Better Golf Can Be A Habit
In my previous post on tournament golf, I mentioned the importance of a pre-shot routine – this is so important I thought it best to write an article on the subject. So here goes.

You will never be a good player if you do not have a rehearsed and consistent pre-shot routine. NEVER !

That’s a pretty bold statement, but if you watch all the best players on TV each week, and even at your club, you will see some repetitiveness to the way they approach each shot. Their routines might be slightly different for drives, iron shots, pitches, chips and putts, but they’ll approach each with a pattern of behavior that doesn’t vary much, if at all. It’s what’s called “the pre-shot routine”, and it is as fundamental as the swing itself. The pre-shot routine puts you “in the moment”, so that golf shot . . . and ONLY that golf shot . . . is in your mind.

The pre-shot routine is personal, and you should find your own, but GET ONE ! And like anything else, practice it on the range with each shot. In order for it to work for you, it has to be rehearsed, learned and made a part of your game.

Here is one idea of what a pre-shot routine might be like.

1) Begin behind the ball before you even select a club (for all but drives and putts). Picture the shot’s trajectory, flight and where it will land.

2) Select your club and return to behind the ball. Move the club back and forth to feel it lightly in your hands while you refresh that picture of the ball flight.

3) Take a deep breath and exhale.

4) Set up to the ball in the same way each time. My pattern is to align the clubface, step into my set up and use the club and my naturally hanging left arm to make sure I am in the right position. Then I look at the target again to “soak in” where the shot needs to go.

5) Trigger the swing. You need some kind of trigger to start the swing. Ben Hogan insisted a waggle was crucial. Others have their own swing trigger. For me, I just elevate the club from the ground, check my grip pressure and begin the backswing.

So, there’s my take on the pre-shot routine. I can almost guarantee you that if you will incorporate some kind of regular, consistent pattern of behavior into your game, you will find it most helpful.

And if any of you have other ideas about elements of the routine, please share them with us in the comments below. You never know when a simple tip like this will make the difference in someone playing great golf and not poor golf.
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[ comments ]
Artful Golfer says:
That looks like a great pre-shot routine, but I'm sticking to my approach of avoiding one. After playing for only 3 years while nearing 50 years old, I consider myself a good player (now playing to a 2.5 index) who does "not have a rehearsed and consistent pre-shot routine." So, "NEVER" is just a little too bold a statement. My decision to avoid a routine was influenced by a podcast I listened to by Fred Shoemaker, who shared that routine imbedes creativity. I prefer to pick a target, create and visualize my intended shot, then step up and hit it. I don't pay particular attention to my alignment or ball position, I just take a comfortable stance that feels right for my intended shot, then swing down my intended target line. My mind is focused on nothing else but the target and visualized ball flight.
Alex Graham says:
Artful Golfer - To me it sounds like you already have a pre-shot routine, it's a simple one, but still a pre-shot routine. You visualize, step over the ball, and execute the swing each time.

I find that visualization and focusing on the target and your intended ball flight are the most important parts of the pre-shot routine. Your mind is incredibly powerful and by seeing your result before you execute, you are able to replicate the shot you just visualized.

Another key to your pre-shot routine that Terry didn't mention is the time from when you start it until you execute the swing. If you put a stop watch on the great players, there pre-shot routine is the same length of time -¦ a few seconds for every shot. Once they have gathered all the information for the shot and step into their routine, it becomes like clockwork.
William Marshall says:
I envy Artful Golfers ability trust his instints. Anyone who takes up this game at 47 and is a 2.5 in three years has to be doing a lot of things right - conciously and instinctively.

He clearly is a gifted athlete who probably operates more in the creative side of his brain in all of his daily activities than in the analytical side. I am an analytical and have to process things on the other side of my brain to get fully committed to anything - including a golf stroke. So a pre-shot routine is my security blanket. He has one. It is just a lot shorter. And apparently works !
Artful Golfer says:
Alex/William: yes, it's very true that picking a target and visualizing the ball flight should be considered part of a pre-shot routine, however, what I try to avoid is any type of "setup" routine (e.g. stand behind my ball, take a deep breath, etc.). I usually take a practice swing just to stay loose, but it usually doesn't resemble the swing I plan to execute. The key for me is making a connection with the target before I swing, then trusting that my body can hit the ball there. I'm good at taking my swing from the range to the course (no anxiety). It's hard at first to really "let go", but I get much better results this way than trying to "control" my shot.

William, I'm actually a left-brained analytical type - work as a software engineer. I've just chosen to approach golf differently. The right side of my brain gets so little use otherwise ;).
wedgeguy says:
Good comments, guys, and I like to see you interacting with each other -- we all have a lot to learn from one another. When I talked about a "routine", I meant a series of thoughts and/or motions that put you "in the moment" with that shot; a way to move away from the conversation with your buddies, thoughts of home, work, etc. In a four hour round of golf, our minds wander to lots of "non-golf" subjects. But when we have a shot, we all need some kind of way to get back into the game, so to speak. A routine of any kind serves that purpose.

Tim Horan says:

I have a preshot routine much as you have described but with one small difference. Instead of picking an intermediate target in front of the ball to align with I pick one behind the ball. So on tee shots I pick out a mark lining through real target and place my tee in line. With mock take aways I align my feet, hips and shoulders by taking my club head back over this mark. This becomes a "feel" for where the club head needs to attack the ball rather than an obsession with a target somewhere down the fairway and allows me to concentrate on the most important part of the swing.
wedgeguy says:
Great angle on this, Tim. Thanks for the input and keep it up.
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