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Opinion & Analysis

How Solid is Your Pre-Shot Routine?

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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.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Jasian Day

    Jun 1, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    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. Jack

    May 31, 2017 at 11:10 pm

    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. Mad-Mex

    May 31, 2017 at 11:08 pm

    What is this pre-shot routine you speak of ??!?!!? I think it changes almost with every shot! Need to establish one.

  4. Edrem

    May 31, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    None of that makes any difference for you when you have a crap swing with which you can’t hit the ball straight like you lmao

  5. Philip

    May 31, 2017 at 10:47 am

    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.

    • Philip

      May 31, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      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.

    • Peter Sanders

      Jun 1, 2017 at 9:13 am

      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.

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Opinion & Analysis

Train Slow to Swing Fast and Play More

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You are probably reading this article because the title made zero sense to you when you read it.  You are probably thinking, “Slow training makes me go fast? Everyone knows you have to train fast if you want to go fast. We have all seen SuperSpeed Golf’s commercials. This guy is an idiot.” 

With that rationale, not sure I can blame you! 

If you’re a golfer and you want to move the clubhead faster, with more efficiency and for many more years to come, however, I encourage you to read on with a bit of curiosity and even skepticism if that is more your flavor. What you find out might turn the way you train 180 degrees onto its head. I know it did for me.

When I started training athletes more than 10 years ago, I subscribed to the “train fast to be fast” mentality for awhile. Then, thankfully, I read the research out there and realized how I was overlooking one of the most important phases to train mobility, power and maximal strength in my athletes as many people do: the eccentric phase.  

There are a few phases of movement that we should clarify before going any further so as to clear up any confusion later on. Most movements consist of three phases:

  1. The Eccentric Phase
  2. The Isometric Phase
  3. The Concentric Phase

In a squat, the eccentric phase is the lowering phase to the bottom of the squat. The isometric phase is the pause at the bottom of the squat. The concentric phase is when the athlete starts to move their body back toward the start position.  

In the golf swing, we can simply classify the three phases:

  • The eccentric phase occurs toward the end of the backswing as the club is decelerated
  • The isometric phase occurs at the top of the backswing as there is a slight pause right before the start of the transition toward the target (i.e. there is still tension in the tissues and joint, but there is no net joint motion occurring)
  • The concentric phase occurs during the downswing when the club is accelerating toward the golf ball  

Please note that there are many nuances and arguments could be made against these classifications. This categorization is made in the spirit of simplicity to help with understanding of the phases. 

While all three of these movements are relatively easy to see in most human movement and in golf as well, we more often see a focus on the concentric training piece in the gym rather than all three phases. This is interesting to note, as the eccentric phase is a crucial one where athletes are able to store large amounts of energy in connective tissues (muscles and tendons mostly) that we can then use to produce more power during the concentric phase.  

The caveat here is that you need to be strong enough to apply your brakes effectively to decelerate during the eccentric phase and reapply this force during the concentric phase. If you are weak in the eccentric phase, not only will you be inefficient in transferring the energy from the eccentric to concentric phase, but you will be more likely to be injured as well.

So why are we not focusing on this critically important phase of movement in our training of golfers? This is the million dollar question. By simply adding a focus on this part of your training, you will not only decrease your risk of injury, but also improve your strength, power, mobility, movement efficiency and muscle growth

Now to the “so what” part of this article. All of this information is great and cool, but how do you implement this type of training. More importantly, when in the year should we be doing this? Who is this NOT for? Let’s get into it!

This training is NOT for severely untrained individuals with no training background. What is going to follow is a simple progression from beginner to advanced that you can use to implement the benefits of eccentric training to help improve your longevity in the sport and your power output on the tee. 

Please Note: If you’re a newbie, we recommend you seek out the help of a fitness professional to safely guide your progressions.

Step 1: Three-Second Eccentrics

This is probably the simplest form of eccentric training you can do, and it doesn’t matter if you are using a kettlebell, dumbbell or barbell. It is exactly what it says. Just focus on lowering yourself through the eccentric phase for a three-second count.

The weight that you use should be less than what you would normally do for the rep count, as the focus on the eccentric phase increases your time under tension and the demand on the system with lower weights. This is another reason why eccentric training with newer athletes is great. You don’t have to use as much weight, and you are forced to slowly move through the motion and truly own the pattern. There is no using speed to mask weakness or bad technique. Usually sets of 6-8 are plenty with this focus.

