A pre shot routine, performed consistently, is a key to performing well whether you are a professional golfer or aspiring junior player.
What is a Pre Shot Routine?
In his book Learn To Win: One Shot At A Time, Dr Morris Pickens, renowned sports psychologist says: A pre-shot routine is a sequence of physical and mental actions which precedes the actual swinging of the club. The actions of your routine prepare you mentally and physically to play each shot.
When To Implement the Pre-Shot Routine
A lot of junior golfers think of a pre-shot routine as simply a few swings to loosen up before hitting a shot and mostly just on the tee box. A pre-shot routine, however, is more than just physical actions. It really should start in the eyes and brain and be performed consistently before every shot played. Have your juniors watch a PGA Tour player that they like, for at least 5 consecutive shots and notice that the sequence and amount of time taken for each pre-shot routine is almost always exactly the same from one shot to the next.
It starts in the mind.
- What does the hole look like from your position behind the ball?
- What does the shot shape (fade, draw, straight) and trajectory (high, low, mid) of the ball flight look like?
- What is the exact targeted landing spot taking into account risk / reward, location of penalty areas, pin position etc.
- How will the ball run out or spin back?
- What is the distance to your targeted landing spot on the fairway or green. Note, for approaches into a green, the distance to consider is almost never the exact distance to a pin but rather to where the ball needs to land (which may longer or shorter than the distance to the pin).
- What is the correct club for the distance and conditions (wind, temperature etc.)?
These questions should all be considered before the stance is assumed.
A pre-shot routine is a very individual thing. There is no right or wrong answer. A junior should identify what works for them, as a player, to get them mentally and physically ready to hit a great shot. Importantly, technical swing mechanics should not be the primary focus of the pre-shot routine. The time for technical processes and swing mechanics is during practice and not during the round.
Some players like to take full speed practice shots, some prefer to focus on tempo and rhythm. A “waggle” of the golf club is an element of many professional pre-shot routines. It helps to get hands and arms feeling soft and reducing stress and tension. It also helps in setting the tempo of the swing.
Other small physical movements also feature in many pre-shot routines. Some players cock their head to the side before taking the swing, some bend their legs slightly or shuffle their feet.
Feeling confident in your target and set-up is a major objective of the pre-shot routine. Visualize the ball flight and roll out (or back spin). Alignment is a vital part of the routine and some players like to pick out a spot a foot or two in front of the ball as a starting line for the shot. Feeling positive about the shot should be an outcome of all pre-shot routines. Many golfers give themselves an affirming word or few words they repeat in their mind before the swing.
Importantly, a good pre-shot routine should eliminate the dreaded “anyways” shot where a player does feel comfortable or confident in the choice of club, shot shape, is distracted by something, worried about the wind or water etc., but hits the shot “anyway”. A good practice is to have juniors track and note on their scorecards whenever they hit an “anyways” shot during a round. Over time they will become more aware of distractions and will be able to practice their routine where they can back off a shot and restart if distracted.
A deep breath before starting the swing is another relaxing and grounding mechanism used by many elite golfers. Some golfers like to make sure their mouth and jaw is relaxed and open before stepping into a shot.
A pre-shot routine from start to finish should not be long. Perhaps up to 20 seconds. The more time you stand above the ball looking down at it, the more time you get nervous and start second-guessing.
A pre-shot routine should never slow pace of play.
Connor’s pre-shot routine
One of our local juniors is a highly ranked junior golfer who has committed to play D1 college golf in the Fall of 2022. Here is his explanation of his pre-shot routine and a video showing it on the tee box and on the putting green.
We asked Connor to describe his pre-shot routine:
It’s a bit difficult to put it into words because it is such an innate process. My body and mind just do it and I don’t think too much about it on the tee box. Basically the first thing I do is get behind the ball and pick out my line.
Then I will visualize whatever type of shot I want, visualize the ball flight. Then I will take a few waggles and a small practice swing to loosen up and feel the tempo. I think about how I want the ball to fly. Then I take my stance. I line my club face to where I want it. I bend my legs to loosen my muscles a little and get into an athletic posture. And I swing.
A pre-shot routine is an individual thing. All professional players have a pre-shot routine. Watch theirs for tips but develop your own based on your own personality. Keep it simple and consistent. It is the key to triggering your best golf shots.