Earl's Recent Past Golf Blog's

January 13, 2024

Importance of a Pre-Shot Routine

The best players are creatures of habit. Their mannerisms, movements, gestures, thought processes, walking stride, and facial expressions are mostly natural manifestations of their personalities. But the way they go about getting ready to hit and execute a golf shot is a well-planned and thought-out routine. Just like a mechanically sound golf swing is critical to produce consistent golf shots, a precise Pre-Shot routine is as equally important to have dependable golf results.

Johnny Miller was quoted as saying, "I approach each golf shot the same, whether it's for five dollars or the U.S. Open!" By sticking to a repetitive structure lessens the outside influences that infect the emotional and mental aspects when hitting a shot. By staying within your routine and approaching each golf shot as a new individual experience makes you stay in the present and not be distracted. Do you wonder what's going on in a professional's mind when he or she is getting ready to make a 10 foot putt for a U.S. Open or one million dollars. Trust me, it's not the money or the title that's on their mind, but to stick to their convictions, routine, and accomplish what they had been doing brilliantly for the past 71 holes!

Jack Nicklaus in his prime was considered a slow player, but in reality, he was not a slow player, but a deliberate golfer. He walked swiftly, was always ready to hit when it was his turn, and made quick decisions on what type of shot he wanted to hit. What appeared slow was the time he spent "over the ball" preparing his body and mind to be fully commit ed to the shot he had planned in his mind. He has many times stated that he was totally unaware of how long it took for him hit the ball, but that he never hit it before he was ready and saw and felt it. I don't recommend a long time standing over the ball, because most will start over-thinking. Fortunately, Jack didn't have that problem. Many professionals know a danger time zone, when they are taking too long over the ball, because then they will lose focus. Most pros want to be taking the club back between 6 and 8 seconds, once they have put the club behind the ball. Jack's typical pull back was between 10 and 12 seconds, and a player like Lucas Glover starts his swing in less than 2 seconds. Each person is different and therefore each Pre-Shot routine is unique. Professionals and their teachers work constantly on what sequence works the best for them.

Sam Snead wanted his walking pace to match his heart rate throughout the round and not to vary. That was his technique to evenly pace himself through the ups and downs of an 18 hole round and keep himself in the present. Lee Trevino loved to keep relaxed and joke with the gallery, but he could turn that off instantly when he went into his playing mode to hit the ball. Trevino concentrated 100% for the 10 to 12 seconds it took for him to take the club out of the bag to when he hit the ball. Ben Hogan was notorious for his stoic composure and concentration. Playing partners would not expect to have a verbal conversation with Hogan between the first tee and the eighteenth green. Hogan's concentration lasted the entire round.

I had a member of Lakewood Country Club, when I was the head pro there, that wanted to quit golf because it was not enjoyable and never had been. I asked about what troubled him the most about his golf game. He said that there was no consistency and that the harder he tried the worse it became. His work profession had absolute answers and if something didn't work, he could work harder and figure it out. His answer for golf was work harder and be more perfect, which only made matters worse. No shot ever was good enough. We started first on him giving up trying to have the perfect swing, but the real break-through was the on-course Pre-Shot routine. His handicap when we started was a 15 and his good shots were what an 8 handicaper could expect. On the golf course he was obsessed with making the right swing, which meant that he was not feel or target oriented. It soon became obvious to him that he didn't know what a good shot was or felt like! His assignment was to give up ALL mechanical swing thoughts when he got over the ball and to swing the club back as soon as possible. He was to smile after each shot and find something to be positive about each shot. This was giving up control, which was SO hard for him. Fortunately, he trusted me. It took some time, but his handicap dropped to below 10, but the most fulfilling aspect of this story was six months later over a beer in the clubhouse was his confession that it wasn't the lowering of his handicap that he was most happy about, but he now could enjoy the game!

Establishing a Pre-Shot routine is another part of the mental side of "playing the game". Please go back to the Library page and click on the Establish a Pre-Shot Ritual file under the January 13th entry to get a detailed step-by-step approach to formulate your individual Pre-Shot Routine.

January 4,2024

Strategy

Strategy is another ingredient of the components that make up the mental side of "playing the game". Very few average golfers have a tactical approach on how to play a certain golf course, or specific holes, or where to place your approach shot to give you the best angle to the hole. A professional caddie would generally help the typical golfer gain at least five shots a round. A Tour professional, before the round, has already mapped out his strategy on each hole, based on the pin location of the day, tee position, and course conditions. Strategy is knowing your strengths and limitations and playing within those perimeters.

Arnold Palmer and Dow Finsterwald were best of friends and in many ways very much alike. But on the golf course they were polar opposites. Arnold was bold and aggressively and went for the "hero" shot, while Dow was "Mr. Conservative" going for average driving distance and middle of the green. Dow's strategy was to make money and play to his strengths, which were putting and wedge play. This approach produced 72 consecutive tournaments, where he finished in the money, which is fifth on the all-time list behind, Tiger Woods, Hale Irwin, Jack Nicklaus, and Bryon Nelson. Palmer's aggressive style lost him tournaments, but also were the over-riding factor in him winning seven Majors and 62 PGA Tournaments. Who knows if a more aggressive approach would have added to Dow's eleven PGA wins and one Major?

When I was first in Colorado, I became friends with Dave Hill. I got to play with him a number of times and had a very interesting "one to one" strategy playing lesson on how to play Hiwan Golf Course, which was the home of the Colorado Open in the 70's and 80's. Dave's greatest achievement, in his mind, was winning the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour in 1969, along with his thirteen Tour victories. The Colorado Open in those days had a $100,000 purse and attracted players like Al Geiberger, Dave Stockton, Larry Ziegler, Bob Murphy, Kermit Zarley, and then amateurs like Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, and Cory Pavin. Dave won it three times using the strategy that he mapped out to me. First, he felt the course was unfair and not enjoyable to play. (For those who knew Dave, this was vintage Dave. Brash and outspoken, but always truthful.) Most felt the greens were as fast and tougher than Augusta National. We plotted out each hole, based on pin positions. Unless the pin was on the front of the green, I was NEVER to hit past the first fourth of the green, or ever be above the hole. Augusta is the ultimate position golf course, while Hiwan was strategically defensive. His insight was very helpful and made me some money following his advice.

Pars are good scores and the typical golfer should plan on the best way to make that possible. Know your strengths and weaknesses and play to strengths. For most, the green should be the target and the pin secondary. Usually, one side of the green has less trouble. Realize that and plan accordingly. Golf architects entice you to chase for the pin, but a less than perfect shot will frequently result in disaster. Good players avoid those pitfalls that will not only ruin one hole, but the entire round. Jack Nicklaus was a smart golfer. He knew when to go for pins and when to play away from them. If he could reach a green, he would do so, but if not, he would not hit to 40 to 50 yards from the green. That was not his strength, so he would try to leave a fuller sand wedge from 80 yards, which was a strong point.

Think of your home course and the holes that give you trouble. Why are they tough for you and how can you make them easier. You don't have to hit driver on each hole. Hit a 3 wood or less to be in the fairway. Lay up to a green that is surrounded by difficult bunkers. Billy Casper won a US Open by playing a par three by laying up each day and chipping up and making a putt for par, while his opponents went for the green and had bogies and double bogies. It doesn't take a lot of time to come up with a plan, but surprisingly few will take that time. Now, hopefully, you realize the importance and how it will help.

 

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