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Optimise your Pre-Shot Routine

What is the key to optimising your golfing performance under pressure? I wish I could tell you that there is a magic button. Instead there are 1,000 little variables, all of which can make a difference. Your aim as a golfer is to shift as many of these variables in the direction of a great outcome. A pre-shot routine is a key aspect in ensuring you squeeze the most out of your golfing potential every time you set onto the golf course.

A great pre-shot routine is a house where you can store many of these key switches that affect your shot execution. A great pre-shot routine is a safety blanket to hang onto when you’re ‘crapping it’ under pressure. Building a great pre-shot routine is a great investment. How much time have you invested into yours?

In this article we’ll cover what a pre-shot routine is and how you can build your very own great pre-shot routine. I also have a free download and task you can take away to improve and maintain your pre-shot routine.

What is a pre-shot routine?

A pre-shot routine is a sequence of thoughts and behaviours that occur just before you hit every golf shot. You have one, even if you’re not aware of it. If you don’t think so, wait until next time you play. Every club golfer has their own ‘un-optimise, haphazard’ pre-shot routine. You may take 3 looks at the target, shuffle your feet in the same manner as you build your stance, or have a unique waggle.

In this post I aim to teach you how to take this unique set of mannerisms and turn it into a fortress for playing great golf under pressure – ready?

What is a great pre-shot routine?

A great pre-shot routine is one that optimises your mental state for each golf shot you execute. It never guarantees success, instead it squeezes every last drop of potential you have for a given shot, on a given day. Imagine a great pre-shot routine as a tool to wring out a sponge that is full of your golfing potential.

Practice may grow your sponge and potential. But it is your thinking on the course that dictates how much ability you squeeze out of your sponge on every shot you attempt.

For the purpose of this post we are going to pick up our pre-shot routine as soon as you have a clear plan and shot you wish to execute. We will assume you have a clear target, club selected, and vision of what you are trying to achieve. If you would like me to cover how to do this, get in touch. I’ll write another post around shot planning.

Step 1 – Create a goal-focused pre-shot routine

The first step is to decide what goals you want your pre-shot routine to achieve. This is the basis of what you should do, how you should think and how long your routine will be. It is very important.

The goals I choose (once I have my clear plan) are as follows:

  1. Visualise the precise ball flight of my shot.
  2.  Feel the exact swing I need to make to achieve the shot.
  3. Keep my attention focused on what I want to happen.

A common misconception is that pre-shot routines need to be exactly the same every time. We should time them with a stopwatch and criticise any variations. I used to think like this, but I’ve changed my mind.

After a good bit of research during my masters and 6 years lecturing in sport psychology I now believe pre-shot routines should be goal focused. Actions and timings should be flexible to a point. They should be flexible to ensure a golfer always achieves the same goals every time they perform their pre-shot routine. If you become very good at achieving your goals, your routine timings will become very consistent.

Pre-shot routine: never force time, focus of achieving goals

Once you have your goals set, you then need to decide at what points in your pre-shot routine these goal need to be completed by. Like a check point. If the goal isn’t complete you don’t move forward in the next stage of your routine.

Pre shot routine goals
Plan out the key goals you want your pre-shot routine to achieve.

The three goals I’ve set out above are a fine start. However, feel free to personalise your list as you grow and develop as a player.

Step 2 – Match up your behaviour, thoughts & goals

Here is where we get into the nitty gritty of what makes  a fortress of a routine. Film your swing, replay it and write down every action/ behaviour you carry out.

Next to each action write down your thought progress. What is occupying your mind at that very point in time. Something will become very apparent, there are gaps! Many large chunks of time where you have no idea what you are thinking or trying to achieve.

I’ve been refining mine for many years. However, of late I am a tad rusty. Below is a video of my pre-shot routine as I write this post. I’ve annotated my video to help show a real time example. Below the video is a more complete list with gaps highlighted.

Here is my written out routine as I write this post. I like my goals, I’m happy that my actions and thoughts are closely aligned to my goals, but I still have a few gaps.

