Turn on any NBA game and you’ll notice it. Turn on any PGA tournament and you’ll notice it. And you’ll notice it’s exactly the same, every single time.
Besides the obvious similarities of shooting a ball into a hole, putting, and free throws have a lot in common, particularly in regards to what takes place leading up to the shot. A solid pre-shot routine is critical to executing a good stroke when the pressure is on, regardless of the surface you’re standing on.
1. Get to your happy place
The primary purpose of a pre-shot routine is to put you in the correct frame of mind to execute something you’ve done thousands of times. A simple, repeatable routine calms the mind and narrows the focus. It tunes out distractions because you basically take the mind out of the equation and let the body simply take over. Find a routine that puts you in a good frame of mind, and practice repeating it before every putt.
2. No two routines are alike
If you don’t have a routine, don’t just copy what you see a pro doing because it might not be suited to you. Understand how you work your way around the golf course – are you a quick player or more methodical? This should be reflected in your putting routine to put you in a great frame of mind. For example, Tiger Woods really takes his time on the greens. He reads the putt from both sides of the hole, picks his line, takes a couple practice strokes, addresses the ball, glances at the hole a few times, then fires. Other players, like Brandt Snedecker, take a different approach. Brandt sees his line, takes a couple quick practice strokes, looks at the hole and then hits it. The whole thing probably takes 5 seconds.
Feel free to test new things. For instance, I used to take two practice strokes before hitting a putt, but now I don’t use any practice strokes. I found that my first swing was most natural and fluid and gave me the best chance. When I would take a practice stroke, I would try to replicate that feeling during my actual swing instead of letting the club flow and focusing on making the putt.
3. When the pressure is on, think of your key
Pressure has a weird way of creating distractions. If you’re at the line and need two free throws to tie the game, or you’re facing a 6 footer for par and your personal best round focus on the task at hand. Develop a go-to key or fundamental to focus on that will help you make a good stroke.
Take it from Michael Jordan: “I equate making putts with making free throws, and my biggest mental challenge shooting free throws was in my second year, 1986, when I came back from a foot injury for the playoffs and had a 63-point game against Boston in the Garden. I had to make two free throws to send the game into overtime, and all I focused on was the basics – I’m not gonna be short. I’m gonna extend and reach for the rim – all the fundamentals that I had worked on at home and at practice for all those years. Golf is no different. ”
The point is, when the pressure is on, rely on something you can count on like “rock the shoulders” or “accelerate through the ball.” Focus on your key to make the best stroke when it counts the most.