If you were watching last week's U.S. Open, you probably noticed that every player had a very consistent pre-shot routine. As you become a better and better player, you will realize just how important this routine really is.
Golf is a target game, and it is extremely important to be able to go through this routine on every shot. Many amateurs get caught up in how they should swing the club when they are playing instead of visualizing their ball going to their desired target.
The pre-shot routine makes you concentrate on the result instead of the actual act of swinging the club. After all, how much can you really think about in the two seconds it takes to swing a golf club? The golf swing is a pre-programmed motor skill, and you must trust what you have practiced.
I have always said that you have to have a mind of a child when you play the game. Think of it a minute. Does a 6-year-old kid think their way through the golf swing when they are playing? Definitely not. A young child is only interested in hitting the ball to the hole, and hitting the ball as far as they can. The adult mind is always trying to think their way through the motion. The pre-shot routine gets your mind focused on your target and less on your swing.
Here are some things you can practice when you are working on your routine:
■ Start behind the ball and take a couple of deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. This relaxes your muscles and gets some of the tension out of your body.
■ Visualize, in detail, how you want the ball to fly. Visualize how the ball starts out, how it curves and where it will come to rest. This visualization process is very important to a good result. This is when you check the wind conditions and any other factors that might affect your ball's flight.
■ Walk up to the ball and aim the clubface first. Sometimes it helps to look at a spot 12 inches in front of the ball and aim the face at that spot.
■ Take your stance and align your shoulders parallel to your intended target line.
■ Waggle the club back and forth to keep the tension out of your hands and arms. This waggle should be the same number of times each time you perform your routine.
■ Try to keep moving your feet as you are waggling the club. This will keep you from "camping out" over the ball and building up that unnecessary tension. You might have a two-second quiet time where you can keep your club motionless behind the ball.
It shouldn't take more than 15 seconds to go through your entire routine. If you like to take a practice swing before you go through your routine that is fine. Just make sure that practice is toward your intended target and performed at the speed you intend to swing when the ball is there.
If you watch the pros carefully, they have a key that starts their routine. Some start by shrugging their shoulders, others pull on their golf glove while others might hitch up their pants. In any event, they all have a key. The routine gets your mind off the process of swinging the club and gets you more engaged in your target.
In the end, golf is a reaction game and we must react to the target. The majority of amateurs make the ball their target instead of where they want the ball to go. This is not to say that you can't have a swing thought that ties your swing together, but it is to say that your routine will get you more in the process of playing the game rather than trying to think your way through the swing.
As you develop your routine, you will see the tension come out of your body. Your natural swing will take over and you will have more fun with the game. The next time you watch a tournament on TV, watch how carefully the pros perform their routine. Generally the guys who stay patient and stay in their routine are the one taking home the check.
They look athletic when they swing because they have eliminated excessive tension. Practice your routine and get your game on the course.
Dr. Jim Suttie, 2000 National PGA Teacher of the Year, is available for lessons at Suttie Golf at the Club at Twin Eagles North Naples and Cog Hill Golf Club, Lemont, Ill. For lessons and program information call 800-765-3838 or Jmsuttie@aol.com