April 13, 2023

Pre- and Post-Shot Tips for Solid Golf

By Nicole Weller, PGA/LPGA

Watch any sport with high-caliber amateur or professional athletes and you’ll see their rituals and the steps they take to prepare for an action. What do you notice prior to a basketball player preparing for a free throw? A tennis player getting ready to serve? A baseball player stepping into the batter’s box? How about a golfer preparing to hit a drive or roll a putt? 

What is a Pre-Shot Routine?

Routines prior to a golf shot contain physical, mental and most importantly, emotional aspects, and they vary greatly based on what creatively works best for an athlete. The physical aspects of a pre-shot routine are ones that are seen, such as a rehearsal swing, the number of steps taken into the shot from behind or next to the ball or even hitching up a shirt sleeve.

Pre-Shot Routine – Sizing up the shot from behind the ball

Pre-Shot Routine – Rehearsal swing

Pre-Shot Routine – Reading the green

The mental aspects of a pre-shot routine aren’t visible but involve creating a plan and then committing to that plan.  Note that I say plan, not worry. Keep the plan objective based on the external variables (weather, ground lie, conditions, state of a match) and internal variables (today’s skill ability).

The emotional aspects of a pre-shot routine dictate whether one is ready for the shot (or not) and if one can self-manage effectively. Would you rather be worried or curious about what’s going to happen? Would you rather be nervous or excited?

Tim Kremer was a very good friend and mentor of mine who recently passed too early in his life. I first met Tim at a national LPGA conference. He founded Spirit of Golf and Peak Performance Mind Coaching and used a wonderful chart of high (positive) and low (negative) vibrating emotions. Yes, emotions actually have vibrating energy… Energy-in-MOTION! The key is to move up the chart one or two emotions from where you are and frontload the emotion you want into a shot. Don’t let an emotion manage you (i.e. guilt, fear, doubt, anger, despair) – you get to own what you want to feel.

Many don’t see the need to spend time training the underlying emotional aspect – it’s not as fun for most when compared to changing swing technique or smashing a driver! Yet, it would help their games exponentially. Emotions kick off the process, followed by the mental response and then lastly the action that comes about. It begins from within, not with the swing – that’s just the end result. You can have the best technique in the world, but if you aren’t selling yourself on a shot or believing in what you’re about to do, it will crack and show.

My master’s degree thesis, Mental Skill Interventions for Young Golfers (available through the TRACE library system from the University of Tennessee), contains some interesting stats about routines and their consistency.

  • The average amount of time for an overall pre-shot routine from the time it’s one’s turn to hit until the time the club initiates the backswing is 10-20 seconds.
  • Of that overall pre-shot routine time, the effective actual window of time over the ball is just 3-9 seconds.
  • 80/20: Recreational golfers spend approximately 20 percent of time planning and 80 percent over the ball, while high-caliber golfers do the opposite.
  • Players finishing at the top of a tournament have pre-shot routines that vary by a second or less, while those who finish at the bottom of the list that week may have routines that vary by over 5 seconds, perhaps more indecisive or thinking too much.

Keys to an Effective Pre-Shot Routine

Test these concepts throughout your spring practice at the range and on the course:

  • AT BEST – The last words and images that take place before swinging the club should be what’s about to happen “At Best” (not At Worst). 
  • CONTROL – Focus on what’s within your control (nutrition, attire, attention, reaction, decision, where you walk and move, your intention) instead of what’s not within your control (consistent swing motion, weather, other players’ comments or actions, how the ball bounces and rolls). 
  • ROUTINES VARY – Your routines may vary based on the type of shot. Where I take my one full-swing rehearsal swing differs from where I take my two chipping rehearsals. I don’t do putting rehearsal swings anymore, since I found I perform better when I react once locked in, rather than doing two rehearsal swings as I did for the longest time. Explore and discover what works best for you.
  • THREE GREEN LIGHTS – My favorite coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott from VISION54, have always inspired me with their amazing holistic and human skill concepts. They say one needs to be committed in the mind, the heart and the gut. If you don’t have green lights in all three areas over a shot, there’s a good chance the doubt will sabotage a good intention and result in a poor shot. If one of those areas has a yellow or red light, stop and reset. 
  • USE STRONG WORDING AND ACTIONS – Remove the words try, hope and possibly from your commitment plan. Use strong words and strong body language to sell yourself on your plan. 
  • CLOSED-SKILL vs. OPEN-SKILL SPORTS – Golf is a closed-skill sport in which nothing happens until you’re ready, like a serve in tennis or a free throw in basketball. Other sports that are open-skill have more interaction and less thinking, like an interactive play underway in football, basketball or tennis. Sometimes closed-skill sports allow for more second-guessing and hesitation, so create the plan based on what you know you can do over what you think you can do, and then be more reactionary once committed to the task. 

