How Solid is Your Pre-Shot Routine and Why Do You Need One?

Weather is improving and now’s the time when most golfers are excited about a new season.  Unfortunately, we’ve been bounced back into a disturbing offseason mode.  The early tour events that fuel our enthusiasm and heighten our anticipation are GONE. No TPC Sawgrass! The MASTERS postponed indefinitely!  What’s next, our courses closing down?  Unfortunately, YES!

What can we be doing at home to help us come out on the other side of this unwelcome hiatus as better players?  Well, here’s something that I hear far too little about from fellow golfers as well as my client instructors – Developing a Solid Pre-Shot Routine.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a few days at the Kohler resort in the excellent company of Ian Baker-Finch.  It was a once in a lifetime experience to spend time on and off the course with a great player that happens to be an even nicer man.  One night at dinner Ian spoke about his British Open win and how he handled the tremendous pressure of the final back 9 with a slim lead.  He dealt with it by relying totally on his routine.  I remember vividly how he went into a mini trance recalling exactly what he did as he approached every shot, right down to the “…Ok set, one waggle and GO!” almost knocking over a glass of wine.  We should all learn from this and practice our routines whenever we practice – it’s that important.

What do I mean by Pre-Shot Routine?
There are two important processes we should go through before hitting the ball – Planning and Execution. First, plan the shot.  Start by selecting the right club and shot to make it happen. This can involve discussion with a caddie and/or a playing partner.  Please do as much of this as possible before it is officially your turn. These decisions made, stand behind the ball, look at your target and visualize the desired shot and outcome.  Finally, move into address position, and promptly execute the shot.  This is where the cameras are rolling.  Think of that step forward into the address position as entering an Isolation Bubble.  Once in the bubble, no second thoughts or doubts or distractions should be allowed to intrude.  To be clear, this is the part that I consider to be the critical Pre-shot routine.

Over the years I have put a stopwatch on the winners of majors as they face the ultimate pressure of the final back 9.  When I put Tiger on the clock in the 2007 PGA, his time in the Bubble  was a speedy 10 seconds.  Phil’s routine was slightly longer – 17 seconds down the stretch in his last Masters win.  Lucas Glover won the US Open with a 16 second routine.  I timed Patrick Reed’s putting routine in his 2018 Masters win and wrote about it in GolfWRX:  A routine to copy:  Patrick Reed’s 9-second putting routine at The Masters.  My point is that the best in the world work long and hard to develop their protective routines in their bubbles.  At the same time, the importance of a solid, pre-shot routine seems to be lost on most amateur golfers.

How can you use this?

  • Develop your own pre-shot routine and divide it into the two segments discussed above: Planning and Execution.
  • Have a friend time you in the “bubble” – the moment you step forward and begin to address the ball until your club makes contact with the ball. If you’re in it longer than 20 seconds you are not only wasting time, you are leaving too much of an opening for doubt and confusion to seep in.
  • I see many amateurs that take two and three practice swings before every shot.  There should be a legal limit of ONE.
  • Discipline yourself to utilize your pre-shot routine whenever you practice. Make it an automatic part of each shot and the same every time both on the course and in the practice area.  A solid routine is the best defense against the pressure of competition.

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