Ask any accomplished golfer if they have a pre-shot routine and they will answer “Of course I do”. When you get the chance to watch a tour player prepare for their shot you will see them perform the same actions, almost as a ritual, in preparation for what is to come. In fact, experienced commentators will notice when a player fails to execute their normal routine, often under moments of extreme pressure, and the result is usually not good.
So why do many amateur golfers treat this as something that is beyond them? Perhaps they feel that they are not accomplished enough to bother with visualization, or maybe they have never had anyone explain how important a swing cue can be. Whatever the case, every golfer, regardless of ability, should take the time to develop their own routine which will establish consistency, instill confidence and sharpen their focus prior to each shot.
Golf is a game that can often take over four hours to play. The actual amount of time spent hitting the golf ball, however, ranges from about 3-5 minutes (depending on your score). This means that there is a lot of “down time” during your round of golf. This includes admiring the scenery, chatting with your playing partners, enjoying the outdoors- exactly the things that make golf such a great game. But switching from these activities to hitting a golf shot requires you to re-focus dozens of times per round. We must, therefore, have a routine that allows us to handle the distractions present during the round and focus on our task when it is time to play a shot.
An effective pre-shot routine includes the following:
Club Selection: Prior to arriving at your ball and while you are examining your lie and distance to your target, you will be deciding what type of shot to play and what club to hit. Once the decision is made, be confident in your choice and focus on execution. To feel the weight of the club in your hands and get a feel for the swing you can perform a practice swing (one should be enough) but make sure you are not focusing on mechanics.
Visualization: Seeing the shot you are trying to hit in your mind’s eye can help your body prepare for the task at hand. This is one of the most important elements in your routine as it is literally programming your brain to allow your body to execute the shot at hand. Be realistic, however, and don’t try to visualize a shot that you know you have little chance of pulling off. You should be standing behind your golf ball while you perform your visualization. Once you have pictured the shot you are trying to hit you are ready to move into perfect alignment.
Alignment: Still standing behind your ball on your target line (an imaginary line joining your ball to your target line extending behind the ball), pick an intermediate target that is about 12-18” (30-45cm) in front of your ball that is on your target line. Once you step up to the ball you can line your clubface up to this intermediate target. Now with your clubface perfectly aligned you can set up your body (beginning with your feet) so that it is positioned parallel to your target line. One more look to your target will refocus your awareness on where you are trying to go.
Swing Cue: Now that you have reconnected to your target in perfect alignment you are in position to play your shot it is time to switch your focus from “thinking” to “doing”. An important element to achieve this transition is to have a swing cue that is the last thing we think of prior to starting the club back. This cue should be feel related, not mechanical. Swing cues like “Smooth”, “Rhythm”, “Balance” and “Release” can be effective. Find a swing cue that works for you and write it down. When it stops working, try another one, again making it more feel related rather than technical or mechanical. This swing thought or swing cue is an effective way to distract the conscious mind with a harmless activity while we let the unconscious mind swing the club and act out what we have visualized. Our conscious mind, after all, is the one that tells us, with good intentions “Don’t hit it in the water!” and yet that is precisely what we do should we choose to listen to it.
Acceptance: Just as important as effectively preparing for our shot is dealing with the outcome. We must manage our expectations on the golf course and not become upset if things don’t go our way. All we should expect from ourselves is maximum effort and focus on each shot. After the shot is hit, we must accept the outcome and prepare to focus on maximum effort for our next shot. We can’t do anything about the past (the shots we have already hit), we can only try to improve the swings we have yet to make. I guess it’s no wonder that so many esteemed writers of past centuries have marveled at the insights into life that golf can provide.
With this summary as a guide you are now ready to create your own pre-shot routine, one that, with practice, will allow you to sharpen your focus. It can even act as a lifeboat during the “raging storm” of a few bad swings and can get your round back on track. Be sure to repeat your pre-shot routine during your range practice so that it is honed for the golf course. Armed with your new pre-shot routine you are ready to take your game to the next level.
Kirk Nederpelt, PGA Professional