When evaluating a new student on the golf course, I watch for whether the golfer has a solid, or consistent routine. I have found that many amateur golfers lack this skill. Think of your own game for a moment. How is your routine?
Consider how unique golf is as compared to other sports. In golf, the ball just sits there, waiting for us to make the first move. In other sports, players generally react to a moving ball, so there is less time to deliberate, making it easier to focus. Golfers must learn how to handle the internal and external distractions that are present as they step up to the ball. Having a quality routine is the best way to stay focused and present. There are two basic phases of a golf shot routine: Pre-shot and Post-shot. Let’s walk through a step-by-step approach to a solid routine.
First is the pre-shot routine. This process has two main components: mental and physical. The mental phase is performed 6-8 feet along the imaginary line behind the ball. When you watch the best players in the world, you will notice they all stand in a common area. Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, co-founders of Vision 54, and colleagues of mine with Golf Channel Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona call this area behind the ball the “Think Box.” I think that a great name. This is where all the analytical calculations are done. Golfers need to assess all the factors that will influence the shot, such as: wind, slope, lie, yardage, target, type of shot, club choice.
Our friends at GolfPsych, Dr. Deborah Graham and Jon Stabler, state there are three must do’s behind the ball in the pre-shot routine: commit, visualize and feel the shot. Commit to the target, which can include an intermediate target 2-3 feet in front of the ball, shot choice, and club choice. Visualize the shot vividly as if you are performing it. Then feel the shot by making a practice swing. If any of these are overlooked or haphazardly done, you are lowering your chances of performing well. Now that you have assessed the shot, chosen the club, visualized it, and felt the practice swing it’s time to walk towards the ball. You are leaving the “Think Box” and entering the “Play Box,” as Pia and Lynn call it. Most golf mental performance experts agree that Play Box is not the time or place to analyze the shot.
It is now time for our second component to the pre-shot routine, which is the physical routine. The physical part of the pre-shot routine is the set-up. This consist of taking your grip, addressing the ball, aiming the club head at your target and aligning your body with a good stance and posture. This only takes a few seconds! You should not spend too much time in this phase. This is where we need to let it go and swing in tempo and balance. Let the “athletic side” of your brain kick in and perform the shot that you have already felt and visualized. If you start second guessing your decision or swing mechanics while standing over the ball, you need to go back to the imaginary line and regroup. Just be conscious of the time allotted to play.
You just swung and hit the shot. Now it’s time for your post-shot routine, which is overlooked by so many golfers. Did you hit a good shot or bad shot? If you hit a good shot, imprint the shot in your mind with a positive emotion. If you hit a bad shot, work on showing no emotion. Objectify the result and be solution oriented. Work on a quick positive correction, such as a quick practice swing, and then it’s important to leave it behind. It’s over! You need to conserve your mental energy. It’s important to know what you can control and what you can’t control. You can control our pre-shot routine, post-shot routine, attitude, temper, strategy. You can’t control outcome, past shots, bounces, score, and lies, to name a few.
When I take work with students out on the course, I ask them to verbalize their intentions to me on every shot. Try this. It’s a great exercise to work on your routine. “I’m going to hit a 7- iron starting at that tree behind the green and draw it back to the pin. It’s a good smooth 7.” Or, “I’m going to hit a three quarter wedge flighted down a little to control the yardage and land it under the pin so I have an uphill putt.” Many play their best golf when they verbalize their intentions on each shot. Understanding you won’t want to verbalize your intentions during your regular play with your buddies or in a tournament, but with the practice, you will get into the habit of doing it mentally. So, develop a good pre-shot and post-shot routine and go out and play your best golf yet. Good luck!
Brech Spradley, PGA
Director of Instruction
Barton Creek Golf Academy
Golf Channel Academy