Golf Psychology - Pre-Shot Routine - What is a Pre-Shot Routine?

Joe Culverhouse
  • Author: Joseph Culverhouse
  • Manager - GLT Content and Communications
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Iain Highfield
  • Author 2: Iain Highfield
  • GLT Director of Education
jack pre shot


In this installment of the GLT golf psychology series, The Mental Game of Golf, we will begin a new segment devoted to the pre-shot routine. This is by far the longest article in the series, but trust us, you’re going to want to read it all the way through.

Enough of the introduction, let’s jump in to the next pre-shot routine segment of the golf psychology series by going through some common questions we hear from golfers and golf coaches.

Imagine if you had a tool that could reduce worry, butterflies, tension, heart rate, negative thoughts, anger, technical thoughts, and could help you increase your focus and confidence. Well you do; the pre-shot routine is precisely this.

So, what exactly is a pre-shot routine?

Quite simply it is the setting of multiple goals that the payer has absolute control over and engages in them before every shot. It is impossible for a golfer to control exactly where the ball goes, for them to swing the club exactly the same way on every shot, and it’s impossible for them to control their score. These types of thoughts must be avoided in a pre-shot routine and thoughts that a player can control should be focused on. Examples of these thoughts may be controlling breathing, tension or where your eyes focus.

Controllable goals are referred to in the academic literature as Process Goals. And a good pre-shot routine is made up of multiple process goals that when linked together to form a coherent flowing process that a player engages in before each shot.

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Should your process goals include swing thoughts?

Well some of the best golfers in the world have had success when playing with swing thoughts, so absolutely swing thoughts can be used. But it depends on what type of thought! We want the thought to encourage freedom and flow so thoughts of tempo, rhythm, balance or swinging into an Adam Scott like follow through could be great. Thinking about your wrist hinge on the back swing and how your pelvis moves on the down swing are unlikely to help performance for any player more advanced than a novice golfer.

Research concludes that Holistic Swing Thoughts not part swing thoughts provide something constructive to focus on. Part swing thought often attempt to reduce or freeze degrees of freedom and this leads to decrements in performance.

So now you know that certain types of swing thoughts can be beneficial as part of your routine what else do you need to add?

Well quite simply, you can have the greatest swing thought in the world - in fact you can have the greatest swing in the world - but if your heart rate increases, body gets tense, and you strangle the grip tightly, then the chance of you swinging the club how you intended to is low.

Research backs up this point by concluding that regulation of Physiological States as well as Psychological Sates is an important part of a performance routine. Regulation of Psychophysiological States leads to consistent Behavioral Cognitive Patterning and facilitate consistency

Is there anything else to add?

If you ask an elite player like Jason Day about his routine, he will explain how part of his pre-shot routine is to see and feel the shot he wants to hit before he actually hits it. This helps Jason relax and access his best golf swing more often.

Research evidence supports the systemic application of Imagery being associated with improvements in motor performance. It has also proven that mental rehearsal can reduce anxiety during competition, boost self-confidence, modify negative self-talk, and even assist in the learning of new swing habits.

GLT's free PDF Quickstart of Golf's Mental Game is available here.

But what if you’re a golfer that struggles to see a shot?

Don't worry. Imagery also includes feeling or hearing a shot. If you have a desire to be more like Jason Day and see the ball flying through the sky in your mind before you hit it, imagery is a skill that can be learned, it just takes time and effort.

Science classes Visual, Olfactory, Auditory and Kinesthetic skills under imagery. Science has also told us that the image ability of an individual needs to be considered when looking at interventions that have potential to increase performance and that this ability can be improved through training.

So, once you’ve built a pre-shot routine, should you do it on every shot?

Absolutely! If you are a golfer that wants to improve, you need your routine to be a habit. This will mean that when you have the chance to shoot your top score, you continue to play with freedom and flow.

Research has concluded that Suppressing Conscious Control becomes increasing important under pressure.

What about strategy - is that an important part of a golfer’s pre-shot routine?

Yes! Developing the ability to assess the shot options and select the most appropriate shot is very important. The first part of any good routine is a player taking their time and assessing the environment. This is the thinking part of the routine that we discussed earlier. Once this section is complete it will allow us to see, feel, and hear the shot, and then keep us relaxed to access our best swing.

Elite golfers have individualized process goals that get chunked effectively and then automated. This Automaticity is an important component of a peak performance state and is promoted using effective pre-shot routines that include imagery, attentional strategies, lower arousal (activation), increased intrinsic motivation, and lower negative introspection.

If you want to get better at golf, do you also need a post-shot routine?

Yes. A post-shot routine is just as important as it can help you get your mind and body in the correct sate for the next shot. A good post-shot routine will help you perform your following pre-shot routine to a higher standard.

Post hole routines enable players to Quarantine their Reaction to what has happened. This helps players manage their thoughts and emotions, increasing the chance of Optimal Psychophysiological States on the next shot.

So next time I arrive at my golf club, it should be easy to have a good pre-shot routine because now I have a lot of knowledge on the subject, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that fast. Developing a good pre-shot routine takes time, just like developing a good swing or big biceps in the gym. So, if you want a good routine you must train it.

Research shows that pre-shot routine training Increases Adherence and improves performance.

In the following installments of this segment of our golf psychology series, Team GLT will provide advice on how to effectively implement a pre-shot routine to complement your mental game of golf.  


Golf Psychology