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Tournament Golf Demands Pre-Shot Routines

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I happened to change the channel after the Memorial Golf tournament on Sunday to catch the last few holes an the LPGA event. Lorena Ochoa had the lead (something that’s becoming the norm lately), a young player who had played the Futures tour, Nicole Castrale, was two strokes behind. Then there was Kristie Kerr, who has been around a little while, trailing by a couple strokes on the 17th green.

There the three of them were, together in the last group. Kerr was assessing a chip shot she had from beside the green. Taking numerous practice swings. She’d take a few more and then back off and look from behind again. Then stand beside the ball and take a few more practice swings.

Okay, I didn’t need to watch the whole tournament or the whole round she played to understand there’s no way this was an integral part of her pre-shot routine. What I witnessed was a women filled with uncertainty. This is fine if we are clearly doing something about it. Yet there is a distinct difference between becoming certain and actually increasing our uncertainty.

It comes down to the routine: The pre-shot routine in golf serves so many beneficial purposes most players don’t even comprehend. Pros do. And this is why they rehearse them so often. The point is to have one you stick to so when pressure mounts you step into a place of familiarity and certainty.

The routine needs to be explicit and determined. Not simply a mindless, mechanical procedure. No. It’s meant to allow all of a players’ resources and skills to align with the intent of the shot and the demands of the moment.

Kerr clearly lost touch with her routine. She was hesitant and it showed. This was her undoing. When she finally stepped up the chip shot and made her swing she duffed it about 5 to 10 yards in front of her. She stepped up the to the next one, followed a similar unrefined pre-shot process that wasn’t her norm and produced an equally poor shot. Now she knows full well she has shot herself out of any chance to win.

Meanwhile the young Nicole Castrale, who was two strokes behind Ochoa, assessed her birdie putt, which was outside of Ochoa’s upcoming par putt, committed to her routine and poured the putt in the center. Now she trailed by only one stroke.

You can guess how small the hole looked to Ochoa now! And indeed it did. Ochoa missed her par putt and the tournament was tied.

Routines are wonderful things. They’re not mere mechanical processes. They’re launchpads for personal excellence under pressure. They are filled with visual cues (or should be) and kinesthetic keys that allow the unconscious to feel what you want. Yet this should be consistent. Kristie Kerr’s wasn’t. Instead of committing to the routine that got her that far in the tournament, she allowed the pressure to take her out of her optimal performance rhythm.

One of the commentators of the tournament commented, after I had made my own assessment, that Kristie had slowed down her routine starting on the 16th hole. This didn’t surprise me. It was clear she was way outside her routine on the 17th.

What’s interesting is how things unfolded in the playoff as well. Castrale, without a single win in her short career, stared down Lorena Ochoa, clearly the dominant player right now. Castrale played like the tournament was hers. And it was.

Ochoa repeated what she has done three times now in playoffs: hit a hard hook off the tee which has cost her victory. Interesting how patterns repeat under pressure.

To produce your best in ALL circumstances and be able to “pull the trigger when under the gun”, develop and stick to a solid pre-shot routine. There’s nothing boring about a good routine.

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