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GOLF: Pre-Shot Routine

by Miguel Humara, Ph.D.

“I wish I could hit it like that all the time” is one of the most common complaints I hear from golfers. The good news is that you have the physical ability to hit those shots. In fact, inconsistent performances usually indicate a problem with your mental approach to the game.

I think that we can all agree that the thing that separates elite golfers from the rest of us is their consistency. The very best players are able to do this no matter what the stakes are. Why? Because what they are doing is very familiar.

The more familiar you are with something, the easier it is to do it. You barely have to think to start your car because you have done it so many times. I sit down, put my foot on the brake and turn the key. Most of us have to put very little thought into it and can turn on the car consistently. Why? Because we are very familiar with it. It is a routine activity, just like turning on a light switch in our house, or dialing the phone. Although a golf shot is a lot more complex, it is necessary to make it a routine activity if we are to do it successfully consistently.

&nbspIf you watch the pros, you will notice that they consistently use well defined pre-shot routines both before putting and taking full swings. By doing this, they create a situation with which they are very familiar. Watch the people you play with the next time you are on the course and you will notice that the best ones follow a routine right before they hit a shot. Researchers have found that even beginners improved their performance significantly after a pre-shot routine training program. Clearly, what you do in the last twenty seconds before you take a golf shot can make a big difference in the shot that results.

The goal of the pre-shot routine is to get you prepared for the upcoming shot. Although it varies form individual to individual, a good pre-shot routine has three parts. It helps to think about them based on where you are in relation to the ball. What follows should serve as a guide for what to do when it is your turn to hit.

Standing Behind The Ball

By the time that you are in this position, you should have already selected a club for the shot and have an idealized place for the ball to go in mind. Stand about five steps behind the ball so that it is between you and your intended target. Try to put all the “excess baggage” (i.e., thoughts of what you are having for dinner or how slow your playing partner is) out of your mind and focus on the task at hand. Some people choose to make a self-statement such as “Let’s do it” or “this is going to be a great shot.”

Take your stance and make a few practice swings until you feel comfortable. This helps give your body a positive frame of reference for when you take the actual shot. Don’t worry, your body has a good memory for movement and is most likely to repeat the last movement that was done so make sure that you feel comfortable with the last practice swing that you take.

Walking Up To The Ball

As you walk up to your ball, you should keep the target in the center of your vision. This will help you to focus on the task at hand – hitting the ball to that point. In addition, doing this will help create a strong visual memory. Because of the nature of the sport, golfers are forced to take a “blind shot.” Sports like basketball and baseball allow the athlete to keep the target in their field of vision but golf forces us to turn away. Fortunately for us, humans have a very strong visual memory so even though we are not able to keep our eye trained on the target, we can rely on our visual memory.

Standing Over The Ball

Once you arrive at the ball, line up your feet so that you are pointing at the target. Some people choose to waggle the club head a few times at this point. Take a look at your target one last time to make sure that you are correctly aligned. Look back at the ball and take a cleansing breath (click here for more information on breathing) and let the shot happen.


The above is simply intended as a guide. Just like we need alterations when we buy a suit, you may need to alter the routine to fit your own needs. The key is to be CONSISTENT so that there is a sense of familiarity with the situation (just like starting your car or turning on the lights). It is also important to use the routine EVERY time, even for putting. The pros do it, why shouldn’t you? Using a pre-shot routine will improve your consistency and is likely to take 5-10 strokes off of your game.