So it’s the beginning of the golf season — or will be soon — and you have done your due diligence in preparing to play your best. You have hit the range, maybe taken a lesson or two to work out some kinks in your swing, worked on your putting stroke and short game. But have you given any time to the mental side of your game … or more specifically, to your pre-shot routine?
For that matter, do you even have one?
In this time of trying to speed up play and concern over how long it takes to get through a round, many people I play with do not have an established routine and therefore, no clear idea in their mind of what they are trying to accomplish with any given shot.
But an established and consistent routine is an integral part of performing at your best on the course, and hitting the shots that will lower your scores.
PACE VS. PLAYING WELL
Teaching professionals today must balance the pace of play issue with teaching an effective pre-shot routine.
“The first thing I tell my students is that they don’t have to wait until it’s their turn to determine what club they are going to hit, the yardage, or what kind of shot they are going to hit,” says Bob Garza, the teaching professional at Lost Tracks Golf Club in Bend, Oregon. “If they get rid of all those factors before it is their turn to hit, they can go right into their routine when it is their turn.”
Garza finds many players that are simply inattentive on the course, and thus slow down play because they have not been preparing for their shot while others in their group are hitting.
“I believe that’s where pace of play really becomes a factor,” Garza says. “I’ve seen it with pro-am partners and guys I play with, whether they are not paying attention, sitting in their cart, or on the phone …”
The distractions take away from time that players should be preparing to go into their routine. Chris Meyer, the head PGA professional at Bend Golf and Country Club, also teaches his students to prepare while others in the group are hitting.
“You can calculate your yardage as you get to your shot,” Meyer says. “As you are walking up you can find your yardages and figure out where you are.” Being ready to play when it’s your turn is key to improving pace of play, he says. “Every second counts when you are out there for four hours,” Meyer says. “You need to know when you are up next and when your playing partners are about to hit.”
“You can be thinking through some quiet practice swings and calculating your yardage and the wind while someone else is hitting,” Meyer continues.
“I truly think the biggest loss in pace of play is not from hitting shots, it’s the time between. That is the biggest part where groups or foursomes lose time on the golf course.”
While PGA Tour professionals take some flak for slow play, to a man they all have some sort of pre-shot routine.
I have also been criticized on the course for my routine, with players questioning what takes so long (in their mind) for me to hit the golf ball. But my routine is primarily an effort to do three things.
First and foremost, I am trying to quieten my mind. We all have anxiety over the golf ball, worried about the water left or the bunkers right, the trees, out of bounds, the effect of the wind on the ball, club selection … and the list goes on and on. Those who follow the PGA Tour will recall professional Kevin Na’s struggle with his anxiety, to the point where he sometimes could not hit the shot, even during his actual swing. It is very difficult to put the anxiety behind you and your mind in the desired state of relaxed concentration. But it is crucial to allowing the body to do what it knows how to do … swing the club freely and with purpose.
Secondly, the pre-shot routine allows me to make sure I am aligned properly. From behind the golf ball, I pick a spot usually three to four inches in front of the ball that is on my line for the desired shot. I line up the clubface with that spot, and the feet accordingly parallel to the same line.
Finally, the routine gives me a moment to visualize the shot I am trying to hit. For full swings, it may be a fade or cut shot, or perhaps a straight shot or a draw. For chip shots around the green, I am visualizing the ball hitting the spot I want to land it to allow it to run to the hole. This step is instrumental, and I credit it for many of the perfect shots I have hit in my life, including two holes-in-one. Although they were many years ago, I recall both with absolute clarity. In both instances, I saw the ball go in the hole prior to hitting the shot … and the shot was an exact recreation of what I had visualized in my head, including the number of bounces into the hole.
I’m sure that you have hit perfect shots, too. Here’s hoping an effective pre-shot routine helps you hit many more this golf season.
Kevin Duke is a former golf and teaching professional, and a 25-year sports journalist who lives and works in Lincoln City, Oregon