Pre-shot routine: Actions, thoughts and goals
Here is an example template from my routine. Most of my actions and thoughts are full. However, there are still some gaps.

These gaps are the blind spots in our thinking. Having many, large gaps really does allow negative thoughts to creep in. When you first build a pre-shot routine, don’t feel bad if you have gap. Just consider the following:

  1. This is a great opportunity to improve how you play under pressure.
  2. Even really good pros I work this still have some gaps.

However, you do need to close down these gaps. You can either, take out redundant parts of your routine, or fill them with thoughts, images and feelings that closely align with your goals. It is your choice.

A great pre-shot routine should have clear goals and few gaps in thinking. Try to make your efficient as possible. This may take some time and tinkering. Get in touch if you have any questions.

Step 3: Use your pre-shot routine to fill up your attention

Imagine your mind is like a giant mansion. Your memory is nearly endless. You can remember what you did as a child, a great day out golfing, all the way to what you ate last night. However, your attention is actually pretty limited.

If you’re watching sport and someone tries to speak to you, it can be a struggle. Your attention is like a small front door on this endless mansion.

A key aspect of a robust pre-shot routine is how well your thoughts, images and feelings occupy all of your attention. If you can pack your attention (the door entering your mind) full of useful thoughts, feelings and images you will find little else can enter.

Make your images sharp, make the colours bright, make your feelings intense. These will all use up more attentional capacity. You can also look to incorporate multi-sensory cues. I don’t want to get off track, but you can read more about them here.

Step 4: Continually refine your pre-shot routine

What happens if you don’t go to the gym for six months? Or you don’t practice golf for six months? Yep, I don’t need to tell you. Once you have a great pre-shot routine, you need to continually invest time into it and refine your thinking.

If you have had a set routine for a while it is easy for feelings and images to fade. Gaps appear and goals become less clear. Just by writing this post I’ve realised I don’t see my ball flight with the same precision. Also, the yellow vivid trace I use isn’t as bright as I would like it to be. Writing this post has also refreshed the goals in my mind.

Grab the sheet below and go build a great routine. After 10 rounds, re-film your routine and refine it. I will ask the pros I work with to go through this process every 6 months as a minimum. I’ve never found this not to be a useful process for any standard of golfer.

Golf Insider Pre shot routine PDF

Pre-shot routine – Summary

I hope you’ve found this article of use. If you would like more articles like this one, check out the golf psychology ultimate guide and come sign up for the golf insider weekly post.

If you found this helpful I really would appreciate a share on Twitter, Facebook or any other golf groups. It really helps me grow the blog.

Many thanks and happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK

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Will is a PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. He spent 10 years lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds in Biomechanics and Motor Control before becoming the Head of Golf for the University of Exeter. He currently runs Golf Insider UK, Sport Science Insider around wider consulting and academic roles in sport performance and motor control.

6 thoughts on “Optimise your Pre-Shot Routine”

  1. I would have rated this higher than 5 if I could. Probably the best pre shot article that I have come across to date. There are elements in here that I did in the past – when and why did I drop them out of my current routine? A review of my routine is now due!

  2. Very informative article. I have a god pre shot putting routine but have struggled to introduce a repetitive one for my long game. I will be using the knowledge from here to try and rectify it.

      • Thanks Will I started playing again this week after 10’weeks lock down here in Spain. Played remarkably well to be fair but I am going to focus my pre shot routine as a priority as I feel it’s a weakness. I will have a look at your psychology piece ….thanks

  3. This article makes so much sense. My approach is totally wrong. I’ll look at my watch for distance, check any obvious hazards, address the ball & swing, I often chunk the shot with irons & that carries on for a while in my round. I am capable of playing good golf but more often than not, -ve thoughts & over thinking ruins the shot. Playing tomorrow in seniors match & will practice a pre-shot routine, see how I progress … cant wait… with this extra knowledge.

    • Hi Hitesh,

      I’m delighted you found this of use. Keep me updated with your progress. A pre-shot routine does take a little practice before it becomes an effective ‘routine’, but I’m sure some good results will follow.

      All the best,



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