If you have been playing golf for any length of time, you have probably heard the term ‘pre-shot routine’ being spouted by pretty much every golfing expert out there.
So in this article I want to do a bit of spouting. I explore the importance of having a great pre-shot routine and delve a little further as to why the term ‘pre shot routine’ is a little misleading.
What is a pre-shot routine?
A pre-shot routine is a consistent sequence of thoughts/actions/feelings implemented before, during and AFTER you have hit each shot. An awesome routine allows you to focus on the correct things at the correct times and is absolutely imperative for you to play consistent golf.
Why a pre-shot routine is so important?
#1. A great pre-shot routine keeps you in the present.
A lot of Golfers tend to have this chronic problem of thinking about past failures or future events which may or may not happen. Thinking about past failures will only flood your mind with doubt, anxiety and tension.
Tension being the number one cause for poor play.
Thinking about the future puts the brain in a state of uncertainty, the future is something we have limited control over, so this uncertainty leads to anxiety and more tension.
The only thing you can be certain of, are your processes within your pre-shot routine. These are 100% in your control and because of that, your brain likes it there. This is why a great pre-shot routine will reduce a lot of tension.
#2. A great pre-shot routine keeps your fundamentals in order.
It ensures your posture, alignment, grip etc are consistent every time. You probably don’t need me to tell you that inconsistent fundamentals will lead to inconsistent results.
Firstly, focusing on your fundamentals should be part of every practice session. They are not something you can just get right and leave alone.
#3. A great pre-shot routine instills confidence, quietens the mind and allows you to commit to every shot.
Without a quiet mind and 100% commitment on what you are trying to achieve, there is very little chance of you actually hitting the shot you intend to.
#4. A great pre-shot routine allows you to think clearly prior to the execution stage.
You will consistently be able to pick the right shot and have a crystal clear knowledge of your target. This is the phase before you enter the ‘quiet zone’. This part of the routine should be very analytical…
STAGE 1: ANALYTICAL FOCUS
– What is the wind doing?
– How will the lie affect my ball?
– What is the yardage?
– What is a good miss?
– What shape do I want to hit?
During this part of your routine you should be asking all of the above (and more) to gauge your specific target and what type of shot you want to play… This is the only part of the pre-shot routine that you fully engage your analytical mind.
STAGE 2: IMAGINATION
Then once you have the perfect play – It’s imagery time.
This next part of your routine is where all the analyzing finishes and your imagination takes over….
You are visualizing the intended shot – you see the ball flying into air, you watch it begin to arc at the top of its flight, you envisage the ball plummeting towards the pin and one skip forward, a bit of bite and the ball drops straight in the hole..
The crowd go wild…
STAGE 3: REHEARSAL
Once you have vividly experienced your perfect result…
Its then rehearsal mode.
I like to take a couple of practice swings to feel the result I have imagined whilst keeping my focus external.
External Focus – Focusing on the path of your swing.
Internal Focus – ‘Make sure I turn my shoulders on the backswing’
Why Focus Externally?
A lot of research over the years has been carried out regarding whether internal or external thinking is better for your performance. Notably by Professor Gabrielle Wolf, who concludes (along with others), that thinking internally restricts your motor system and your subconscious control.
If you think of it like this….
When you think ‘turn your shoulders’ your mind is mainly focused on that part of the movement.
And has less focus on things like:
– Swing path
(the most important things)
The golf swing is made up of many movements, so when you switch your thinking externally (like the target) your sub-conscious mind simply syncs these movements together to achieve the result you want.
So, In this part of the routine, I watch my club path. If I’m trying to hit a little draw, I will feel the path coming from the inside, a fade – the outside.
This allows my mind to sync up the movements required to accomplish this external result. (Inside or outside swing path)
Once you have felt the perfect swing, It’s time to turn into zombie mood or target mode (whatever works best).
STAGE 4: SETUP
As you walk into the ball you will engage your conscious mind a little with your posture, alignment, grip etc. Once ingrained in your practice sessions, this will take minimal conscious thought and will still allow your subconscious mind to ‘do its thing’.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of alignment…if this is not consistent, forget about consistent results.
There are many ways to align yourself. I like to pick a spot a small object (leaf, grass, broken tee) a few feet in front of the ball which is on the same line as my target and aim my club-face at that. I have found that aiming at something only a few feet away is easier than something 200 yards in the distance.
STAGE 5: TARGET
Now you are setup over the ball and any thought of ‘hinge my wrists’ or ‘Don’t hit it into the water’ should be completely non-existent at this stage.
If thoughts like these do occur at any point, start the whole process again.
