The Confident Swing System (PSR). THE PRIMARY KEY to unlocking lower scores quickly.
The Pre-Shot Routine Formula (PSR)
The pre-shot routine is THE PRIMARY KEY to unlocking lower scores quickly… not in a month’s time, but almost overnight.
The number of strokes you can shave off each round depends on how well your pre-shot routine is crafted. My sincere hope is that by the end of this module, you will have the basic knowledge to design a routine that fits your personal quirks and comfort level.
It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility to shave off 4 to 5 strokes per round once you have formed a good foundation.
The real secret to lowering your score comes by improving consistency… by doing the exact same things over and over and over again.
Sounds boring I know, but let’s take a look at how computers work for some insight…
Why is a computer able to repeat the same task over and over again and always get the same result?
Because a computer follows the same exact routine for the task it is asked to perform. CONSISTENCY.
However, the computer is only as good as it’s programmer. Programmed to follow the wrong formula or steps and the computer will deliver the wrong result. Programmed in the right manner, and the computer ALWAYS delivers the right answer.
As humans, it is impossible to meet the efficiency of a computer. Yet, we can get close to computer efficiency by developing routines aimed at solving different challenges golf provides. This may require more than one pre-shot routine based on the situation we are faced with.
For example, your putting routine will be different than your chipping routine or your driver routine. We must factor in different elements based on the problems presented to us to deliver satisfactory results.
Golfers at the top of their game like Rory and Tiger are able to replicate consistent results on a consistent basis – only because they have forged effective pre-shot routines based on different situations.
When Tiger or Rory are faced with a problematic situation, their programming kicks in and they react almost instinctively. This comes through practice and situation awareness – good programming.
For this article, I partnered with my good friend Richard Guzzo in order to help you craft a well designed Pre-Shot Routine. Richard also happens to be a highly decorated former collegiate golfer and the reigning club champion at The Hyatt Hill Country Resort in San Antonio, TX.
For a bit of background on how we stumbled upon our formula, I need to tell you how we arrived at putting this Pre-Shot Routine together.
In a recent survey to our GolfAggressive.com clients, Rich and I asked golfers to tell us their number 1 biggest problem when it comes to their golf games.
As the results came in, we started to see a lot of similarities. Almost every golfer mentioned consistency as their biggest issue. Hundreds of golfers all mentioned problems related to blow up holes, three putts, and all kinds of consistency issues.
To be honest, the first step in improving consistency STARTS with a solid pre-shot routine. When I play with high-handicappers, I notice one INCONSISTENCY among them… they rarely follow the same pre-shot routine.
Being inconsistent here is killing their golf scores and letting those blow up holes slip into their rounds.
And it’s important to know that no two golfers will perform their pre-shot routines the same. The goal here is to make your routine unique to you and one that makes you feel comfortable and confident over the ball.
Setting up the same way every time will deliver the consistency you desire.
And as mentioned, you should craft separate routines for putting, chipping, your driver, trouble shots, and sand shots to name just a few. The overall mechanics will be the same, but you will need to build in the different setups into your routines.
There are other ways to design consistency into our golf games, but the cornerstone of your game needs to be founded upon following the same steps for every shot you execute.
Take a look at the best free throw shooters in the NBA. They bounce the ball the same number of times, they measure the goal the same way, and they even shake hands for luck after every shot. All of this is by design, and it helps to breed confidence and consistency. Next time the NBA is on, study the best shooters from the free throw line and watch their habits.
They rarely change…
How long should a pre-shot routine take?
I don’t believe there is any set in stone time for a pre-shot routine. Different shots will each pose unique situations that may range from easy to difficult.
However, I believe from the time you get out of the golf cart and arrive at your ball – the process should take no more than 45 seconds.
