Charles Schwab Challenge

Colonial Country Club


1 good habit every low-handicapper has mastered—and you can too


Erick W. Rasco

Whenever I’m playing with a group of high-handicappers there’s always one thing that separates their game from the scratch golfers I competed against in college: pre-shot routine, or rather the lack thereof.

Casual golfers don’t often understand the importance of having, and keeping, a pre-shot routine. And if they have one, they’re quick to abandon it when they start struggling on the course. Most of the time, when players’ routines fall to the wayside, it’s because they’re standing over the ball for too long, overthinking the shot at hand. I’ve also seen plenty of offenders that are on the other end of the spectrum. Usually these players speed up to end the embarrassment of playing poorly and get the hole over with.

When you play with someone who’s been around the game long enough to get their handicap down to the single digits, you’ll notice that their routine is consistent whether they’re playing well or not.

That’s because these better players know that a reliable pre-shot routine can help combat nerves and keep you motivated out on the course.

If you find that pre-shot jitters are getting the best of you, or that you’re giving up on holes after a couple tough shots, or even on the rest of your round after a couple of tough holes, it might be time to hone in your pre-shot routine.



Thananuwat Srirasant

A few years ago, we did a deep dive on how long players should be standing over the ball. After interviewing many prominent coaches, we found that there were three crucial elements that contributed to a good pre-shot routine: swinging without delay when over the ball, consistent timing for every shot, and making it personal.

“Almost always under pressure there’s a tendency to take more time,” says sport psychologist Bob Rotella. “But the real problem is when you start taking too much time between the last look at the target and the swing. I try to get guys going with their first instinct. That one is all about confidence and commitment. The second one can be filled with fear and doubt.”

Developing an internal shot clock can help to combat the poor performance that follows standing over the ball for too long.

Mike Bender, one of Golf Digest’s 50 Best Teachers, says that the average time it takes a tour pro to hit their shot from the moment they step into their setup is about eight seconds. While other coaches agree that the entire process, decision making, rehearsal and execution, should take 20 seconds in total.

Some coaches even suggest using a countdown to keep your routine quick.

“Sometimes I count to four as I approach the ball. Then I see an image of the shot, and my brain tells me we’re ready to go,” says Josh Zander, one of Golf Digest’s top teachers in California. “The key is to go when your brain gives you the signal.”

Your timing doesn’t need to be exact, it just needs to work for you and your swing.

“It’s a range. Some players are at 23, some at 17,” says sport psychologist Gio Valiante. “You can’t make it a rigid thing. Everybody copies the best players in the world. But the best players don’t copy anyone.”

As you play around with your routine figuring out what timing works best for you, you should also test out where you take practice swings, or if you even need them. Most players benefit from rehearsing their swing behind the ball, as it gives them a chance to visualize the shot at hand from a better angle.

In an old story about improving your pre-shot routine, Golf Digest's 50 Best Teacher Hank Haney says that amateurs often distort their view and screw up their aim by making practice swings off to the side and approaching their shot from the side.

Stepping into the shot from behind also allows you to kind of reset, and can serve as a trigger before setting up to the ball. Other triggers can be as simple as redoing your glove, tapping the ground and even waggling the club once you’re over the ball—the possibilities are endless but remember to keep it quick, keep it consistent and make it personal.