Why the pre-shot routine is vital
When you step onto the first tee of the golf course, your physical skills are what they are. How well you access your best skills, is largely down to the quality of your golf pre-shot routine. How you feel and what you focus on before and during every shot will have a big effect on your execution.
All the greats of the game have a golf pre-shot routine that works just for them.
They may all look different, but include the important elements that gets the player ready to execute the shot.
In this article, we’re going to unpack the pre-shot routine in golf and determine the steps that you need to take to maximize your chances of a good outcome.
Step 1: The Thinking Phase of the Pre-Shot Routine
This step should be the same for all players. The key questions to ask yourself here are:
What is my target?
This one sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many players just aim for the middle of the fairway or the pin, without much thought. The thinking phase of the golf pre-shot routine is all about your course strategy and picking the right target and shot for that unique situation.
Where is the trouble?
If there’s out of bounds or water left, then clearly you’ll want a target or shot shape that is going to take the left of the hole out of play.
What is the lie like and what’s the wind doing?
Is the ball above or below your feet? On an uphill or downhill? Is the ball sitting down or on a clean, tight lie? What is the wind doing? All these factors will influence your shot selection and target.
Where is the fat part of the green?
If you aim towards that, there’s less chance of being short-sided.
How confident do I feel about the shot?
Is it a red, amber or green light shot? Sometimes you just feel more confident in your game and during those moments or rounds, you will have more “green light” shots, where you can be a little more aggressive and take on more risk.
If you don’t feel confident or comfortable with the shot, it could be a “red light” shot and you’ll need a more conservative target and more comfortable shot.
Answer all these questions and you will have your optimal target, shape and trajectory.
watch the video below where david mackenzie demonstrates how to improve your focus in golf:
Step 2: The Rehearsal Phase of the Pre-Shot Routine
How we engage with a shot in the moments before hitting it can make a big difference in the execution. After you’ve analyzed the situation during the Thinking Phase of your golf pre-shot routine, your attention should shift to what the sensations of that shot will be and getting those “pre-shot routine feels” into your subconscious mind, which is ultimately controlling your swing. Players rehearse and connect with shots in different ways. What’s your pre-shot routine “Feel”?
There are no rules around what your best pre-shot routine “feel” should be. Each of us are wired slightly differently - some more left brain (logical/analytical), some more right brain (artistic/visual), and some of us are somewhere in between.
With practice and experimentation of your pre-shot routine in golf as part of your mental golf training, you will find out which of these “feels”, helps you the most (or it could be a combination).
I should also say here that I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t think of technical aspects of the swing during your rehearsals, personally I like to feel a good shoulder turn, but I make at least 2 swings connecting with my pre-shot routine “Feel”.
Types of Pre Shot Routine “Feels”
If you’re more kinesthetic, that is you connect with a shot by feel, you might want to imagine what the sensation will be like in your hands when you play the shot for real. Tiger Woods says that after he’s decided on the shot he’s going to hit, he feels the shot with his hands during his rehearsal swings.
If you’re more visual, you’ll want to visualize the ball flight and/or your swing. Jack Nicklaus used to say that he saw a color movie of every shot before he played it.
If you’re more auditory, you should try imagining the rhythm and tempo of the shot. Fred Couples used to say his pre-shot routine feel was predominantly rhythm and tempo.
If you’re more verbal, you might want to describe the shot to yourself and the swing you want to make.
Some combination of the above
Step 3: Your walk into the ball
Few players think about this. How do you want to feel as you walk into the ball? Confident, committed, calm? Some players smile as they walk into the ball. The act of smiling in itself can make you feel good. Notice your body language as you walk in, if confidence is what you’re looking for, then walk in confidently!
In additional to this, take note of the tour pro’s next time you watch them on television or at a tournament.
Notice when they’re playing well, they stride confidently with their back straight and almost with a spring in their step. It’s often called the golf swagger!
Conversely, golfers not playing well have a slower walk with hunched over posture exhibiting their poor state of play.
Step 4: Focus Before and During The Swing
The idea of having a pre-shot feel is that you trust the power of your subconscious mind to make your swing. In other words, you don’t have multiple swing thoughts before and during your swing, which inhibits free-flowing movement. This is the key in every successful golf pre-shot routine.
Switching On The “Athletic Mind”
Golf is a harder game than most because there is so much time to think. If you’re over the ball and reminding yourself of all those things you’ve been practicing or all those things that could go wrong, you’ll likely experience “paralysis by analysis” which makes athletic movement and timing more restricted.
To access your best swing, you’ll need to have your “Athletic Mind” engaged, in those few seconds before and during the swing.
Consider other sports such as soccer, basketball and football, where everything happens quickly during the game - there’s no time to think, you just react - which makes athletic movement more fluid.
Your mind is quiet and you trust your instincts.
This is what we have to simulate in the pre-shot routine in golf.
Being in “Mushin” over the ball
Once you have you’ve committed to your shot and rehearsed it, the focus has to move towards your senses and engagement with the target.
There’s a brain wave measurement device call “Focus Band”, which shows that elite golfers have a very low brain wave frequency while they are over the ball compared to an average golfer, whose brain waves are higher frequency, because they are thinking too much.
The focus band app trains a player to access what they call the “Mushin” state more often, which is a Japanese martial arts term to describe, total awareness and no thinking.
The result is better access to fluid motion.
Simple swing thoughts
For some players simple swing thoughts can help keep an overactive conscious mind occupied, so the subconscious mind can make the swing.
Focusing on things such as: balance, the pressure in your feet, full shoulder turn, tempo, a dimple on the ball etc, can help access better athletic movement.
Find out if it helps you to have a swing thought, and if so, experiment with it during practice.
Step 5: Practicing the pre shot routine
You don’t necessarily need a FocusBand to train yourself to access “mushin” more often, you can do by simply practicing your golf pre-shot routine and noticing what you are focusing on. Most golfers underestimate the power of the pre-shot routine and only do it when they are on the golf course.
With better, more simulated practice with challenges and performance drills, the pre-shot routine in golf should be trained, so it becomes a habit on the course.
Make it a part of your golf improvement strategy, and better results in the form of lower scores will follow.
start your golf pre-shot routine today
Work though these 5 steps and I’m convinced you’ll build a bullet-proof golf pre-shot routine, which will take your game to higher levels in competition.
You’ve spent the time practicing the technical side of the golf swing, now it’s time to power up your mental golf game.
These steps could be the difference between you breaking 100, 90, 80 and beyond!
about the author
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.
See more of his effective mental golf game strategies at his blog Golf State of Mind and get your free 15-minute mental game consultation.
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