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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Golf


The Importance of the Pre-shot Routine

Tom Patri

If you've watched professional tour players closely, you've probably noticed that one thing they share in common is having a pre-shot routine. And while individual pre-shot routines vary greatly from player to player, the execution of a particular routine by each individual player is remarkably consistent, tournament after tournament, year after year. If you viewed footage of Jack Nicklaus from the 1960s, for example, and made notes of which hand he held his club in, how far behind the ball he started, how he approached the ball, what he set down and in what order, the way he "waggled" his club, how many times he looked at his target, etc., then compared this with his routine in the 1980?s, or any segment of his career, for that matter, you would see they are very similar, if not precisely the same.

This consistency is what makes the pre-shot routine a crucial psychological tool. Because the goal in golf, whether a 3-foot putt or a tee ball, is to create a consistent, repeatable swing, it is a great advantage to program your mind to signal your body to make this motion in a consistent manner. The reason every professional golfer utilizes this powerful tool before every shot is they understand this fundamental truth: the pre-shot routine pre-sets your mind and body for success. Don't underestimate its importance, as non-professional players too often do.

So what exactly is a pre-shot routine? I define the pre-shot routine as a consistent, repeatable set of actions leading up to the golf motion itself. Your mind and body - the most important, fundamental tools you play with - recognize these powerful signals and translate them into solid performance. The mind-body connection is a universal and powerful thing, so learn to harness it to your advantage in your golf game. With that said, the most important thing when designing your pre-shot routine is to develop one that allows you to put your "golf machine" in motion the same way every time. You must then practice this routine (keeping in mind that professional players devote an enormous amount of time to rehearsing their pre-shot routines), making sure you have it down solid.

While only you can formulate a pre-shot routine that works for you, here are some basic elements that, in my observations, make up a sound pre-shot routine:

1. Starting behind the ball and making a realistic rehearsal swing, then turning and facing the ball, getting the target clearly in your sights;

2. With your right hand on the club, walking to the ball in a large semicircle, being careful not to go past the ultimate ball position, placing the clubhead down behind the ball, and making sure the club is facing the target;

3. Stepping in and placing the right foot parallel to the clubface, and placing your left hand on the club gently (note that steps two and three often happen together, and you may wish to use both hands together in step 3 to build your grip);

4. Positioning your left foot;

5. Looking at the target a couple of times while making a few casual "waggles" with the club, making sure there is no tension in your arms or anywhere else;

6. Choosing a "trigger" that helps you put the club in motion (e.g., Gary Player's slight kick of the right knee, or Arnold Palmer's slight swivel of the hips, but you get the idea).

Happy golfing, and best of luck - now get out there and practice!

Tom Patri is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher and the author of "The Six-Spoke Approach to Golf" (2005, The Lyons Press; foreword by Fred Couples), available at or In 2003, Tom was chosen as Southwest Florida's Teacher of the Year. Tom coaches players of all levels (from beginners to PGA and LPGA Tour professionals) at his golf academy, TP Golf Schools, based in Naples, Florida. To subscribe to Tom's free golf newsletter, visit his website at To contact TP Golf Schools, call (239) 455-9179.

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