What is a Post-Shot Routine?

Just as it sounds, post-shot routines happen immediately after a shot and contain physical, mental and emotional aspects as well. The physical aspects of a post-shot routine are ones that are seen, such as a club twirl or held pose watching a great shot or a slammed club, slumped shoulders, verbal comments or eyeball roll after a poor shot.

Post Shot Routine Following an Unsuccessful Golf Shot – Slumped shoulders

Post Shot Routine Following an Unsuccessful Golf Shot – Looking to the sky for answers

Post Shot Routine Following a Successful Golf Shot – Holding Pose to Watch a Putt Roll Into the Hole 

Post Shot Routine Following a Successful Golf Shot – Watching the Shot with a Club Twirl After Your  Finish

The mental aspects of a post-shot routine aren’t visible but involve evaluating and assessing how the plan turned out. Note that I say evaluating, not judging. Keep the assessment objective based on the basic fact of what happened without berating oneself. Golf is a difficult and variable game based on our physical, mental and emotional state, and is part of the human condition, which we sometimes push to the side with expectations. The emotional aspects dictate whether golfers can manage themselves successfully (or not) in the near future.

Remember, you can’t control what happens after a shot, but you can control how you react to what happens. How you choose to store your memories emotionally will dictate the remainder of your round – successful if managed well or unsuccessful if mismanaged.

The Emotional Reaction 90-Second Hormone Wash

In her book My Stroke of Insight, neuroanatomist, author and inspirational speaker Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor shares some very interesting observations after she experienced a personal life-changing event. While studying brain function in a Harvard lab at age 37, Dr. Bolte-Taylor experienced a stroke and watched her own cognitive and bodily functions shut down. Fortunately, she was able to get help, recover and put those discoveries to good use for others – she had one of the first TED Talks ever to go viral.

In studies of the brain, when an emotion is triggered, chemicals from the brain are released into the bloodstream and surge through the body, causing body sensations. Serotonin, adrenaline, dopamine and endorphins are chemical hormones that make you feel better, while cortisol is a primary stress hormone. Much like a wave washing through us, the initial sensation is a rush of the chemicals that flood our tissues, followed by a flush as they leave. The rush can occur as a blushing, heat, heaviness, tingling and ‘stomach dropping’ feeling, and is over within 90 seconds, after which the chemicals have completely been flushed out of the bloodstream. The 90-second rule gives you true power. By knowing how the brain works and how it triggers you to feel anxious, you can not only reduce anxiety at the moment but also reprogram your brain at a cellular level to experience less anxiety overall. After that, it’s on you and your choice. How will you choose to react once the emotional reaction is over?

Keys to an Effective Post-Shot Routine

Explore these stories and concepts to help you find what works best for you following a shot to allow for success throughout the round, and even in life!

