We have put our golf shoes on, the bag is ready and our pockets are full of golf balls and tees and we stride up to the first tee. The ball goes down, we take one look and we smash it miles down the fairway. Sorry, I should stop there!

That is what happens in my head and it gives the impression that things happen in golf as if by magic. For anyone new(ish) to golf, a quick word of warning, they absolutely do not. Watch Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy or any of golf’s greatest players down the years and they make the game look simple. Why? Through years of practise and repetition.

Golf is a game of repetition and habit. We want to repeat the same (good) shots time after time if we can. But the way we can achieve that is though developing good habits and one of those is with our pre-shot routine. Here at AMERICAN GOLF, we have some ideas that all of us can try to implement to get us ‘in the zone’ for hitting a great golf shot.

Why have a practice routine?

Every single professional golfer has his or her own unique pre-shot routine. It is not just for the hell of it. They do it because it helps to create the environment that they need to hit the right shot. There is confidence because this is what they have done thousands of times before, and it also reduces any nerves about the shot that lies ahead. While the surroundings may be different in terms of golf courses, when stood over the ball, the pre-shot routine brings the air of familiarity and comfort that we can hit the right shot regardless.

One shot at a time

We always roll our eyes when we hear pro golfers talking about ‘taking things one shot at a time’ ahead of a the final round of a big tournament like The Open or The Masters. Boring! But it underlines the importance of process in golf.

Often for handicapped players like us, if we hit a great shot, we get a bit excited and our mind starts racing. We’ve hit a booming drive and we’re in a great position to make a par or a birdie. And how often do we let ourselves down with the next shot! Why is that? Because we let our minds race ahead about what may happen and we get ahead of ourselves. We forget about a pre-shot routine because we’re so keen to play the hole. Yet having a pre-shot routine keeps us in the moment and reminds us that golf is a process-driven sport.

Thinking not chatting!

When we are out on the golf course, we all want to be sociable with our playing partners. That is one of the fundamentals of the game, especially given that we could be out on the course for well over four hours. But what are our most memorable days on the golf course? The ones when we play best, of course! If we are going to take a big chunk of our free time up by playing golf, then let’s try to play to the best of our ability. And that means concentrating! So save any deep and meaningful discussions for the 19th hole!

Some professionals can spend whole rounds barely uttering a word to their playing partners. That’s because they’re at work and focusing on the task in hand. As soon as they have hit one shot, they begin the thought process for the next one. They walk up to the ball and they are calculating the distance they want to, and need to, hit. They are checking the wind direction. They assess the lie of the ball and they decide what club to hit. That is a thought process that is well established.

There is no reason we can’t process those same four pieces of information to use for every shot – distance, wind, lie, club.

See the shot

Visualisation is a very important tool in the pre-shot routine. Whether we are standing on the tee, in the middle of the fairway, up to our ankles in deep rough or stuck in a bunker, we should all think about and visualise the shot that we want to play. Are we hitting a draw or a fade? Do we want to land our ball in a certain place? Of course, that is no guarantee it will happen but it gives us a better chance that if we don’t do it. Visualisation generates positive thoughts and gets us in the frame of mind required when we are stood over the ball.

Prepare to your strengths

We have decided on the club and the distance we want to hit. We have checked the wind and assessed the lie. We have visualised how we want to hit the forthcoming shot. (We have placed the tee in the ground if we are on the tee). Our pre-shot routine is nearly finished, except for one thing. Practise swings.

Some players feel the need to do them. Others are not so inclined. Everyone has to do what’s right for them. The important thing is to keep practise swings smooth and not too committed. Have positive thoughts and think about a good tempo.

And don’t wait too long. The more time you spend over the ball or going through practice swings, the harder the shot becomes. The nerves can build up and negativity can creep into our head – a golfer’s worst nightmare!

Practice how we play

We all know what can often happens when we go to the driving range or head on to the practise ground. We just hit one shot after another after another, and frequently with the same club. That is not reality out on the golf course!

If we’ve paid for 50 balls at the range, let’s try and take our time. Remember, we don’t have to hit them all in ten minutes! This gives us a chance to work on our pre-shot routine, especially in terms of visualisation and practise swings. It can be a case of trial and error. We can work on how many warm-up swings we need before we get down over the ball. What’s more, it makes our practise time much more useful. The key is then deciding what works and sticking to it, time after time.

On and around the green

Now we often think of our pre-shot routine concerning our tee shots or our approaches into the green, but it applies to every single shot we play.

The approach to how we hit a drive and how we hit a putt is very different. So it’s natural to have a few changes in our pre-shot routine. We may want to look at the putt from different angles to try and assess the correct line. We may like to take one or two practise strokes with the putter to create the feel and tempo we want. The key is settling upon a method that can be easily repeated. There is no point having six practise putts and lining up the putt from all sides on one particular green and then just walking up and hitting the ball without a second thought on the next green.

It is about creating habits that can become second nature. We want it to feel like a good shot is a reward for a good process that we can repeat again and again, rather than a glorious fluke which we struggle to explain.

About the Author

Adam Lanigan - Golf Writer

Adam is a freelance news and sports journalist who has written for the BBC, The Sunday Post, The I, The Times, The Telegraph and more. He has been writing about golf for nearly two decades and has covered 13 Open Championships and two Ryder Cups. Not only does Adam cover golf, but he has played golf for as long as he can remember. He was a member at Northenden Golf Club for around 25 years until his children arrived and his last official handicap was 11, although on any given day his form fluctuates anywhere between eight and 18.