In fact, the USGA has outlined rules on the matter, and you can review those by visiting the following link:
Now that we have an understanding of the why, let’s get to the how and build your own unique routine…
The PSR FORMULA
Confidence is Queen and the Pre-Shot Routine is King for lowering scores. Having a solid routine will instill confidence and allow you to remove tension from your shots – giving you better results.
First what we want to do is create is a base for consistency. And that’s what the pre-shot routine does.
If we just grab a club and look at the target and hit and then the next shot grab a club and take a few practice swings, maybe go right foot forward on setup, there’s no consistency there. We want to do the same process and steps every time we play a shot.
To build an effective routine, Rich and I have narrowed down the steps for you to focus on. Here is our Pre-Shot Routine Formula:
2. Shot Visualization / Club Selection
3. Alignment / Setup
4. One Thought Only
5. Pull the Trigger
You’ve got to know the shot you want to hit if you are going to have success in golf. In order to form the right solution to the problem, we must take an assessment of our surroundings.
View this first step as a scientific experiment – we just want to gather the most important data so we can assess it and develop a solution.
You can come up with your own formula, but here’s what I like to do personally:
#1 CHECK THE LIE.
Is the lie clean or in the rough? Knowing this will help me dictate what kind of ball position and swing angle I may need to take.
#2 CHECK THE STANCE.
Do I have a good stance? Rarely will you find a perfectly flat shot on the course. Even in the middle of a fairway, you are likely to have a bit of an incline or decline as well as an uphill or downhill stance – or even a combination.
Knowing the stance and how to setup properly for the situation will go miles in lowering your score. You can basically eliminate fat or thin shots by just taking notice of the stance you need to take.
#3 CHECK THE WIND.
How strong is the wind? All we want to do here is gauge the wind in terms of MPH. This will allow you to use a little trick I’ve created to know how much to club up or down. I’ll teach you my trick in the club selection phase, but for now, we just want to estimate the wind speed.
First, check the wind speed by scanning the top of the tree line. Second, you can even check your phone weather app for wind speeds.
What direction is the wind coming from for the shot you are about to play?
In my personal routine, I’m not too concerned about a slight breeze – I’m concerned about a brisk wind that is constant. Simply because a breeze isn’t going to have much impact on my shot.
And we’ve all seen pro golfers grab a chunk of grass and throw it in the air. Usually, this is because the wind direction is not discernable because the winds are so light. I would advise against getting this anal about things… just because this is for tour caliber golfers who are playing a game of feet instead of yards.
As for variable winds, these can be tough… you just have to make a decision and be confident it’s going the be the right one. My general rule of thumb here is to guess the wind gust, then factor in the frequency of the gusts. If it’s not often, I will take my regular iron for the shot. Variable winds can often be swirling ones as well… and you can tell by looking at the top of the tree line and watching all of the trees swaying. You would then factor this into the style of shot you will play.
#4 CHECK FOR TROUBLE AND LANDING ZONE.
Check the landing area for trouble spots. Are there bunkers in front or back? Is there a hidden creek over the hill that the course architect has skillfully hidden?
And most importantly, where do you want to land your shot? Ideally, I like to pick the highest percentage landing spot. I’m always thinking a shot ahead just like in pool. If I miss, I want to miss in an area where I can recover from with the highest chance of success.
In certain cases, I may elect to go for a green and risk a bunker. This is rare and to lower your score, you need to play the percentages. Chances are your game isn’t as good as Adam Scott’s.
#5 CHECK THE YARDAGE.
Most of us today have yardage devices. Laser, GPS, and well marked courses have helped to virtually eliminate guessing.
I like to measure the yardage to the center of my landing zone – giving me a nice cushion surrounding the zone in case I miss the ball a bit.
NOTE: The situation analysis should take no more than 30 seconds to perform. Once you have all of the information at hand, it’s time to visualize the shot you want to take.
Shot Visualization / Club Selection
With every shot you almost always have 3 shots that can be played. And that’s where the 3-Shot Rule comes into effect. Generally, the 3-Shot Rule is something Rich and I use for trouble shots. However, it’s a good practice to think outside the box and look at alternatives even for a straightforward shot.