  • THE BACKPACK – I’ll never forget an example of how ‘heavy’ post-shot negative comments can really be that was shared by a golf performance coach at one of our national teaching summits. He brought a backpack and some bricks to a session with a young man who was working on post-shot focus, and after a poor shot, the student would take a brick (representing the ‘weight’ of a poor shot) and either put it in his backpack and play with that weight or leave it and move forward without the weight. How heavy can those negative and unproductive post-shots really be? Very heavy if you let them! Imagine playing with 10 bricks/heavy thoughts in a backpack on the course… learn how to lose the weight.
  • LET GO SIGN – The Positive Coaching Alliance is an organization that provides players, supporting families (parents/grandparents) and coaches with the best tools and resources to become successful athletes and people. They use Mistake Rituals to show athletes how to let something go. Some professional athletes use a flush sign to “flush away” the unproductive thought. Others may wipe their forehead to “forget about it” or brush their shoulder to “brush it off”. I had a 12-year-old student create her sign by taking an index finger and thumb and pretend she was smoothing an imaginary mustache, but her sign meant “I must stash this away”. Another young man once pretended to smooth an imaginary goatee after a poor drive saying “I must Go Tee it again”. In my case, I toss my thumb behind me over my shoulder and then convert my hand to four fingers together going forward, complete with a sound effect that quickly means my event is behind me and I’ve decided to move forward. The sound effect helps me disconnect faster and sounds cool to me. Several of my students have adopted it until they discover their own. I highly recommend exploring Positive Coaching Alliance and its online courses and resources. 
  • YOUR CHOICE – Positive and neutral reactions help success, while negative reactions detract from success. Not all reactions that appear negative are actually negative. It’s the energy, appropriateness and belief behind the action that matters. As a human, you have the choice of how you react to an event in your life. With training and awareness, you can learn to manage the reactions to your favor and enjoyment. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a golf shot, and how we manage ourselves affects the next few pages of our lives. How do you want those pages to be written?
  • MENTAL GOLF PROFILE – The Mental Golf Profile is a great resource to learn about your style on the course and how to identify the pros and cons of your style. Think of the personalities of an eagle, peacock, dove and owl. Which style do you relate most with in life and in golf? As an example, I was once playing in a national LPGA Teaching & Club Professional Championship at Pinehurst and came in 25th and in the money. The following year my first nine-hole score was higher than desired at 41, and I thought that was it for the tournament. I’d just be cruising in at mediocre. But then the lightbulb went off and knowing I’m a dove-owl combination that would just settle comfortably, I started coaching myself with some kind of toughness (as an eagle) and ended up shooting a 36 on the back, a decent comeback. The profile tendency popped into my mind and in my practice as I turned my tournament around. The key was being aware of sinking into my non-useful comfort zone and motivating myself to make a change. The profile will show you how you are and how to get back to being your successful self when things fall apart. Check them out online or through my website!

In closing:

Have fun testing various pre-and post-shot routine strategies to see what helps you. What perception of the situation makes the most sense? What’s the most fun in learning how to move on that fits your style? It‘s my hope that you now have some helpful ideas to test this season and can succeed through your routines.

  • When warming up at the range before a round, remember that pre-round warm-up is different than an actual practice session. The rhythm and timing of the routine are part of the shot and should be trained at the range, so it will be the same reliable and familiar routine during the round. 
  • After 10-15 minutes of blocked/repetitive skill practice, incorporate a 5-10 minute transfer/scrimmage practice portion of that skill. Scottie Scheffler recently attributed his success to better practice that goes beyond the technique and incorporates skill application to various shots and imagination. “I think I improved my practice. I’ve always been really competitive, and becoming more focused in my practice has really helped. When I’m out there practicing, I’m envisioning what I’m trying to do and envisioning myself in those situations. You can feel like you’re hitting it really well on the range, but the level of precision that you need on the course is significantly higher than on the driving range.”

Nicole Weller is a member of the PGA, LPGA and Proponent Group, and teaches at Compass Pointe Golf Club near Wilmington, North Carolina. Nicole played golf at Wake Forest University before pursuing her master’s degree in sport psychology at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. She has taught at Fairways & Green Golf Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, The Landings Club in Savannah, Georgia and the prestigious Pinehurst Golf Resort Academy. Contact Nicole Weller at nicolewellergolf@gmail.com, on Facebook and Instagram, via her website www.nicoleweller.com and through the Engage Speaker Bureau.