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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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As I was thinking about some “gremlins” that have snuck into my own game the past few weeks, I recalled a visit I had with Dr. Bob Rotella some 10 years ago. That morning was one of the standout days of my 30-year golf industry career, getting to spend several hours with one of golf’s pre-eminent sports psychologists.

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Dr. Rotella, as you probably know, has worked with dozens of tour professionals, and has authored numerous books on the subject of performance psychology, most notably “Golf Is Not A Game of Perfect.” If you haven’t read any of his works, I highly recommend it.

Anyway, we spent two hours talking about the performance challenges all of us golfers face, which led into a deep dive into the technologies I had built into the SCOR4161 precision scoring clubs (the forerunners of my work on Ben Hogan wedges and now the Edison Forged line). What I want to share with you today are some of the real “pearls of wisdom” that I gleaned from that very enjoyable visit:

Scoring is all about short range performance.

Dr. Rotella first enlightened me to the fact that tour players hit “10 and a half to 12 and a half” approach shots a round with an 8-iron or less (now even more than that!). For the modern tour players, that accounts for almost all the par fours and threes, because the par fives are two-shot holes. He went on to express his advice that you just try to not hurt yourself when you have a seven-iron or longer into the green, and you fire at flags with the short irons and wedges. In his words, “if you don’t feel like you can knock flags down with those scoring clubs this week, you might as well stay home.” I think we can all apply that wisdom by spending the vast majority of our range time working to improve our work with those high-lofted scoring clubs.

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Over the past few decades, the mower heights on fairways have been moved closer and closer, so that the pros play tighter and tighter lies all the time. Back then I had just read where the fairway height at Merion, for example, was at one inch when David Graham won the U.S. Open there in 1981 but was increased from one quarter to on half inch for the 2013 U.S. Open. That’s a huge difference. Because the ball is sitting tighter, shots are hit lower on the clubface, which robotic testing reveals, produces lower and hotter flight with more spin. And it makes short range pitch and chip shots scary even for the pros. That’s because they play low bounce wedges to deal with the bunkers on tour. (Which I’m getting to in just a moment.) Watch TV and you’ll see tour pros putting from off the green more often than you used to, and now we know why. There’s a tip in there for all of us.

Those tour bunkers.

Did you know the PGA Tour had a standard for bunker sand. They like them firm and moist, so the players can hit those miraculous bunker shots with lots of spin, and they very rarely get a “down” or plugged lie. As I’ve written before, the PGA Tour appreciates that their “customer” is the television viewer – over 50% of which don’t even play golf – and they like to see these things. But I have a problem with the best players in the world enjoying bunkers that are not nearly as tough as the ones we all play every week. For most all of us, any bunker shot that gets out and leaves a putt of even 20 to 30 feet is not bad.

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