This video below is of a five-second eccentric squat (Step 2) but the technique is no different for the three-second eccentric other than the descent is not quite as slow.

Step 2: 5-7 Second Eccentrics

This is a simple progression off the three-second eccentrics in Step 1. After four weeks or so of the three-second program, you can move to the even slower and longer lowerings. This further challenges you to really own the patterns and control the motion perfectly. It allows you to be more in tune with how you are moving throughout the motion and many times will bring to light inefficiencies in your pattern that you can work to improve without the weight being crazy heavy.

Step 3: Three-Second Isometrics

This next step takes “feel the burn” to a whole new level. Now that you can control the eccentric phase, you will work to isometrically control and hold your position at the bottom of the motion. This is a nice variation away from the slow-lowering focus to really challenge you to control the weight during the transition phase of the motion.  

A common question is, “How low do I need to go?” Without getting into the whole butt-to-ground vs. thigh-parallel-to-the-ground argument, go as low as you can (comfortably) while still maintaining sound technique. That being said, try to at least get to thigh-parallel if you’re able to with good technique.

Step 4: Overload Plyometrics

Depending on your age, your joint health and the overall ability you posses, Step 4 might be another game changer for you. Before going any further, if you have total joint replacements, bad arthritis, avoid high impact activities for any reason or just generally don’t think jumping is a good idea for your overall health, then the risk/reward is not present for you with this step. Stick to Steps 1-3 and enjoy the benefits there.

If you have no problems jumping or with higher impact force training, however, Step 4 can be not only fun, but also very beneficial to your performance! The idea of overload plyometrics is that as you drop down from a surface to the ground, you absorb that force and then explode as high as you can vertically or as far as you can horizontally — and then stick a solid landing.

In golf, the vertical force is what we are going to want to focus on training as the horizontal is less applicable. There are many variations you can perform such as altering your take-off mechanics, your landing mechanics (one vs. two feet) and even the height of the surface from which you are dropping. We utilize these variations with many of our traveling professional athletes as equipment can often times be difficult to find, but it is always easy to find a bench or step to drop from in order to make sure they are stimulating the nervous system response that we are after.  

This example of a simple depth jump demonstrated below shows the athlete dropping off of an elevated surface on two feet and then exploding up onto a higher box, which reduces how much force he has to absorb on the second jump. By using a higher box for the landing of the second jump, you are decreasing the amount of neural stress you have to take on because the box “catches” you closer to the apex of your jump.

The name of the game with overload plyometrics is all about how much force you have to absorb. The more force you have to absorb, the harder and more advanced the exercise is. To clarify, if you jump 20 inches in the air and land on the ground, that would be more intense (you would have to absorb more force) than if you jump 20 inches in the air and land on a 12 inch box.

Step 5: Overloading

This is where a lot of the rubber hits the road, and it should not be attempted without professional guidance — and definitely not if you are not a highly trained athlete. This is not a type of training for the weekend warrior who hits the gym only 1-2x/week. If that is you, stick to the top 3 steps and you will still see gains.

Highly trained athletes can oftentimes handle up to 125 percent or more of their concentric ability eccentrically. This means that we can put higher levels of stress on their tissue to force it to adapt, leading to increased maximal strength and hypertrophy gains. This is the performance benefit for higher-level athletes with great movement competency. There are a number of ways to achieve this desired outcome of overload training, such as with drop bars on the side of the barbells, heavy chains, flywheel training or others.  

Flywheel training is one that I would like to focus on here, as it is one of the safest forms of training around because it only allows you to put as much force on yourself eccentrically as you can create concentrically. This means the chances of injury are much lower than the other types of overload mentioned above. While these machines tend to be a bit cost prohibitive, it is this type of advance in training that will continue to occur to help golfers hit it longer for many more years to come while staying healthy. If you can find a facility near you that has one… JOIN!

In the end, eccentric-based training and eccentric-overload training create improvements in power, speed, strength, change of direction ability and mobility while also reducing the risk for injury. Each variation of this type of training may be more appropriate for different golfers at different stages in their life and career, but the first step is to be aware that this type of training exists. The next step is to figure out where it might fit into your training regimen. As always, I am more than happy to field questions and answer any specifics you may have by just emailing info@par4success.com.

As with anything, the success of this training depending on how it is executed. Because of the increased demand on the nervous system and muscles, there can be increased soreness after this type of training so recovery needs to be perhaps the biggest part of this conversation.  Timing in terms of when in the season to utilize eccentric based training as well as how to support recovery with nutrition are conversations that you should have with your golf fitness professional.