#1 Visualize the Shot.
We want to give ourselves a lot of options here – ultimately with us deciding on the HIGHEST CHANCE OF SUCCESS.
Good golf can be quite boring – and you need to ensure you are making the best possible choice if you are serious about lowering your score.
The 3-Shot Rule comes into play when left with a difficult shot out of trouble or in a lie that isn’t perfect (not to say this rule can’t be played when sitting in the middle of the fairway).
What you want to do is identify the three shots you can play, ruling out the low percentage shots first and going with the high percentage shot.
What you’ll find is the shot you really want to take is the high percentage one, which does not give you the best outcome.
Play these three shot options out in your mind, visualizing the ball flight, the roll, and even how the swing feels. Pick the shot that you are most comfortable with hitting. Comfort breeds confidence. Confidence helps eliminate tension.
Again, this should be a fairly quick process, maybe 10-15 seconds and you can do it while your playing partners are hitting their shots.
#2 Choose Your Club.
Once you have decided on the shot you wish to hit, it’s time to take some of the data and pick our club.
#3 Choose a Bulls-Eye Target and Safe Zone.
Choose a pretty decent sized area for your target and aim for the middle of it. This gives you a margin for error. I call this the Safe Zone and my rule of thumb is to pick a Bulls-Eye with a diameter of 20 yards around. This gives me a precise target and then a Safe Zone. And this gives me a very good chance of leaving myself a favorable next shot.
Next, you need to know the distance to the Bulls-Eye. I prefer to use a laser for precision, but you can use a GPS device as well. I’m looking for the sweet spot here where I want to land the ball. I’m looking for the safe play, the one that gives me a good chance at par or better. This will be the biggest, fattest area where I want my ball to land to give me the best chance at success for my next shot.
You should know how far you hit each club already. If you don’t, head out to the range and assess every club in your bag and measure with a laser.
Once you have figured out the distance to the safe target zone, it’s time to factor in the wind…
#4 Factor the Wind.
My personal experience has taught me the 1 to 10 rule.
Essentially, for every 10 MPH of wind I will either club up or down 1 iron. So if I have a backwind of 20MPH into a green that sets 150 Yards away, I will drop that club down by 2. So instead of an 8-iron, I go with a Pitching Wedge. Alternatively, if that wind were in my face, I would grab my 6-iron.
You will need to experiment on the range when it is windy to gather this data. Don’t avoid golf on windy days, you can get extremely valuable data in windy conditions.
As for crosswinds, these are hard to judge and depend on your primary shot pattern. Do you draw or fade the ball? In these cases, use your best judgment, but aim to keep the ball landing in your target zone. Perhaps the wind is a right to left crosswind, so you should aim a bit more left than usual but still within the safe target zone.
Is a low shot (nice easy ¾ swing) going to give you better trajectory? Or do you want to play a high shot and let the wind carry it?
So now we know what type of shot we want to hit, we know our club, and we know our target zone. Now it’s time to address the ball…
Alignment / Setup
Knowing that we are setup properly gives us confidence. As we all know, confidence to hit a good shot is paramount to success in golf. We need to create a base for consistency.
This is the key really that we work for to build confidence. The confidence of knowing we are setup properly and the confidence of knowing the shot we want to hit. As Rich and I have said before, confidence will reduce tension and allow you to swing better.
My main focus on setup is to perform my setup exactly the same way for every club in my bag except for my driver. Essentially, I want to get lined up for the type of shot I want to hit so my ball lands in the target zone.
The great Jack Nicklaus would start his setup from BEHIND the ball. First visualizing his shot in his mind and then picking a spot roughly 5 to 6 inches ahead of the ball. He used this spot to line himself up when he got over the ball. I recommend you do the same.
