The Mental Game


Mental Insights from Dr. Deborah Graham and Jon Stabler


April 2009



Q: What is the importance of the pre-shot routine in golf and what type of pre-shot routine would you recommend?

A: Learning a strong mental pre-shot routine is the single most important thing you can do to improve your mental game, and your golf. Your mental routine must compliment your learning style, ease you into narrowing your focus, free you to hit athletic, artistic, creative, right brain shots or putts, and tap into your powers of self-fulfilling prophesy! An effective mental pre-shot routine simplifies your thoughts, makes the game easier, allows you to think the same for every shot and putt, whether it is to win the Masters or a friendly round with your friends. In our decades of work with the pros we have found that every great player has one, whether they call it a mental pre-shot routine or not. 

We have created a three step journey to a great mental pre-shot routine. Following is the routine we have taught to hundreds of pros and countless amateurs. To make this fun and easy, start by assuming that you are of two brains. Let's call the left brain the "thinker/analyzer" and the right brain the "athletic/creator". 

Step 1.Turn on the Thinker! 
We assign this first step to your Thinker/Analyzer brain. 

As you approach your ball, begin narrowing your focus by turning your thoughts to the analysis of your next shot. This involves quickly sorting through the analytical details such as wind, lie, target, yardage, type of shot, and club. Make your decision with as little vacillation as possible. It is essential that you commit fully to your club, target and shape of shot before going to the next step. 

Consider the break, grain, and speed. It is essential that you then commit to your read and speed. When you pull your club, the analysis must end so that step two can effectively begin. 

Step 2. Free up the Athlete with Creative Visualization! 
Especially if you are a visual learner--if you are not sure take our quick learning styles quiz. You will need to take a deep breath, relax and visualize the shot or putt that you want to hit. 

Narrow your focus a bit more by standing behind your ball and clearly seeing your target. Now, visualize as clearly as possible the flight of your ball to your target and the subsequent bounce or roll. 

See the line to the cup (or to your spot) and visualize the ball rolling on your line at your chosen speed, at least the last couple of feet before rolling over your spot or into the hole. 

Tip: During this right brain, creative step there is to be no more left brain second guessing your swing, club, target, line, break or stroke. If necessary, repeat step one to again fully commit, then start step two again. 

Step 3. Kinesthetically Feel Your Shot or Putt! 

Finish narrowing your focus using the creative right brain once again. Consciously try to feel the exact swing or stroke that you have committed to use. Make this an especially strong part of your mental pre-shot routine if you are a kinesthetic learner. Some players achieve the swing feel solely by imagining it; some with waggles and imagery; some with partial swings and imagery; and most with smooth, full practice swings. No matter which technique you use to feel your swing, it is important to use a single, reliable and simple swing thought as a cue to initiate the feel of your swing. 

It is equally important to feel the putting stroke either with imagery or with the practice stroke before execution. 

Use Your Routine When You Need It The Most! Take time to get comfortable with your mental pre-shot routine in practice before taking it into competition. This will make it easier to use when you need it the most. 

There are two particular times when you will find it the hardest to stay with your routine. Ironically, these are the times when it is essential: when you are playing poorly and feel inclined to let your thoughts go to mechanics, techniques and general concern about your poor play, and when you are playing extremely well, and feel inclined to let your thoughts escape to the excitement or pressure that can come with playing in contention, or otherwise playing out of your comfort zone. No matter what the situation, always make your mental pre-shot routine your priority and you will be on your way to getting the most from your game! 

For more help learning a strong mental pre-shot routine get the GolfPsych Mental Pre-Shot Routine Video for instruction and an excellent demonstration by a Champions Tour Winner, Steve Veriato.


About Us:


Dr. Deborah Graham is a licensed Counseling Psychologist specializing in golf performance. Working with professional and amateur golfers from around the world, her client list includes over 350 players on the PGA, LPGA and Champions Tours, 13 of which she helped guide to 16 major championships.  Beginning in 1981 with a study of LPGA players she determined the statistical differences between champion and average players on tour, collecting data with the assistance of LPGA hall of fame member, Carol Mann.  The findings helped earn her doctorate and identified 8 critical traits important for success in golf. This study was duplicated on the PGA and SR. PGA tours with the assistance of her husband, Jon Stabler, again finding the  8 champion traits and forming the foundation of the GolfPsych mental game training system. These studies and their Tour experience resulted in their book, "The Eight Traits of Champion Golfers", published by Simon and Schuster in 1999. Dr. Graham has also authored numerous articles for newspapers and golf magazines, published a mental game newsletter and appeared on golf programs for a variety of networks including ESPN, Fox and CNN.  

Jon Stabler is co-founder of GolfPsych.  Along with being a co-researcher and co-author in the personality study of golfers and the resulting book, "The Eight Traits of Champion Golfers", Jon has developed and conducted our GolfPsych group schools and Instructor training programs. He has worked with numerous players and college teams including TCU, SMU, A&M and Baylor. Jon invented the patent pending Mind Meter and patented Zone Training Software used exclusively in GolfPsych schools & programs. It enables GolfPsych clients to quickly learn to manage emotions and attain optimum tension levels for golf. 

About GolfPsych: Our GolfPsych System is based on overJon Stabler25 years ofresearch and Tour experience. We have helped over 360 PGA, Senior PGA and LPGA Tour Professionals. Using these resultsand experiences we have refined our system of mental skills training techniques to get the best results, in the shortest amount of time. We have usedthese methods to help thousands of golfers, of all ages Deborah Grahamandabilities,to reach their personal goals! Our professional clients have won 16'Majors' and many other professional events on the PGA, Champions, LPGA,European, Australian, Nationwide, Canadian, Asian, Japanese, Hooters, TightLies, and other Tours in the U.S. and around the world. Our college clients have won many division and regional tournaments as well as the NCAA Div. I National Championship. Our junior clients have won numerous district and regional titles, as well as StateChampionships, and many have achieved national rankings and been signed by top Division I schools. Our competitive amateur clients have won numerous top amateurtitles as well as state and national championships. Our avid golferclients have broken through their personal best scores, and have wonor placed well innumerous club and city events. For more information about GolfPhsych, visit and