Hopefully you have learned something here today and as always, please reach out with questions or specific issues to attempt to implement this type of training into your golf fitness routine.  Swing Faster. Play Better. Hurt Less.

Editor’s Note: The author has no affiliation with Versapulley or any manufacturer shown in these videos.

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Don’t be THAT guy at your corporate outing

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Today is the day. Your out-of-office email is up, and you’re fully prepared for an afternoon at the course. As a driving range pro, you think this day will be a gentle breeze. However, you are not prepared. You may not even realize it, but you are about to be that guy.

That guy… who is that guy? Well, I’m glad you asked.

He’s that guy at the range hours early instead of socializing at the breakfast. He’s that guy arranging the scramble lineup when he finally makes it to that breakfast. He’s the guy who finds himself reading a golf blog about a corporate scramble.

Hi, guy!

Now, let’s start this early in the morning. You’re in your closet carefully crafting your outfit for the day. Wait, wait, wait… let’s not start there. Therein lies the problem, guy. You aren’t composing an outfit, not today! An outfit is for Day 2 of your member-guest. An outfit is for that golf trip with your buddies. An outfit is for Bill Murray at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am (who, with those bell bottoms, is becoming dangerously close to that guy). 

I digress.

A corporate outing is for the muted colors sitting in the back of your closet. There’s no need to get flashy with your attire on this day. If your game is as good as your rangefinder magnet says you are, your game will be enough of the conversation; there’s no need to make your belt buckle one of them. White shorts are fine, but please, don’t be the guy wrapped in pants in 80-degree heat. I get it, you’re “more comfortable in pants” and “this new fabric is actually cooler than shorts.” Come on now, let’s save the pants for guys who aren’t playing for pro shop credit.

Obviously club-tossing, swear-wording and teammate-bashing are huge no-nos, but you already know that. Be encouraging on the course and give your teammates credit when they hit one down the middle, even if you drive it past them. It was still their shot that freed you up.

Most importantly, gauge the competitiveness of the team. Some people are there to win; some people are there for gin. If it’s clear that your team isn’t firing 14-under, kick back, relax and help your teammates improve. You’ll have your own chance. You can still get excited for the long drive, guy.

Speaking of the long drive, why is the prize for winning said competition so often a new driver? “You proved today how well you smash that driver, so here is a new one!” Sir, he likes his just fine. I think it’s safe to venture he’d rather stop the three-putt pars. Which also goes for the longest-putt prize. A brand new Odyssey White Hot! Just stop it. Pro shop credit… problem solved.

Speaking of problems, there’s a good chance someone in your group will have a massive one with their swing. As a guy, you’ll probably want to tell them they are “casting” and to try this “towel-under-the-arm drill.” Yes, it is completely fine to provide a tip, but only when warranted (or preferably, called upon). You can go from “guy who helped my short game” to “guy who destroyed my swing” with just a few too many hints.

One more thing. Don’t let any guy pull this move.

Let me paint a story. Your team approaches the green, you have two decent looks at birdie. Good for you! However, your team can’t decide. One is 15-feet straight up the hill. The other is an eight-foot slider. The team agrees the shorter putt is still the play.

“I’ll smack this 15-footer, just for fun,” your cheating teammate says. Followed shortly by, “unless it goes in, ha.”

Other than actually cheating, this is the most common and lame shenanigan I’ve seen in a corporate scramble. I’ve never forgotten the people that did it with me, and they won’t forget you.

Man, that got dark in a hurry.

Back to the fun stuff. You’ve mastered the clothing and seamlessly blended casual and competitive like Tom Brady in Uggs. All that is left now is to select your winning item in the pro shop. And this is where I leave my final tip. Go with something practical: gloves, golf balls. The last thing your wardrobe needs is another lime green shirt that you’ll want to wear in next month’s scramble.

Related: Pick three golfers to build your ultimate scramble team for $8 or less!

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The 19th Hole: Host Michael Williams plays Shinnecock Hills and reports back

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Host Michael Williams reports on his visit to Media Day at Shinnecock Hills, the site the 2018 U.S. Open, where he played the course. How are the current conditions? He weighs in on the Unlimited Mulligan Challenge made by Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports that day, as well. Also, famed Architect David Kidd talks about how he created Bandon Dunes at the age of 25, and Steve Skinner of KemperLesnik gives his views on the health of the golf business.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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