Years ago, I had the pleasure of enjoying the wonderful golf courses with good friends at the American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin. A totally unexpected thrill was to be joined for two of the days by Ian Baker-Finch. He is, without a doubt, the nicest and most down-to-earth gentleman/celebrity that I have ever met, although my celebrity list is not all that long.

Over dinner, I asked Ian how he had handled the intense pressure of standing on the 10th tee of The Open, with a slim, two-stroke lead and nine more holes to play. Without hesitation, he said that he simply lost himself in his pre-shot routine, focusing on the exact same setup, two waggles, and WOOSH! Next thing he knew, he was a major champion.

This was by no means a new concept for me. I had a pre-shot routine and had worked to refine it, but Ian’s remarks made me refocus on its importance.

Let’s Define the Pre-Shot Routine

There are two important processes we should go through before we hit a golf ball. First, we plan the shot. This involves visualizing the shot and selecting the right club to make it happen. Once all the decisions are made and the shot is visualized, we step forward and move into our address position and execute the shot. I like to think of it as stepping into your “execution chamber.” When you close the chamber door behind you, you cannot hear or think about anything except moving through the choreographed steps of your setup and shot execution.

How Long Should It Take?

Here, I am talking only about the final stage of your routine. Specifically, the time when you step forward from behind the ball into the chamber. After my conversation with Ian Baker-Finch, I put a stop watch on the world’s best players, particularly in their greatest pressure situations. This included Phil Mickelson during his march to victory in the final round of the 2004 Masters and Tiger in one of his many major wins. The results were interesting and confirmed Ian’s story. It became clear that the pre-shot routine not only sets the platform for proper shot execution, but perhaps more importantly, occupies the mind with a positive script that prevents the interference of doubts or the fears of poor results.

Tiger’s pre-shot routine was relatively quick, 14-15 seconds, while Phil’s was 17-18 seconds. The longest I have seen was Hideki Matsuyama while securing his recent win of the 2017 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Matsuyama, who’s known for a trademark pause at the top of his backswing, took what seemed like a lifetime of 22 seconds to finally strike the ball. It was, however, the same for every full swing.

How Can You Use This? 

Develop your own pre-shot routine and divide it into the two segments discussed:

  • Step 1: Thinking, planning and visualizing the shot.
  • Step 2: Setup and execution. Ideally, all of Step 1 is accomplished before it is your turn to play.

Have your coach or a friend time you in Step 2 (the execution chamber) from the moment you step forward and begin to address the ball until your club makes contact. If you take more than 20 seconds, you are not only wasting time but also leaving too much of an opening for doubt and confusion to seep into your chamber.

Use your pre-shot routine whenever you practice. Make it an automatic part of each shot and the same every time, whether you are on the course or in the practice area. Remember, a solid pre-shot routine helps to insure proper ball position and alignment while promoting consistency in your golf swing. Further, relying on a solid routine is the best defense against the pressure of competition.

For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to www.shotbyshot.com.

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data.

In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups.

Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com.

Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

10 COMMENTS

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  1. I walk the course 99% of the time….
    I guess most of all my preshot junk happens a few yards short of the ball as I’m walking to it…
    I check the pin sheet, get a rough yardage from my gps, and think about how the hole plays and how I’m hitting it
    Once I get to the ball I probably hit it in less than 25 seconds unless I feel alignment or ball position is wrong
    No practice swings yo

  2. Visualize shot, choose club, wind etc. Step up then do a small practice swing, address ball and check aim, do a quick two waggles and smash it. I’m usually pretty quick but I have found it’s better to work in a practice swing or two executing the swing say a 3/4 swing or a punch shot. Full shots I just swing away. Checking the target really helps you be more target oriented as well as knowing your alignment.

  3. My pre-shot routine takes about 10-15 seconds, however, when I am in that mode it seems like time has slowed to a crawl. This season I am finding that once I enter my pre-shot routine I tend to no longer hear anything around me, my heart slows, and my breathing gets deeper and slower. If I can still hear others around me after 5 seconds than I usually miss my target – I still have to learn to stop and reload if I haven’t truly entered my space inside my head. I will cost my group more lost time with my miss than if I back off and retry.

      • Nothing … the objective is to quite my mind while only focusing on my target where I want the ball to go. Before I start I have already decided on my target, miss, and ball flight (high/low/draw/fade) so once my mind is clear and calm I set up to the ball, create my shot and fire. If I am working with a swing thought I do it during my practice swing before I start my pre-shot routine … during my swing I let my body do what it does a LOT better than me.

      • Good Q! It is important to occupy your thoughts with the positive steps of your routine. I advocate that you can also have ONE positive swing key or thought. Mine vary depending how I am playing or what I am focusing on that day but it must be one, last positive thought.

        • That begs the question…. how does a “swing thought” translate into a physical golf swing? I suggest the swing thought is nothing more than a “swing guess”, or a “swing hope”.
          I know it’s heresy to contradict centuries of golf swing lore, but brain science suggests that conscious thinking to “not forget” to do something is problematic when you start to do something. Sorry, but that’s reality.

  4. I prefer to call it a “pre-swing” routine because it is fully conscious and precedes the swing which is semi-conscious or semi-automatic.
    A pre-swing routine is rather simplistic because it is the time you gather your courage to actually execute the “shot”. A pre-swing routine for incompetent golfers is just a waste of time and contra-indicated because thinking about your incompetence will only make it worse. Just hack quickly.
    The “pre-putt” routine is much more complex because it starts as you approach the green. You must first assess the general lie or slope of the green, undulations, grass grain and condition, fast or slow green conditions, and, the situation around the hole to determine where the lagged putt will roll for the return putt. Only then can you execute your putting stroke.
    Pre-swing routine for driver and irons takes into account things like wind, bunkers, water, rough, and landing location…. and then swing requirements to achieve your objective. Much simpler than putting routine…. imho.

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