I often hear golfers complain that they can’t hit the ball on the golf course the way that they do on the driving range. They spend time practicing and working on their game, getting to where they can hit decent shots, but then when they get on the golf course the ball seems to have a mind of its own.
So how can you and others rein in those wayward shots on the course, bringing them more in line with your driving range ability? Before you even start to take the club back and swing it, you’ve got to regularize your movements leading into hitting your shot. You’ve got to create a consistent process and procedure for yourself, otherwise known as a pre-shot routine.
Your routine should entail walking up to the ball the same way every time – standing directly behind the ball as you look at your target, picking a spot a foot in front of the ball as an intermediate target, aligning your club to that, and then aligning your feet to the imaginary line in your head you have drawn from the ball to the target.
From that point, in the same manner each time you will want to visualize your shot in your mind, have the same amount of waggles and looks to the hole, and have some foot shuffling added in the mix so you don’t get frozen over the ball. When you get under the gun in a high pressure situation you don’t want to have to think about what moves your body should be doing at that point. They need to be pre-determined, well-rehearsed, and an unconscious habit.
Having a pre-shot routine is an important part of playing well on the golf course because it helps one deal with an elevated heart rate from the pressure of playing well in front of others, and the fear of hitting a bad shot. It sets the body in motion for you, without you having to figure out what to do in that moment when you’re nerves are inhibited with anxiety.
Next time you watch an LPGA or PGA Tour event, watch the pros go through their very calculated routines, those that they have consciously learned, rehearsed, and made habit. Think how frayed those nerves get when a guy is playing the back nine at Augusta for the green jacket, or struggling to shoot 1 under on the back nine Friday to make the cut and feed his family, or standing over an 8 foot putt for $50,000. Each player has their own signature style and movements they have developed in order to deal with those nerves. Some players may hold their head to one side every time when lining up, hold the club in a specific hand, have a certain gait speed, a certain waggle, or maybe even a little butt shake. They have done these moves methodically and precisely, over and over again thousands of times, in the same way every time. They don’t have to think about them anymore because they are ingrained habit.
We have routines so that we don’t have to re-create our way through our pre-shot activity every time, expending precious energy, brain power, and time. You don’t want to have to be conscious of your body movements when under lots of pressure, because anxiety will be inhibiting your ease of motion and fine motor skills. In having routines, it takes the thought out of it and makes it second nature, so that we are just reacting as we let all of our previous efforts and actions take over.
If you want to play better golf, figure out your routine beforehand, and rehearse it over and over and over again, until it is habit. In this way, you don’t have to decide when to pull the trigger or how long you’re going to stand over the ball when on the course, as it has already been determined. For although you may not be able to feel your arms and legs on the first tee in front of everyone, and it seems as though you are going to swallow your larynx, your body still knows what to do to save you and your score!