A solid golf pre-shot routine is a habit that virtually all pros have and make a practice of studying so it becomes equally important as the swing itself.
Why? Because unfortunately, without a good pre-shot routine you don’t have an intro to your shot, opening the door for tension and anxiety to creep into your game, which simply robs the swing of all freedom and spontaneity it could have.
Since golf is not a reactionary sport we need to set up a system to allow ourselves the best possible outcome. The pre-shot routine helps solve the problem of being unfocused as you approach your shot because it gives the mind (and therefore body) an automated routine to follow.
It also sets a positive tone to your upcoming shot. We want to create a positive framework from which to work from. Doing this repeatedly will build on itself and actually help create the mental mindset we need to perform at our best.
It’s much like the automatic process you go through when you enter your car—first (hopefully anyway!) you put your seatbelt, lights (if needed), start the engine, look out rear and sideview mirrors, put foot on accelerator pedal and start to move. I mean it’s a very system-like process, right? And how often to you think about it? Yep—Almost never.
So lets break down the pieces of a solid routine.
1. See the Shot – This is typically the part (after you select your club) that you would walk behind the ball to see and decide on a target. Try to make an art out of taking the club out of your bag to walking behind the ball.
Try to visualize the ball flight and precise landing area. Look at top pros like Justin Rose and Jason Day and how precise they are with their routines (in the pic above Justin Rose likes to hold his club vertically—aka; plumb-bobbing—so that it runs through the ball and straight to the target – as a visual reinforcement of the ball-to-target line) They always visualize their shot to begin and always from behind the ball so both eyes are looking squarely at the target. I personally like to visualize the overall shot shape like you see those Protracer graphics on television (see image below).
Why is this important? because golf is a side-arm sport, therefore our vision is always at a disadvantage because it is designed to see forward with both eyes. Developing a routine that aligns the body and club relative to the target from behind the ball with both eyes is crucial because we want to not only see the shot in our mind’s eye but also make sure we have a clear target line so our alignment is accurate.
Optional: At this stage some players also like to take a few practice swings (while behind the ball) so they can “feel” the golf shot and shape they were just visualizing.
2. Move Into Your Stance – The pieces here involve walking from behind the ball into your stance. Many pros like to draw a line from the target to the ball and then pick an intermediate target a few feet in front of the ball—piece of grass, old tee, discoloration in the grass, debris—to align the bottom edge of the club face. This is important. Nothing really matters unless your club face is square to your target so align the club face first then move into your stance.
Experiment with how you move from behind the ball to alignment of club face to stance. It’s definitely an art. Move in a way that feels right to you. Then practice it until you can do it in roughly the same time repeatedly.
Once I have my club face aligned to my intermediate target I always like to feel like by body (feet, knees, hips, shoulders, head) is standing parallel to a wall. That visual helps (me anyway) have a feeling that everything is relatively square and my alignment is accurate.
3. Keep Moving – Now that you’re in your stance you want to try to keep some motion going. All the great ones seemed to be constantly in motion. Never just a stiff rigid body. You can incorporate a waggle (to relax and soften the arms/shoulders) move your feet slightly (remember Raymond Floyd!) shrug your shoulders or whatever seems right to release any excess tension and to relax the body.
4. Reaffirm your Target – Now that your club head is square to the target and in your stance, visually reaffirm your target. Some look at the target once then the ball and pull the trigger. Others look at the target then at the ball then back to the target.
Of course, while you’re reaffirming your target you can also be waggling the club, moving your feet slightly or whatever movement pattern you feel most comfortable with.
Anyway, you get the idea. I think a good general rule here is to do this as quickly as possible. Remember, this is a rehearsed orchestration of movements. We don’t want to disrupt the flow with long pauses and awkward movements.
Note: A lot of these points I’m giving here should not be thought of as separate but kind of blending into one another. It’s a continuum from start to actually beginning your swing.
5. Trigger the Swing – A “trigger” means some sort of physical action that starts the swing. For example, Jack Nicklaus would cock his neck to one side, Gary Player would kick in his right knee, Tom Kite developed a little bending of both knees at address as a last move just before starting the club back. Try to work in some sort of physical gesture (other ideas include a tug of your shirt, a deep breath, a slight movement of the hips) that will keep you in motion, keep you loose and keep you athletic. Because now—it’s GO time!
When thinking about and rehearsing your pre-shot routine, keep in mind your personal rhythm. Are you general a more methodical and deliberate type personality? Are you a quicker and fast-paced person? Slow and languid? Somewhere between? What I’m saying is that you should try to match the tempo or rhythm of your pre-shot routine to that of your personality and how you play golf.
Finally, have fun trying to create a pre-shot routine that works for you. Rehearse it on the range, in your driveway, in your office, wherever. Set up a timer on your iPhone and notice how long the entire sequence takes. See how efficient you can make it. Don’t try to create the perfect pre-shot routine initially just keep the large “chunks” in mind as you’re defining and refining you’re own.
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