Pre-Shot Routine Explained
• Do you know what a pre-shot routine is?
• Do you have one?
• Have you ever practiced it?
• Once you have a routine do you work on the process?
These are seriously important questions, possible to some of you they will seem very basic questions, especially tournament professionals, but don’t be surprised at how many players reading this will have ANSWERED NO to at least 2 of those questions possible 3, including professionals. Those of you that answered yes to more than 2 that’s positive, however are you sure you understand what relationship the pre-shot routine and the perfect golf shot have in common, my guess is probably not, could you honestly say that you do the same thing every time you play before you hit your shot no matter what the situation? Have you ever worked on the process of your routine? Do you even know what that entails? Perhaps not!! Have you ever analysed what you are actually trying to accomplish by using a pre-shot routine? Again maybe not.
Don’t feel bad about answering no or even only kind of yes to these questions, instead you should be fidgeting with anticipation and excitement, players I’ve encountered across the globe, even top tournament professional have to taught or at least reminded from time to time of the importance or working hard in these area’s. In my experience players with a handicap of 10 and below in most cases do have some kind of pre-shot routine, however an incredible amount of them and this includes some scratch players and professionals still don’t really understand why it’s so important to them and because they don’t know why it’s so important to them they certainly don’t focus much of there time on fine tuning the process.
Even more staggering is that 95% of players above a 10 handicap either don’t have a pre-shot routine, or don’t really know what one is and probably wonder why they would ever need one. So if they don’t recognise the importance of this untapped monster how could they ever work on improving it? To me this process is comparable to trying to watch television without any sound, you can bang the top of it, curse and rant, but if you don’t properly switch it on, it seems obvious to think that it will never give you the most satisfaction.
A pre-shot routine should be the foundation of your game, if understood, used correctly and more importantly consistently it will be one of the strongest tools in you’re armoury for both you’re physical and mental preparation, you’ll use it before each and every shot and particularly those shots hit at pressured times in competition and especially under the riffle.
The fact is I see very few club players employing it on every shot, they might try it for 1 or 2 shots but then they’ll forget to use it for 5 or 6 holes, sound familiar…………….even most of the professional I see need to improve, maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s because they don’t really know what to do, maybe there so busy clogging there brain with swing mechanics and technology that they don’t think it’s important, but let me tell you that without doubt it’s hurting there games, it’s hurting there performance and it’s definitely hurting there bank balance.
Now I’m certainly not the first person to write about the importance of a pre-shot routine but god dawn it I hope I’m the best and subsequently the last person who has to educate you, it doesn’t matter if you’ve read about it before in another book or magazine, heard about it from your professional of golfing buddy, heard it mentioned or saw one of the top pro’s doing on television, it really doesn’t matter, what I really care about, what really gives me a buzz, is whether you are actually going to take the time to understand it’s importance right here and right now. Will you begin putting it into practice, are you going to spend the time making yours as good as it could possible be, maybe even strive for perfection, now that’s what I’m talking about !!!!!
“If you know something and you’re not using it,
it’s like not knowing it at all”
Ok lets not mess about lets get down to what you should be doing straight away.
Rehearsal swings (better known to you as practice swings)
I have for a long time been more comfortable referring to swings on the course when you are not hitting the ball, being known as rehearsal swings rather than the common practice swing. The reasoning behind this is the purpose within the mind that I want to trigger is that of proficiency not experiment, as written in the English Oxford Dictionary the definition of rehearsal reads: A trial performance, where as the word Practice states: The action of practising something so as to become proficient in it. I want players to feel as if they are already proficient at as many of the processes and concepts they need before they step foot onto the course. So although some may say this is taking things to the extreme, I know for a fact that over 90% of golf tournament are won by a solitary shot, I know which side of the fence my players want to be.
Here are some of the common questions I get asked regarding rehearsal swings on the course. How many should I have? Do they mean anything? Should they mean anything? Are they just for loosening the body? Should I be trying to make a replica of the swing I’m about to use?
All of these are valid questions, my preferred method and the system I advocate most is that everything you do on the golf course counts, it’s a bit like the butterfly effect; even the seemingly smallest positive action can assist in creating a massive response. With this in mind I get all of my players to make controlled free flowing imitations of the shots they are trying to play in these 2 ways.
1-The player will make a couple of practice swings away from the ball visualising the shot you are going to hit. Then when they are ready to go ahead and hit the shot they start the process hitting the shot with no further rehearsal swing.
