Pre-shot routines…blast to the past

Kevin Na's pre-shot routine has been center of attention this week

Much has been made about the first three rounds of this week’s Players Championship, not because of leader Kevin Na’s good play, but because of what is occurring prior to him hitting the golf ball. Currently Na is going through a swing change and much like what occurred with Sergio Garcia a decade ago with is numerous gripping and re-gripping prior to hitting the golf ball, Na is waggling or taking several practice swings before he feels comfortable and actually attempts to hit the ball.

Kevin, who has never been known for his fast pace of play, is now even taking longer over each shot, which got me wondering; What is he thinking about?  Na said as much during his post round interview yesterday stating that he was doing a lot of thinking out there. There are two interesting components to this story.

First what he is doing when he prepares to hit the ball and how it reflects the culture of golfers; and second, how this culture could be challenged and might not be the best approach to playing great golf.

Most golfers who have ever taken a golf lesson have been told by a friend, playing partner or golf teaching professional that they must develop a solid pre-shot routine. some believe that visualizing the shot, or “feeling” the shot prior to swinging the golf club will help them hit higher quality shots and perform better. Others rely on swing keys or thoughts that will help guide them to higher performance. 

I argue that preshot routines and swing thoughts do not lead to better performance but actually create barriers to better performance in golf. First, I believe that routines are boring, predictable and exist simply as a thought about something that has occurred in the past and are not wholly relevant to what is occurring during the moment of swinging the golf club. I think this is one area where many golfers get caught or stuck because they are so focused on thinking about some instruction or tip, or article they read  that they have no “real” experience –  simply memory of a thought. That flies in the face of everything golfers want to do which is play free from thoughts. 

I contend that good golf is played when there is less thinking about what and how to swing the club. Let’s consider another option: Instead of a pre-shot routine we could call it a pre-shot creation, which is how my good friend and teaching professional Fred Shoemaker terms it. This by its nature forces the golfer to create the shot in the present moment, instead of thinking about a past experience.

The most fascinating aspect of what we are seeing in golf, with Kevin Na, even Tiger Woods is that they have hit thousands of golf balls in their careers. It is safe to assume that they already know how to swing the golf club, so why do they – and us – continually give instructions on how to? We don’t do this when we stand up to walk, we simply do it.
One of the scariest places for a golfer to be is inside his head.

One Response to “Pre-shot routines…blast to the past”

  1. Shagball

    Watching Kevin Na try to hit the ball reminds me of a nightmare I occasionally have. The nightmare is basically not being able to pull the trigger on the tee. I can see the shot I want to hit, but when I get over the ball I am so uncomfortable I can’t pull the trigger. I think it started when I lost confidence with my old driver. Oddly, I never have had a problem pulling the trigger in real life, but that is not to say I had any idea where the ball was going. Now, with my new G15 (which I have been playing since last August), I am so comfortable I take one practice swing, a couple waggles, then boom goes the dynamite. Like I said in previous posts, its my iron game that I am uncomfortable with and hope to find the clubs or swing that frees me up like the driver. Pre-shot routines should be nothing more than focusing on the target and picturing the shot. Generally, I think fast play translates to better play because you have less time to think and screw up your swing.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)