He would step into the shot with his right foot with precision and then bring his left into his stance and offset it based on the club he was hitting. Setting up in this manner makes it almost fool proof. I suggest you give it a try as well.
Once you are setup over the ball and happy with your alignment, it’s time to focus.
One Thought ONLY
Standing over the ball, what do you think about?
If you are thinking about more than one thing, you are setting yourself up for disaster. I’ve heard some of the top players say they can focus on three things, but personally, this is just a bit too much. It’s hard to focus your mind on more than one thing at a time. Especially in the short span of time it takes to swing a golf club.
Like Sands Through An Hourglass, So Should Be The Thoughts of Your Golfing Mind.
Only one grain of sand can pass through the neck of an hourglass. To calm our brains down and provide focus, we must provide all attention to ONE THOUGHT ONLY.
So let’s focus on one thing and one thing only when we are standing over the ball. I’ll bet money your game will improve. You WILL become more consistent.
Let’s be clear, you should focus on what’s working for you. We aren’t on the course trying to fix our swing or work on new swing changes.
Some common swing thoughts Rich and I use are…
… smooth takeaway.
… finish my backswing.
… sweeping takeaway, smooth along ground.
Jack Nicklaus has suggested your swing thought for a smooth takeaway should be:
… Ridiculously slow takeaway.
It’s best to develop your swing thoughts on the range when you are practicing. When you are striking the ball well, you need to ask yourself one question:
WHAT SWING THOUGHT IS WORKING RIGHT NOW?
One of the keys I have used to improve my own game has been taking notes after my practice sessions. If I was striking the ball well, or putting well, I wrote down exactly what I was thinking… and feeling.
This one aspect alone has helped me smooth out my game on the course. One quick glance at my notes, and I can fix myself on the course. In fact, I used my notes when I was playing with a group of scratch golfers in South Carolina at TPC Myrtle Beach a few months ago.
I started topping my 3-wood, which is usually incredibly reliable. After three bad holes, I looked up my swing thoughts on my iPhone. I located some notes from when I was hitting my 3-wood well. I applied the swing thought on my next swing and hit a 300-yard laser down the middle.
In fact, Rich suggests you have more than one swing thought that works well for you. A round of golf is dynamic and flowing, just like our mind. Sometimes we can get off track and not know why. Having swing thoughts that we know work for us are immensely valuable.
A good swing thought is as good as money in the bank.
Having a notepad or an iPhone with a variety of swing thoughts can save your round. It’s important to have just ONE SWING THOUGHT for each shot though.
I suggest you start ‘saving’ your good swing thoughts and building a substantial bank account you can withdraw from when needed.
Once you have your swing thought, it’s time to…
PULL THE Trigger
Starting your backswing may sound super easy to the non-golfer, but as golfers, we know it can sometimes be the hardest part! Generally, this is a VERY personal situation, and one only you can address through practice.
Some golfers squeeze the grip or lift their heel up slightly before initiating the backswing. Jack Nicklaus used to turn his head to the right a split second before taking the club back.
Personally, I will begin my backswing with a tempo thought once I am COMFORTABLE over the ball. The key for me is BEING COMFORTABLE. If I don’t feel good over the ball, I back away.
You should do the same. There’s no reason to strike the ball with a bad feeling in your gut or with the wrong swing thought. You are just setting yourself up for a bad swing.
Rich usually combines his one thought with his takeaway movement, and almost always it is based on a smooth tempo. As a result, Rich has a beautiful golf swing and is rarely off tempo.
Pulling the trigger though is unique to each person and one you will most likely have developed already. Our suggestion is that you feel comfortable before initiating the backswing.
It’s important to take notice of the top golfers in the world and learn from their experience. Tiger Woods is famous for backing away from a shot where he isn’t confident or has been distracted.
Tiger simply begins his Pre-Shot Routine all over again from the start to finish.
Once you have developed a good PSR, you can use it to reduce pressure on the course through practicing smart. Rich and I will teach you how to do now…
To your best golf,