2-Alternatively the player will make at least 2 rehearsal swings, one or two away from the ball and then start the process but include a free flowing rehearsal swing as part of the pre-shot routine just before the shot is struck (I have found a very effective rehearsal routine especially for higher handicaps that I will talk about later in this chapter)
A solid pre-shot routine
Here is a detailed process of working your pre-shot routine. I have laid it out step by step stage-by-stage. It’s up to you to follow it as meticulously as possible, remember “Everything Counts”
Driver through to wedges
12 simply steps that should feel like only 1 when done correctly
Make a practice swing visualising the shot you are going to hit or alternatively make 2 practice swings, 1 on swing thoughts, 1 on visualisation
Follow these 12 steps and you will be amazed at how your consistency increases dramatically.
Detailed look at the 12 steps
1-Stand approximately 3 paces behind the ball in a direct line between the ball and the target / flag. (For this example we’ll use a flag as the target)
2-Take you’re grip of the club now, this will save you having to worry about it later. (By gripping the club now it helps you to remain focused on your target later on in the routine, we are trying limit the unnecessary thoughts and in particular movements and idiosyncrasies)
3-As you stand behind the ball look at the ball and then the flag repeatedly, ball, flag, ball, flag etc
4-Now once again visualise the type of shot you want to hit, this will get easier the more often you practice it especially if make it very vivid and real, it varies from player to player but to assist you it helps most players to picture in your mind all or some of the following: (remember you should of already of gone through this process with your rehearsal swing, so this is more of a recap)
• The final result of the shot
• What will the shot look like (some players see this process like watching a video or movie, some see it like looking into the future, what ever your preference you need to see it in as much detail as possible. Many top players actually play the shot in fast forward until it get close to the hole)
• The trajectory the ball fly on
• Where the ball land and how it will bounce
• The pure noise of the strike
• The line or point that the ball passes over or towards
• & very importantly how will you feel after the shot has been hit
After a short time the process of visualising the shot you are going to hit will take anyway between 1 second to 10 seconds depending on the individual, there is no predetermined time, the important factors are that you see it; you believe it and you trust it.
(Note all of my vocabulary is positive and precise, I don’t try to visualise, I simply visualise, I don’t aim somewhere near the flag, I aim directly at the flag, I don’t aim about 3 yards left of the flag, I aim 3 yards left of the flag, forget the words somewhere or about, be precise, be positive)
5-As you picture the shot you need to really experience the emotions, the more you can see it, feel it and live it the more you can let go of the conscious mind and let your subconscious state take over.
6-Once you have visualised the shot, again focus your eyes and attention on the flag, at this point you should be stood very tall and strong, your posture should feel the best it could possibly be, shoulders back, back straight, neck long, arms hanging like your holding 2 large suite cases, all together you should be feeling quite intermediating to your opponents.
7-Now as you begin to walk that exciting walk towards the ball (note I like my players to be 3 steps from the ball, that means for a right handed player, left foot, right foot and then turn in with the left foot, by this time you should be along side the ball) the original tendency I see with a lot of players I work with is to move to quickly or to slowly, there shoulders are hunched or tight, there body language is weak and uncomfortable. Remember everything counts, everything counts, so when you walk into the ball you should stand and walk tall, you should swagger with the elegance and style of a Open champion or with the moves and grace of a jungle cat, the point is you should be radiating confidence, there should be a wave of electricity flowing from your persona, what a lot of people fail to realise is that your outside world is a refection of your inside world, you need to exude belief to your environment, in most cases the world will give you back what you put out, if you portray yourself as a strong, self-assured individual that is the energy and vibe that will be sent back to you, like wise if you send out a timid almost introvert persona that’s what will be radiated back towards you.
Remember it’s not about being loud and obnoxious, some of the best players in the world are quietly spoken and reserved however when the time comes to hit there shots just watch the way there body language changes, how there persona or bubble expands. Take some time to watch the best players in history before they actually hit the ball; watch the best players in the world right now on television to see how they conduct themselves and what they all do, I guarantee the best ones in the game do all or at least a collection of the things mentioned above. Tiger is arguably the best player to have ever played the game of golf so believe me you are living in a fortunate era that at the flick of a switch you can tune in on the sports channel and watch him up close and personal, study him and note what he does, rarely will you see him approach the ball before he is completely ready, before he has gone through his routines, you should be doing the same.
8-So I’ll say it again, as you approach the ball walk and stand tall; keep focusing on the target, even as you’re body begins to turn sideways on keep focusing on the flag. As I mentioned earlier you should have already gripped the club so no wasted focus will be spent on doing this, the idea is to be able to take your stance and set up smoothly and quickly and most importantly with out having to think to much about it, you may have to spend time practicing getting the set up correct, but believe me it’s extremely worth while. Now I am not a big fan of unnecessary movements, waggles, shimmies, in my opinion tapping feet should be left for the dance floor, you are here to hit a golf ball so keep the movements to a minimum. The less movements we have the easier it is to repeat over and over again, it’s that simple, no excuses, no problems.
