In this article I will reveal the psychology behind the pre-shot routine in the long game and present some important questions in order for you to critically assess your routine.
What is the purpose of your pre-shot routine?
It is more than a sequence of actions that help you prepare to hit each shot.
The pre-shot routine is your mind and body’s anchor on the course. It should be designed to help get you back on track when you make a string of poor shots or lose control.
It is a very important element in your game, and should be seen as a tool in your bag. While you give your swing a regular check-up, you should also do the same for your pre-shot routine.
The purpose of the pre-shot routine is to:
Does your routine help you achieve these mental and physical states?
In order to achieve these things, your routine must be a “mindful” process.
This means you need to have full conscious awareness of what you are doing and each step in your routine must have a purpose.
I have asked many elite players to describe each step they go through in their routine (including their thought process), and most struggle to do this without physically carrying it out.
This is likely an indication of habit formation, which is not optimal.
There is a huge misconception that the pre-shot routine should be habitual or automatic. When your routine become a habit, you will have a tendency to “go through the motions”, without conscious awareness of what you are doing or thinking.
This is when slight distractions can easily disrupt your shot execution, because you have not achieved full-focus.
Your routine should feel natural and comfortable, but it should not be automatic without clear thought. The first step in ensuring your routine is purposeful rather than habitual is to identify the elements in your routine that serve a clear purpose and which actions are redundant that should be altered or dropped altogether.
Don’t be afraid to refresh your routine from time to time, this will revive your focus and energy on the course.
Breaking down the Pre-shot Routine into Phases:
Many players do not realize that there are two key phases in your pre-shot routine, 1) Shot selection, and 2) Shot execution.
Shot Selection Phase = Intuition, Focus, and Commitment
The Shot Selection phase is the assessment and decision making process in your routine. Your mind should go through a sequence of steps to select your shot including the assessment of your landing area, yardage, target, wind, and shot shape.
Sometimes this process can be simple and flow easily, and there are times when it seems extremely complicated.
This is because there is a huge amount of factors your brain can end up attending to in this assessment phase including “where NOT to hit the ball.”
This is the segment where “over thinking” can easily occur which gets in the way of intuitive decision-making. In order to avoid information over-load and trust your instincts you must be fully aware of the sequence of steps you go through in your shot selection phase and stick to it for every shot.
The better you get at creating a consistent shot selection process, the stronger your commitment will be to every shot, allowing you to truly play one-shot at a time.
The shot-execution phase of your pre-shot routine occurs AFTER you have committed to your shot. In my opinion most players are not disciplined enough in this respect.
The purpose of the shot-execution phase is to regulate tension and imitate your shot; there is no room for assessment and decision-making in this phase.
Do you have one key action in your routine that helps your to regulate tension?
Playing well under pressure is not an innate skill, it is a skill mastered through strategic awareness. You can become unbreakable in high-pressure situations when you use your pre-shot routine effectively.
If you don’t have one key action that helps regulate tension in your pre-shot routine its time to start experimenting.
Another important question to ask yourself; what is the purpose of your practice swing?
For some it is tension control, for others it is true shot simulation. No matter your preference, your actions inside your routine must match. If your practice swing on the tee with your driver is typically slow with an abbreviated back swing then this is not going to help you if you intend to use your practice swing to imitate your shot.
Critically assess your practice swing/s and don’t be afraid to experiment with trying something different.
Use the information in this article to critically assess your routine today. Don’t neglect your pre-shot routine in your training. It requires as much attention and refreshing as the rest of your game.
Dr. Jay-Lee Longbottom