To add consistency to your game and build resistance to choking under pressure, develop a pre-shot routine and stick to it. Your routine can be easily established and should be practiced and put into play for every shot. Typically, it will differ for full swing shots and those on and around the green so let’s address each.
For most shots, amateurs just pick a club, hit it and hope it goes in a general direction towards safety. Often, they identify hazards like lakes and bunkers where they do not want to go and fixate on these objects which is counterproductive. The successful pre-shot routine envisions where you want the ball to go, then provides a proper setup and starts the swing without hesitation. The mind works in funny ways in this regard. How many times have you stepped to the tee and thought to yourself, “Don’t hit it in the water,” then “splash.”
To correctly start your routine, choose your club and make a couple of practice swings with smooth tempo. Then take a position behind the ball looking down the line at your target and pick a spot high in the sky above your target as your aiming point. I like to use a tree top or roof of a distant building. For some reason, the higher you aim, the less tension you feel. Next locate an alignment spot a few inches on the ground in front of your ball in line with the target. Step up to the ball and place the leading edge of your club face down square to the alignment spot on the ground. Set your feet with your toes parallel to the target line and presto, you are correctly aligned! Next, sight your aiming point above the target and pull the trigger without delay. It’s important to avoid delay because waiting allows tension and indecision to creep into the swing. Do this for all full-swing shots.
Around the green:
For chip, pitch, and bunker shots, again, start behind the ball and pick a spot on the green where you’d like to land the ball. Try to envision the trajectory and roll you’ll get and let that guide your club selection. Next, identify your alignment spot on the ground and take a position astride the ball that will allow you to make a couple of practice strokes parallel to your target line. After you’re satisfied with your practice strokes, address the ball and hit without delay. I like to take two practice swings and if I don’t feel comfortable I restart my routine. CAUTION: Trying to play a shot before you’re ready or before you’re committed to it will result in a poor shot every time!
This is very similar to the shot around the green except I don’t use an alignment spot in front of the ball and prefer to align directly at my target spot, whether in the hole or outside on a breaking putt. I take two smooth practice swings and attempt to apply enough force to feel the distance of the putt. I then address the ball and make the stroke without delay.
A key point to remember is to execute all shots without delay. This is the single most insular act against choking because tension and worry are the seeds of the choke. Use the same routine every time regardless of the pressure situation and you won’t have time to doubt yourself.
Good luck! – Brian