The future of golf
This also applies to looks at the target, I never like to see more than 2 looks once you are over the ball. It wouldn’t be at all surprised to see players of the future taking no looks at all, simply walking into the ball and hitting it. So many professionals are gearing there games to specific yardages and not worrying about what’s in front of them, after all what is the purpose of looking at the target, some might saying alignment others might say to reinforce how far you have to go. What I know is that often the only thing looking up gives a player is doubt, doubt about the yardage, doubt about the water right of the green. Anyway try this first on the practice area and then on the course, I wouldn’t be surprised if you really liked it.
9-OK to recap, you have now walked into the shot still focusing on the target, walking tall and looking good, as you take your stance switch your focus from the flag to the ball, most players should still be able to see the flag in there minds eye, so as you look away from the flag to the ball you can still a clear picture of the flag in your mind, once you are comfortable with your set up position and stance take another soft look at the flag, own it with your eyes, feel yourself being drawn towards it, allow you senses to heighten and you’re brain to engage, as Will Smith said in the film Bagger Vance “You can't see that flag as some dragon you got to slay, you've got to look with soft eyes, see the place where the tides and the seasons, the turning of the earth...all come together,..Where everything that is...becomes one, you’ve got to seek that place with your soul, seek it with your hands, don't think about it, feel it” what he is trying to reveal is that you need to be relaxed and have trust in the process that you have practiced over and over again.
As I have mentioned earlier I don’t like to see to much movement or waggles with the club head, in reality I actually like this to happen. Place the club in behind the ball and leave it there except for the one time you look up at the flag, at this point you can lift the club the 8 or 9 inches of the ground to enable you to comfortably look at the flag (note some players especially on short shorts don’t lift it at all. Minimal movements are the key to a great routine. So as you look back from the flag to the ball for the last time, settle yourself then almost without hesitation pull the trigger and just let the shot go.
10-Many great players have describe the sensation of taking the club away from the ball as simply trying to get out of the own way, what they mean is to just let the swing happen, a kind of chain reaction, many players have been taught to swing by number and in most cases this stifles there ability to just let go, don’t be one of them, trust that because you executed the whole process correctly the result will follow, believe in the process should be tattooed on your wrist, or at least written on your glove.
11-Your aim and focus throughout the whole swing should be to keep trusting, to stay focused on the target and keep positive pictures in your mind, to let it happen and not try to direct or steer the ball, there may always be a slight swing thoughts or different key for each individual to hang on to however the overall process is the same, you are learning, rehearsing and committing to letting go, to trust yourself, the better at this you can become the better you will reach your true potential. Remember there a very good chance that you don’t know how good you really are because you never learnt or knew how to properly let go. I talk to a lot of my players about finding out just how good they really are, that means not trying to influence the shot, not trying to manipulate the shot, it means what it is, lets find out exactly how good you really are, most players are surprised by the results in a good way.
12-Finally and just as important as everything else and especially important for those players looking to become really really good, you should get into the habit of holding your finish position after the ball has been struck until it lands and if you can manage until it actually stops moving. You need to do this every time, not just some of the time, but every time, especially in practice and when you are on the range, this does many great things but my favourite 3 are:
• It sends immediate feedback to you that you have maintained excellent balance throughout the swing
• It helps to ingrain your technique
• It allows you to watch the flight of the ball whether you are actually hitting a ball or just practicing the motion. (More will be explained about practicing without a ball in a second)
There it is, the whole pre-shot routine, remember it should be honed until it is exactly the same every time, the better and smoother you can make this process on the practice tee the easier it will be to implement it on the course. Working hard on this area will make such a difference to the consistency of your game you will be infuriated in a good way that you never worked hard on this before.
1. Stand approximately 3 paces behind the ball in a direct line between the ball and the target
2. Grip your club now
3. Focus on your target
4. Visualise the type of shot you want to hit
5. Experience the emotions of a good shot
6. Stand very tall and strong
7. As you walk into the ball you should swagger with the elegance and style of a the Open champion
8. Keep looking at the target as you walk towards the ball
9. Keep a clear picture of the flag in your mind even when you look towards the ball
10. As you take the club back get out of your own way
11. As you swing remain in a trusting none manipulating state
12. Hold your finish position no matter what