The quieter your mind, the better, and your only real thought should be the target . Some golfers like to be completely thought free at this stage. I like to try and picture the target whilst looking at the ball – something Tiger Woods used to do.
You will need to experiment with what works best for you.
If you do have trouble with keeping your mind still during the swing. A simple swing thought will be ok.
– ‘swing it smooth’
– ‘pause at the top’
Simple consistent thoughts like these will still allow your sub-conscious to drive the swing.
I recently learnt from Performance Coach David Mckenzie’s in his Ultimate Mental Guide, that it’s when golfers have interchanging swing thoughts throughout the round, that they become problematic. This engages the conscious mind far too much and you lose fluidity in your golf swing.
Remember the key to playing your best is allowing your sub-conscious mind to take control. Too much conscious thought interrupts this.
Ever heard of the term ‘getting in your own way’?
STAGE 6: ACCEPTANCE
Once you’re fully committed and your mind is clear, it’s time to go.
You swing back confidently, the strike is pure but you look up and the ball doesn’t start plummeting towards the flag like you intended… it actually starts heading towards a huge bush.
One bounce and it disappears into the brambles.
The crowd doesn’t go wild – it’s more of a stunned silence.
How you react now is as important as all the steps before…that’s why the term ‘Pre Shot routine’ is misleading
The Whole Round of Golf is a Routine
How you react in this post shot period has a substantial effect on the rest of your game. Just because the ball is at the bottom of a bush and a double bogey looms, it doesn’t mean you can start shouting every word under the sun and send clubs flying.
Acting in this way will only raise anxiety, tension, negative self talk and lower confidence. All the things you are trying to minimize to play your best golf.
To play your best golf you have to approach the round as one big routine. The word routine may suggest ‘boring’ but once you get into this mode, it will be anything but.
Golf will feel free, golf will feel easier and golf will feel a lot more fun.
If you are getting stressed, obsessing about your score, and your just generally getting het up about golf, then this will completely sap your energy, raise tension and you just won’t be effective at the business end (pre-shot routine).
This is why it is important to have a ‘post shot routine‘.
Once that ball has landed in the bushes, it’s time to accept. Maybe have a quick assessment as to why that happened. You may have got a bit quick from the top or your alignment was a little off.
But once you have quickly figured that out….
It’s acceptance…and golf is out of your head until the next shot.
- Spark up a chat with your playing partners instead of storming up the fairway looking like you’re going to have a fight with your 3 iron.
- Think about something you’re grateful for instead of replaying that last poor shot in your head.
- Look at the wonderful scenery instead of wondering how on earth your playing partner is beating you.
Be this golfer….
Not this one…
Whatever you decide, the time you have between your shots is time for relaxing. Focusing on things other than golf. It’s time to switch off.
The better you can achieve this, the calmer you’ll be, the better you’ll focus on your ‘pre-shot routine’ and the better your results will be.
Having a Trigger
Turning from ‘non golf mode’ to ‘golf mode’ requires a trigger of some sort. A sign to tell you to engage and focus, an alarm to signal that this is the time to do the job at hand.
This could be anything. Some golfers like to pinch their leg, or pull their top. The simple act of putting my glove on works for me.
There is nothing right or wrong about the action you do. As long as it is consistent every time and engages you to focus.
Then vice versa, once the shot is played, you require that same alarm to alert you to switch into chill out mode. Once I have accepted the outcome and taken my glove off, then that’s my signal to switch off.
This All Seems Like Too Much Hard Work
If you currently don’t have any routine at all, then this may seem like a lot to take in and may seem like it’s over complicating things…
It may seem like one huge conscious effort.
If you currently just strut around the course not paying any attention to where your focus is and just hit each shot with no real consistent approach, then this will feel like effort.
I remember when I was ingraining these processes, it felt exhausting at times. I was used to self defeating talk in between shots, analyzing everything and just feeling generally uptight for the entire round. So to suddenly start shifting my thoughts to something more constructive felt alien and a huge conscious effort.
But it’s like any skill you begin to learn. It’s always a conscious strain
Even putting your own socks on would have been exhausting for the brain at one point in time.
So do not feel alarmed that learning how to be mentally awesome on the golf course feels exhausting at first. Once you start putting the work in on your pre-shot routine, your post shot acceptance, and your triggers, it will all start to feel natural and will feel anything but exhausting.
This Requires Practice
The problem with most golfers is not the lack of knowledge about a pre-shot routine but simply the application.
Having a great pre-shot routine requires consistent practice, so include it in your all of your sessions and never hit a shot on the golf course without going through these stages.
Your pre-shot routine doesn’t exactly have to mirror what I have shown here but the core principles should remain.
Have a think – could you do better at this vital part of the game?