Professional golfers don’t just walk up to the ball and hit it. They run through a pre-determined set of activities first, then step up to the ball and swing away. The specific set of activities may differ from pro to pro, but every pro has a set. This set is called a player’s pre-shot routine. The pros know that what they do and how they do it directly before hitting affects their swing. It’s why teaching pros set time aside during golf instruction sessions to helping students develop a good pre-shot routine.
One golf writer defines one’s pre-shot routine this way: A pre-shot routine is a repeatable sequence of things a golfer does prior to hitting a shot. This writer has studied and written extensively on golf’s short game. The key in this definition is repeatability. If a golfer doesn’t do anything repeatable, it’s not a routine. You can have one pre-shot routine for driving, one for chipping, and one for putting. But the routine must be identical for any given shot, all the time. The more consistent and repeatable your routine, the better your swing mechanics.
A good pre-shot routine has two parts: pre-shot preparation and pre-shot ritual. Pre-shot preparation involves several variables. These include things like lie, ball position, shot shape, and distance to the pin. They also include wind direction, trajectory, and swing keys to think about when swinging. As you consider these variables, your mind calculates and evaluates how they affect club selection. Sometimes this is an easy task, sometimes not, as students often learn in golf instruction sessions.
Below are five steps you can include in your pre-shot preparation. The entire process shouldn’t take more than 25-30 seconds, as we tell players in golf lessons.
- Check lie, distance, wind, and landing area
- Consider risk of mishit; gambling percentages
- Choose club, visualize the shot, and commit to it
- Imagine the swing and swing keys
- Internalize feel of swing
The key to pre-shot preparation is to see and feel the swing you’re going to make. One or two practice swings may not be enough. If not, make some more until you feel completely comfortable. You want your last practice swing to be perfect—exactly the way you need to swing the club to hit your target. And start your pre-shot preparation before it’s your turn to hit. You don’t want to drag out play.
A pre-shot ritual is a repeatable set of rhythmic motions players execute the last few seconds before swinging. If your taking golf lessons, ask the teaching pros to help you create a pre-shot ritual that is consistent, repeatable, and exact. Or, you can develop one on your own. A pre-shot ritual tells you when to start your swing and prepares you to repeat the swing motion and rhythm you just practiced. What’s more, the rhythm you develop just before swinging affects the swing’s rhythm itself.
Below are four key steps in a repeatable pre-shot ritual. Timing is always the same.
- Always move at the same rhythm, just like in practice
- Forget the shot’s consequences and focus on the ritual
- Let your ritual lead you into repeating your swing preview
- Watch/feel how good are the swing and shot that follow
The key is to eliminate any thoughts in repeating the ritual. Instead, focus on making the perfect preview swing. The ritual doesn’t have to be anything special—just a habit that you’ve grooved by hitting hundreds of shots. And don’t copy a pre-shot ritual from someone else. Develop one that’s right for you.
Developing a repeatable, consistent pre-shot routine prepares you physically and mentally for hitting the ball. It also helps you control the swing’s rhythm. But developing a pre-shot routine isn’t a panacea for all your golf problems. You still have to hit the ball, so you’ll still have to practice hitting shots. Use you pre-shot routine in practice and it will become second nature. A good pre-shot routine can help chop strokes off your golf handicap.