Pre-shot routine and Setup

Every golf swing hinges on preparation – visualize the shot, pick the club, find the swing, then setup for the shot.  Make a mistake and the problems that follow in the swing are hard to fix before impact.

Visualization – before presenting the basics of a sound pre-shot and setup routine you should understand that it begins with deciding on the type of shot you want to make and visualizing the flight of your ball.  To start your routine, stand back behind the ball and mentally imagine the flight of the ball and line it must travel, then decide which club would best produce the length and shape the shot.  Visualization allows you to see the shot before you make it.  Simply said, use your imagination!

“Ben Hogan could see the shot before he hit.  He knew where it was going!”

Ken Venturi


Develop one basic swing and setup the same for all shots!

All great golfers like Jack Nicklaus pictured below have a well rehearsed pre-shot and setup routine before each shot.  Notice that the Jack’s “setup” is exactly the same with each club – his hands are set inside his left thigh, head positioned slightly behind the ball, right foot square to his target line, and left foot positioned open to release his hips.

Ball position Nicklaus

Your pre-shot routine is a rehearsal.

In golf, unlike most other sports, you get to plan your shot and rehearse your swing.   Included in your rehearsal is visualization – see the shot – the flight and trajectory of the ball, and where you want it to land.

Use YOUR pre-shot routine to relax – Standing behind your ball, face your target and practice your swing in an upright position with your shoulders back as you do most swing drills.  Swinging the club freely will help you loosen and relax your hands, arms, and body.  Swing freely until you get a feel for the length and weight of the club, and the speed of your impending swing. Swinging freely will help you establish a swing tempo (rhythm, balance, and timing). 

Use your imagination to mentally establish your swing tempo.  I teach students to imagine a speed of 30 mph on takeaway – accelerating to a 50 mph downswing!  This helps them to practice and play relaxed.  It also allows them to swing freely releasing the club to Impact and establish a good tempo!

Religiously using a pre-shot routine as you practice and play will give you confidence and help you relax!  Rehearsing your swing, visualizing ball flight, lining up to your intermediate target and setting the face on line with it, will help you become more confident and help you relax.

Does it work?  Here is what one client said in a text shortly after a lesson.

“Well, as soon as you left I started using your pre-shot routine, your grip recommendation, and a slightly tweaked left wrist position.  I was killing it.  You wouldn’t believe it.  Thanks again, and I will stay in touch!’

David G – Santa Maria


The Setup – a good set-up routine aligns the club face with your target, and like your “pre-shot routine” gets you mentally prepared and relaxed for each shot.  Understand and practice these basic ‘pre-shot and setup’ fundamentals to lower your handicap!

alignment rear viewPick an “intermediate target” just beyond the ball to align the club face.  Pick out a broken tee, divot, or leaf just in front of your ball and use it as an “intermediate target”!  Align the face of the club to it, then take your stance parallel to your target line as Jack Nicklaus does here.  Always keep your eye on the intermediate target as you step in to set the club face.

NOTE:  I see a lot of students setup correctly, then as they sight their target before swinging they start moving their feet.  I call it the death march!  Don’t move your feet, keep them aligned parallel to your target.  Imagine your standing in a box, and just ‘stay in the box’!  As you sight your target while addressing the ball, you can check and know your alignment is correct if your target appears to rest over the corner of your shoulder.

‘My alignment check points are set the club face; set my hands inside my left thigh; then align my feet, knees, hips, and shoulders parallel to the ‘inside track’.  Once set, I then turn my head to make sure the target is over the corner of my shoulder.’

Common alignment mistakes – the death march!  Many players make the mistake of stepping up the ball and then look at their target, then try to align themselves by marching their feet around. This poor setup routine will result in misalignment and bad shots.  Great swings with poor results.  This poor routine ultimately leads good players to start making grip and swing changes that spoil their game and score!


Setup checklist. 

After you have picked a club and rehearsed your swing its time to setup at address!  As you step in to address the ball check your grip and extend your arms.  Step in to set the face of the club in line with your intermediate target leading with your right foot.

AddressThen set your hands inside your left thigh and adjust your feet parallel to your target line.  Your arms should be extended and hanging freely down from your shoulders.  Make sure your hands remain positioned close to your body and inside your left thigh; your arms are extended, elbows as close as comfortable and the cups of your arms are up. 

Before you start your takeaway lighten your grip, relax your wrists and hands – waggle the club.  You don’t want to tighten your wrist, hands and forearms anytime during the swing as this will alter the face setting and inhibit the release.  Unwanted tension as you grip the club will destroy the tempo of your swing, reduce power, lessen control, and inhibit the release.

NOTE:  Here is a short checklist that I use and recommend – check your grip, step in with your right foot forward and arms extended, set the face of the club on your intermediate target, set the position of your hands inside your left thigh, set your feet and get your balance – your weight should be on the balls of your feet, not on your toes – Ben Hogan said you should be able to wiggle your toes at setup.  Then sight your target, waggle a few times, relax and swing!

FinishFinish your swing – remember you must release the club through IMPACT and finish your swing shifting your weight almost completely on to your left foot (forward foot).  A good sign that you released the club is it will gently tap you in the back.  If it gently touches your back you’ll know that you completely released the club at IMPACT.


I use this simple mantra to help me relax and swing freely.   “JUST SWING SMOOTH! ” 

Practice without fear!  Play without fear!  Golf is just a game!

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