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Pre-shot routines help golfers win

SAN DIEGO - If you watch Tiger Woods in the U.S. Open today, take a good look at what he does before every shot.

SAN DIEGO - If you watch Tiger Woods in the U.S. Open today, take a good look at what he does before every shot.

Time and again, Woods will stand behind the ball and look down the target line. What he is doing is visualizing the shot he wants to hit. Then, he will take a couple of practice swings, trying to create the swing for the shot he sees in his head, whether it's a towering hook, a low fade, a pitch, or a running chip.

Next, Woods picks what his swing coach, Hank Haney, calls an "intermediate target," no more than a couple of feet out in front of the ball. On the last step of his pre-shot routine, Woods steps up to the ball, aligns himself to his intermediate target, and, without taking another moment, pulls the trigger.

"Every great player, every tour pro, they all start from the behind," Haney said yesterday, out by the practice putting green at Torrey Pines. "The other thing is just doing the same thing every time. It can't be 10 seconds over a shot one time, 30 seconds over it the next time."

Of course, tour pros are not the only ones who have pre-shot routines. Anyone who plays even semi-serious golf usually develops some kind of pre-shot ritual - at least he ought to.

"The whole purpose of a pre-shot routine is to make every shot the same, so that coming down the stretch is no different from hitting balls on the range," said Scott Verplank, who developed his simple, barely noticeable routine as a kid. "If you play enough golf, you kind of develop one whether you want to or not."

Roger Maltbie, a former Tour player turned NBC commentator, agrees on the value of the pre-shot routine.

"It creates habit, it creates routine," Maltbie said. "If the body and mind do the same thing all the time, they should be able to do it whether it's a pressure situation or not."

Some pre-shot routines are more noticeable or pronounced - dare we say annoying? - than others.

Before every putt, Jim Furyk steps over the ball as if he's ready, looks down the line, then backs away from it and lines up the putt from behind, before finally stepping in to hit the ball.

Both Chris DiMarco and former Masters champion Mike Weir address the ball, then do a little half take-away, checking the position of the club, before hitting each shot.

Weir developed his pre-shot routine in 1998, when his coach had him try it as part of a drill to overcome a bad swing habit he had at the time.

"I had to go to Q-school in '98 and I won doing it," he said. "It worked so well I just stayed with it."

One of the more curious pre-shot routines today is Brandt Snedeker's with a putter in his hand.

"Even on a two-foot putt, he stands beside it and makes six practice strokes," said Gary Koch, a former Tour player and current Champions Tour player who is also a colleague of Maltbie's on NBC.

Koch also cited Sean O'Hair's routine. "Once he is over the ball, he is OK," he said. "I don't want to place blame, but it's almost like these sports psychologists have drilled into these guys, don't go until you are totally ready or it feels right. You could be there for days before it feels right on some shots."

For the king of disciplined pre-shot routines, Maltbie voted for Billy Casper.

"If something interrupted him, he didn't just back off the shot," said Maltbie. "The club would go back in the bag, the yardage book would always come out. I don't know anybody today who is as disciplined about it as Casper."

From the same era, Arnold Palmer famously tugged at his pants. Jack Nicklaus' most noticeable pre-shot routine did not occur until he was already over the ball.

"You always knew when he was getting ready to hit the ball because he would be kind of relaxed and all of a sudden his left arm would straighten and his head would cock slightly to the right, and then he would go," said Koch.

As with everything, there are guys who don't fit the mold. Out on the range at Torrey Pines, when the subject of pre-shot routines was broached to Mark Calcavecchia, his caddie and a buddy burst out laughing.

"Me, I don't have one," said Calcavecchia. "You picked the wrong guy. It changes every hole. If I shank one, I try something else the next hole. Zero. Never had one. Never worked for me."