The Importance of a Pre Shot Routine
I believe one of the big differences between good amateurs and those not so good, and between the top pros and those that can’t quite “get there”, is the consistency of their pre-shot routine. There has been much written on this, but I thought I’d address it today as a result of a question from Stephen J, from Australia! (It’s cool that we have readers all over the world, isn’t it?) Anyway, Stephen is trying to figure out how to get a pre-shot routine that works for him and asked our help:
I have a question about pre shot routine. All the instructors say you should have one, and tell us all the pros have one. It all makes sense, but I have never seen any real examples. Can you share your pre shot routine with us and maybe get some of the other readers to also share theirs?
I read an interesting account on this subject that used the final round at the Masters, when Faldo passed a collapsing Norman – remember that? This particular “scientist” timed the routine of both players during that round, and found that Norman got quicker and quicker through his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.

Watching the Masters this weekend, you could also see the consistency in pre-shot routine of the better players.

So, here is my idea of how the pre-shot routine should work. The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land and roll. And I think it’s realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches and putts. They are all very different challenges, of course, and as you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.

On full shots, I think the best starting point is from behind the ball, tapping your “mind’s eye” for the film-clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight and path it will take. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and “feel” the swing that will produce that shot path for you. Your exact routine can start when you see that shot clearly, and begin your approach the ball to execute the shot. From that “trigger point”, you should do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.

For me (if I’m “on”), I’ll step from that behind-the-shot position, and set the club behind the ball to get my alignment. Then I step into my stance and ball position, not looking at the target, but being precise not to change the alignment of the clubhead – I’m setting my body up to that established reference. Once set, I take a look at the target to ensure that I feel aligned properly, and take my grip on the club. Then I do a mental check of grip pressure, hover the club off the ground a bit to ensure it stays light, and then start my backswing, with my only swing thought being to feel the end of the backswing.

That’s when I’m “on”, of course. I’m sure that many, if not most, of my worst shots and rounds happen when I depart from that routine.

This is something that you can and should work on at the range. Practice not just your swing, but how you approach each shot. Heck, you can even do that at home in your backyard. So, guys and ladies, there’s my $.02 on the pre shot routine. What do you have to add? Stephen asked for all of us to help him out here.

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[ comments ]
chris9594 says:
yes i completely agree im a juniour at my club and at a lot of the team events and practice team rounds everyone stands on tee and watches so i feel like i shouldnt do a routine to save time and not look an idiot if it goes wrong.
Those shots are usually my worst and i think thats the key
thanks and im going to apply my pre shot routine relgiously
Kurt the Knife says:
Some of my best shots are when I just walk up, look at the flight path and swing it.
Like my brother and I say to each other on bad shots(from "The Last Samurai")
"Too many mind"
Agustin says:
I agree 100% with Terry. In my case, most of my bad shots start with: lack of focus (clearing of my mind), inconsistent grip, bad alignment and poor posture.

There are too many nuances to remember to get all of these pre-shot aspects correct. I’m working on developing an updated pre-shot routine that addresses all of these and helps my set-up and address consistency.

Visualizing the shot you want to hit will also vastly improve you alignment. I firmly believe on the “Aim small, miss small” philosophy. By visualizing your shot you are not only aiming at a particular target; you are aiming you entire ball flight trajectory.

I recommend developing your own pre-shot routine according to your swing flaws and what you can do prior and during address to minimize them; and gradually adjusting it as your swing evolves over a long period of time.
bplewis24 says:
Chris, I know how you feel. One thing that used to constantly mess up my pre-shot routine was when other people in my group played slow. The slower they played, the faster I would find myself trying to play in an attempt to avoid the Marshall telling us we need to pick up the pace.

What I found out is that there are parts of the pre-shot routine that I can do before it is my turn to play. Club selection, visualization of the shot and getting a feel for the club are all things I can do while waiting for the other players to hit. When it is my time, the only thing I have left to do is the routine that I use while I'm actually addressing the ball. I have no idea why some people feel all eyes need to be on them before they even select the club they want to use or take practice swings, especially in the fairway.

