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How To Play Golf - The Importance Of The Pre-Shot Routineg

The Importance of the Pre-Shot Routine

This article discusses the importance of the pre-shot routine. Data recorded and analyzed from the 2009 Tour Championship featuring the pre-shot statistics of Tiger Woods, Kenny Perry, and Phil Mickelson were used to demonstrate the impact on lower scoring from a solid pre-shot routine.

Before the data is presented I would like to congratulate Phil Mickelson, the 2010 Tour Champion winner for his outstanding play during the tournament. His final round, five under par 65, is one of the best rounds played on tour this year. Whether you like Phil or not you have to be impressed with his exceptional play during the tournament, especially during the final round.

Thanks to FedEx we have a playoff system where the players are competing for a tremendous amount of money and prestige. The Tour Championship was played at East Lake Golf Course in Atlanta, Georgia, and featured the top thirty money leaders on PGA Tour this year. Congratulations Phil!

The Pre-Shot Routine Is Your 15th and Most Important Club In The Bag

All great players have rock solid pre-shot routines. The pre-shot routine is the only aspect of golf where the player is in total control. The routine is comprised of two parts; analysis and the triggering mechanism.

During the analysis part of the pre-shot routine the player has a number of things to consider before attempting the shot. The player should assess the lie of the ball, identify playing conditions that could effect the ball in flight, yardage to the target, hazards, obstacles, risk/return, and the players physical and emotional state at the present moment. Based upon these factors the player visualizes the intended shot, selects the club to perform the task, and picks a target. These activities are approached as a process and should be repeatable, consistent, and meaningful. The number of steps in the analysis part of the routine should be kept to a minimum ensuring the players ability to complete the routine in about 30 seconds.

The second part of the pre-shot routine is the triggering mechanism. This is the final moment in time before the player initiates the golf swing. Once the player has formulated the strategy for the shot, picked a club and identified the target, a count down sequence is started. The more precise the count down sequence the better the results will be.

Imagine standing behind the ball while looking down the golf hole at your target. Many great golfers treat the area around the ball like a bubble that only they have access to. Inside the bubble, there are no distractions or mechanical swing thoughts. Once the player enters the bubble the only thoughts are about the desired feeling of the shot and the target. Many good players have a routine specific to entering the bubble and triggering the shot. Once you step into the bubble you want to limit the time before shot execution to about 10 - 15 seconds for full shots, and 6 - 10 seconds for putts and short game shots. The more consistent you make the time element the lower your scores will be.

Data From The 2009 Tour Championship

I wanted to measure the amount of time players spent during the triggering mechanism; defined as stepping into the bubble until the back swing was initiated.

I picked three players from this years Tour Championship; Tiger Woods, Kenny Perry, and Phil Mickelson, believing they would get the maximum amount of television coverage. Because of the way television coverage jumps from player to player it was impossible to record all of their swings. I was able to record at least 30 swings per player.

I used a stop watch and started timing when they moved toward the ball and stopped timing upon initiation of the back swing for full swing shots and putts. After the round I calculated the average time spent for each player for full swings and putts. I then compared individual times against their averages.

Full Swing Routines

The results showed that Tiger Woods average routine on full swing shots was 11.47 seconds. 61 percent (61%) of his shots were within .5 seconds of his average. More importantly, coming down the stretch he hit two poor shots; the tee shots on 16 and 18. The time for his routine on 16 was 2.5 seconds longer than his average and the time for his tee shot on 18 was 2 seconds longer than his average. That might seem insignificant to you however, we think it is very significant. Something caused a delay in his back swing trigger and the results speak for themselves.

Kenny Perry had an average routine of 13.19 seconds. Only forty four percent (44%) of his routines were within .5 seconds of his average. The numbers indicated a lot of variation; some slower, and some faster. The bottom line; this amount of variation has a significant impact upon the players ability to deliver a machine like performance. We are equating machine like to consistent and predictable...not mechanical.

Phil Mickelson had an average routine of 11.25 seconds. Ninety three percent (93%) of his routines were within .5 seconds of his average. He did not have any routines that were more than 1 second from his average. It was noticeable how in control and machine like Phil played on Sunday and we believe his routine made the difference and led to his victory. We also believe that for a brief moment of time during his round on Thursday, he abandoned his routine and paid the price when he made his quintuple bogey 8 on the par 3.

Putting Routines

Watching the putting routines for all three players was impressive.

Tiger's average putting routine was 8.61 seconds and sixty percent (60%) of his routines were within .25 seconds of his average. Kenny Perry had an average routine of 6.25 seconds and eighty three percent (83%) of his routines were within .25 seconds of his average. Phil Mickelson had an average routine of 8.04 seconds and sixty seven percent (67%) of his routines were within .25 seconds of his average.

Statistical Conclusions

All of the players on the PGA Tour have solid routines. It is a very important aspect to playing great golf. The routine allows the player a safe haven from distraction and a consistent starting point on every shot. The numbers show that even the best players in the world can have variations in their routines resulting in a negative impact upon performance. Most amateurs do not play with pre-shot routines or have major variations in their routines, a significant contributor to poor performance.

Phil had a statistical advantage over Tiger and Kenny because of the consistency of his routine. He was very machine like in all of his shots. You could see it in the way he played. When Tiger has his "A" performances, his routine has very little variation and seems very machine like. The final round of the Tour Championship was not one of those days.

The other thing that was very impressive was the way all three players approached putts. They all have a unique approach to stalking putts and took a different number of practice swings, but when they made that final move towards the ball it was virtually the same every time, or at least within .25 seconds of the average. This was especially true on shorter putts.

Lessons Learned

So what can we learn from their example? Here are a few things to consider as part of your triggering routine:

Imagine a glass door between you and the ball that has a motion sensor. When you are ready to play the shot make a move toward the ball. The glass door opens automatically. Once you pass through the door you have 10 seconds to start the back swing.

Make every routine exactly the same. This would include waggles, looks at the target, or any other movements or mannerisms.

NO mechanical thoughts are allowed. Think about the feeling you need for the intended swing and focus on the target.

Have a swing trigger to start the back swing. Many good players use this technique during the countdown...they start the routine with the word "See it", then they say "Feel It" as they internalize the intended swing feelings, and then they say "Trust It". Once they say trust it, the club starts back with no mechanical thoughts.

Reduce the steps in your routine to the smallest number possible. This will make consistency much easier to control.

Practice your routine. The only way to perform your routine within a one second variance is by practice.

Strategy, visualization, and the pre-shot routine are the three most important skills you need for significant improvement in your game.

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