Keep distractions out
  • Stay focused and connected with the target
  • Be athletic
  • Be confident

Like with every part of the performance process, this is something that you need to have a plan for and practice.
The studies that have been done on the minds of the top athletes whilst they are performing, show that certain changes occur in the brain. The optimal performance state is called playing golf in The Zone or “Flow State”. During “Flow”, where the athlete is just doing and not thinking, brain wave frequencies change from high frequency “beta” waves to lower frequency “alpha” waves. When these brain waves are being transmitted, you’re present, alert and creative and your movement is athletic. The optimal state for performing any task is where there is zero interference from the thinking or analytical brain, instead there is only doing or being – your mind is empty and you are immersed in the activity.

Once you are in the engagement phase of the shot routine, thinking isn’t needed, it’s interference and noise.
Although, you can’t intentionally try to get into the flow state, much of the material covered in my mental game training program is to help you develop the skills that make a quiet, confident and focused mind more frequently achievable when you are over the ball. With practice, it gets easier and easier to be in control of your attention, eliminate distractions (negative thoughts) and stay connected with your intention as you start to make your swing.

Using techniques such as breathing, self-talk (words can create emotions), body language and tension control, while staying focused on your target, can help you create the optimal conditions for Flow and your best swing.

The steps of your Pre-Shot Routine will become mini goals for your rounds and a key performance indicator. Experiment and practice your routine, not just when you are on the course – we should be training our attention (and our mental game) as much as we train our golf swings. You can score yourself on it using the mental game scorecard available for download below.

Get your FREE Mental Game Scorecard

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.

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