michsar says:
I'm sure it annoy's my playing partner but I like to call my shot as a part of my setup routine. Like "carry the water" or "over the tree". I think this helps me focus more on the task at hand rather then get distracted. Mostly, on short irons, chips, and putts, I say it to myself under my breath. I tend to remember those called shots that went well and it gives me more confidence subconciously. Plus its always good for a few laughs when I yell out "250" and then I don't make it past he Ladies Tees :)
windowsurfer says:
Geo Bell (Jays) -- "Empty mind, full bat." Used to go behind the ball, but it all just seems to take too long. (And honestly, no offence to others, but I feel a little pretentious when I do it.) I don't mind if others do it, but get bugged when they have to start over cuz of a butterfly or something. Pre-shot in pro tourney vs pre-shot on a busy muni on Sun morning -- different situations, imo. A pre-shot routine is a must, but it needs to be short. (Bounce, bounce, bounce, touch socks, softly over the front of the rim . . . )
joepro23 says:
Good tips. On long shots I'll step behind the ball and visualize the shot first. Next I step up and get aligned, take one practice swing, sometimes waggle, and pull the trigger when I'm comfortable. I try to stay free of any thoughts when I am right over the ball (except for grip pressure sometimes). If you put a stopwatch on me the whole thing takes 15-20 seconds every time no matter what. Sometimes when I get flustered during the round I get away from the visualizing the shot part of my routine. If a bug is on me or other distraction happens I repeat get re-aligned and do another practice swing.
aaronm04 says:
Here's mine, focusing only on preshot routine and nothing that assesses the lie, club selection, or target line..

Full Shot - Take 1-3 practice swings, the last of which I keep my eyes on the ball throughout. Stand behind the ball and find my target line. Get setup around club (stance, grip, etc.). Look at the target (without breaking posture) to check alignment and to visualize ball flight. Just raise club off ground to
feel it in hands. Fire.

Putting - Find target line and pick a spot just in front of the ball. Square putter face with the ball and the spot. Setup around the putter. Visualize target line through, ball, putter, and spot. Slowly look up, visualizing the ball rolling along its intended path towards the hole. Slowly move eyes back to the starting point along the same intended path. Repeat until the feel for distance and the terrain over which the ball will travel is solid. Just raise putter off ground and fire (Note: I don't take practice putt strokes).
sigmapete1 says:
How many times have you guys set up to a shot, felt something wrong or awkward in your setup, and swung anyway, only to get the terrible shot you knew was coming. I will never learn to just step away and reset!
wiley1st says:
I have a pre-shot routine that I don't always follow. To my detriment. It's become clear to me that when I'm off tempo, feeling discombobulated, that returning to what I know is my plain simple script just settles down all the jitters that have been ruining my round. Why it takes me 6 holes to figure this out is something I'm working on...
Agustin says:
sigmapete1, I almost never re-set either... Bad move... Now that you mention it; I can't recall a bad shot after I came out of my stance and re-set.... Maybe you are on to something here ;)
georgelohr says:
My routine: 1. Get to ball and verify yardage to target. 2. Take into account things that will effect distance (wind, elevation, lie, moisture, temperature, goats). 3. Choose weapon. 4. Walk up to ball from at least 5 feet behind to find shot line and confirm landing area. When I pick my line I find a spot about 4 feet in front of my ball as my target line. 5. Address ball (I do not always take practice swings, unless it is inside 100 yards, then I will take 5-10). 6. Swing. 7. Cuss.
Clint24 says:
georgelohr hit mine right on the dot. What I do is stand behind the ball and just hold the club in front of me, pick a spot, align a spot on the ground infront of me, step up, and try to swing. One thing I've had to do lately is just hold the club parallel to my feet to make sure I'm aligned correctly.
georgelohr says:
Clint24, do you do step #7 too? I hear a lot of guys on the course doing that step, so I figure it's important.
BigDoctorJ says:
@Kurt the Knife: LOL that is EXACTLY what my brother and I say. Every time we make a bad shot it is usually because we are thinking about too many parts of the swing, he'll look over at me in his pre-shot routine and say "too many mind".
BigDoctorJ says:
@georgelohr: Perfect, couldn't have said it any better. You actually got me to laugh out loud in my quiet little office at work. Guess I should be working instead of oobsessing over golf? Nah, golf is too fun. And yes, #7 is the most most important rule of all
DiC says:
@bplewis24, I totally agree with being able to get a lot of the routine done before it's your turn to play.

I like to walk quickly to my ball so I can:
#1 assess distance (Anyone wanting to improve should do themselves a favour and get something like "Free Caddie" - knowing accurate distance to target is huge advantage).
#2 adjust for wind, elevation, current level of confidence etc.
#3 select and take grip on club and get a feel for it,

leaving only #4 and #5 for when it actually comes time for me to take my turn.

#4 being walk round to shot and align feet and
#5 being to let my mind go "quiet" and concentrate simply on a good and very slow take away.

Skip ahead then to #7 and @georgelohr... ditto on the laugh out loud. Luckily I'm the only one in the office right now!
DiC says:
oh, and putting.

#1 is VERY PRE-shot. Draw a straight line on your ball (if it's good enough for Tiger...)
#2 read, or at least try to read, the green.
#3 Aim your line where you want to hit it
#4 Take stance over ball
#5 Trust the line on your ball
#6 Trust the line on your ball !
#7 All you need to do is feel the power of the swing as #5 and #6 mean you know the direction is right.
ibashdaily says:
Over the years, I have learned to stop taking practice swings when I am taking a full shot. If the practice swing felt perfect, then I would put too much presure on myself to do the EXACT same thing and I would end up messing something up. If it was a bad practice swing, then I would be too worried about what I did wrong. I always felt better just going up there and whacking the ball. Not enough time to over think it. The only time I take practice swings is on chips and putts, and that is just to get a feel for what percentage of a swing that I want to use to putt the ball where I need it.
bplewis24 says:
DiC, #5 and #6 in putting have been helpful to improving my putting over the last several months. I cannot tell you how many times I stand over the ball AFTER aligning it and decided that all of a sudden that line looks wrong, and it either breaks the other way or further in that line direction, and then it turns out my initial read was correct.

The other problem is, no only was my initial read correct, but since I started questioning my line again, I forgot the appropriate power to put into the putt and either send it 10 feet past the hole or leave it 10 feet short.

My rule now is that once I stand over the ball my only concern is how much power/lag/whatever I'm giving this putt. The line is already determined. Nothing else to think about.

JDoughMO says:
1. find level spot to put beer can
2. choose weapon
3. take aim and fire WHILE cussing (to save time)
4. yell at the ball to GO, get down, run out, sit, fly, cut, cut, stop moving, right there, be the club...resume cussing
5. inform playing partners I must have caught it off the toe or something....
6. analyze what went wrong while enjoying the beer and moving to the next shot
Swingem says:
All great suggestions and good for many LOL's. Whatever your routine, keep it short. I see too many players act like they are in contention at a major, and go through an extended pre-shot act. They take multiple practice swings, change clubs, consult with an imaginary caddie, waggle waggle waggle, and stand over the shot forever. I half expect that the ball may get tired of waiting and throw itself down the fairway out of frustration.
birdieXris says:
My preshot routine is the same for every club. I stand behind the ball and see my shot and line. I pick a spot no more than 12 inches in front of the ball (the most conspicuous thing so i don't miss it), make a practice swing in tempo, then line up and hit it. I timed it. The ball is away in no more than 20 seconds with the driver and gets down to about 10 seconds as i get to the putter. it's a great thing to do because i can remember all my swing thoughts. One thing i don't include in my preshot routine is reading break, getting yardage, and choosing a club. I'm doing all that while the other players are playing and doing their routines -- as it should be.
Lf Golf1 says:
I believe it is very important also, teaches you not to rush things and to plan your shot.
windowsurfer says:
If you have pidgeon crap on your shoulders, you may be a wee bit long at address . . .
Joness says:
I have spent a lot of time trying to develop a specific pre shot routine lately. I still have not got it down pat but I am happy to share some of my thoughts so far.

It should be noted that I am an accountant by trade so I am hopeless at visualising. As a result, I think my self talk is the key. I see my pre shot routine as the bit from when I commit and step up to the ball. I have already decided on club, type of shot, target etc during prepartion.

I also like the ideas in Golfs Sacred Journey of incorporating a See, Feel Trust in the routine. Therefore, in preparation I try to "see" the shot that I want to play and may have a practice swing to get the feel.

Currently, I start my routine with a deep breath and tell myself to relax as I step up to the ball and settle into my stance. I then look at my intended target while I do two waggles, and try to see the shot again. I then look back at the ball and try to feel the shot. Finally I pause - let my mind go blank for a second and then swing.
Joness says:

I like the pause because it is the trust bit where I trust that my body will play the right shot. This usually happens but not always! The problem with the pause is that on some days it is difficult to let my mind go blank for a moment and other distractions can creep in. Maybe I am better with a particular swing thought?

I have been trying different lengths, but I feel that I do not want to be standing over the ball too long. I also think the steps should be in some sort of rhythm. We all seem to have some internal rhythm that it is worth trying to tap into.

I have been trying to use the same routine for all shots but after the thoughts on here I might try to develop different ones for different shots such as putting.

Anyway, thanks for you thoughts so far. My preshot routine is very much a work in progress at the moment and many of your suggestions are going to help the process


Stephen J
stedar says:
Great posts :-)

Going through a little routine is something you do without thinking about it (after a while). And when you get told by fellow players that you do the same thing each time when setting up - you know you're onto something ;-)
The problem I find is thinking about what to do, rather than trust in the swing and know that it is not how hard, but which club to choose.
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