Tempo, also called rhythm, is one of golf's most highly individualized aspects. There's no right or wrong tempo – note the difference between Ernie Els and Nick Price, or Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler – but there is a pace that's natural for you. The trick is to find it.
Ideally, your swing's rhythm should match your own mannerisms and temperament. If you're a very active or fidgety person, perhaps one who walks and talks briskly, you'll probably play best at a quick tempo. If you tend to be relaxed and calm, moving and speaking at a more casual speed, a matching tempo could bring out your best golf
Here's a tried-and-true drill for determining your natural tempo:
- On the driving range, tee up four balls in a row, side by side, about six inches apart. (Alternatively, use an iron or hybrid club.)
- Hit each ball without stopping, one after another.
- Don't rush or try to hit each shot perfectly. The idea is to complete the drill at your natural pace.
Resume your normal practice routine, emulating the tempo you felt when hitting the last couple of balls – that's your natural rhythm. If you didn't feel it the first time through, try the drill again. Any time you feel your tempo is out of whack, use this drill to get it back.
Drills to Find Your Natural Tempo
In golf, tempo is one of the biggest keys to solid ball striking. You are probably aware of some of the other keys – such as balance, grip, and posture – but tempo is often overlooked. It is difficult to teach tempo, since it is such a personal thing, so many golf teachers stay away from this crucial topic. That is a mistake, however, as there are few things which can help a golfer improve as quickly as some work on their overall swing tempo. If you feel like you need to become more consistent on the course in order to lower your scores, it is likely your tempo that needs the most work.
The tricky part about tempo is the fact that you can't simply 'copy' anyone else's tempo when working on your own swing. If you are going to be successful, you need to use a tempo that comes naturally to you – otherwise, your swing will never hold up under the pressure that comes along with playing a round of golf. Only when you use a tempo that is natural and true to your personality will you be able to make the same kind of swing all day long. From the first tee to the last, you want to be swinging the club at the same speed – and great tempo is the key to unlocking that ability.
Using drills is a great way to improve the quality of your swing in a number of ways, and that is certainly going to be true in this case. You can use the drills that will be outlined in this article to work on discovering your natural tempo. The task isn't so much to develop a new tempo as it is to figure out exactly what kind of tempo you should be using in the first place. Are you someone that is going to benefit from a quick tempo, or will you be better off swinging the club at a slower pace? There is no one right tempo to be used by all golfers – instead, there is a right tempo for each individual player. When you manage to locate the right tempo for you, through the use of some of the drills included in this article, you can then stick with that rhythm no matter what else is going on in your game.
If you take some time to watch golf on TV, you will notice that each player has his or her own tempo that they use to power their swings. All of the professionals you see on TV are capable of playing some incredible golf, yet they all have their own tempo. That fact should only reinforce the point that you don't have to swing with any one particular speed to be successful. If the pros can use their own tempos to hit great shots, you should be able to to the same.
All of the instruction below is written from the perspective of a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Chipping to Find Tempo
The first tempo drill we are going to use is going to take you to the chipping green rather than to the tee line of the driving range. You can learn a lot about your long game by working on your short game, as most short game shots are simply miniature versions of your full swing. When it comes to tempo, you can help yourself discover the right full swing rhythm by taking note of how you move the club when chipping or pitching the ball onto the green. Also, the use of this drill should help you to bring your full swing tempo and your short game tempo closer together, which is always a good thing.
To get started, take one of your wedges from your bag and find a spot near the practice green from which you can chip (assuming chipping is allowed to the practice green, of course). You should be setting yourself up with a relatively easy chip shot at this point – give yourself a flat lie on fairway length grass, and pick out a target that is only a few yards away from where you are standing. You can use as many golf balls as you would like for this drill, but somewhere from 3-5 is usually a good starting point.
For the first chip shot, swing the club as slow as possible while still trying to chip the ball close to the hole. Take your time in the backswing and forward swing, moving with an extremely slow and smooth tempo. This will likely not feel very comfortable at first, but stick with it and hit your entire first set of shots with this super-slow tempo. Once you have retrieved the golf balls, start over again – however this time, you are going to chip with an extremely quick tempo. You are still trying to hit the ball the same distance to the same target, but you are going to swing quickly rather than slowly. Again, chip all of the balls that you are using toward the hole, and retrieve them when you are done.
Now that you have chipped a few shots with both an extremely slow tempo and a very quick one, what have you learned? Did one feel better than the other? How were the results of each set of shots? Right away, you should have some indication of whether you were better off with a slow tempo or a fast one. By looking at the results of the shots, and thinking about your comfort level when hitting those shots, you can get an indication of whether you are more comfortable with a slow or fast speed in your game. The tempo that you are naturally inclined to use in your short game is one that will probably serve you well in the long game as well.
Of course, this drill had you go to the extremes in terms of tempo, and that is probably not where you are going to want to live when you play 'regular' shots. For instance, if you chipped the ball pretty well with the super-slow tempo, that doesn't mean you have to use that slow tempo out on the course. You will probably want to find a moderated point which is faster than this drill but yet still comes in on the slow side of the scale. To find that point, hit a few more chip shots while gradually speeding up (or slowing down, depending on which end you are coming from) your tempo. It shouldn't take long to settle on a speed that feels comfortable and is producing results you are happy with.
After you have spent some time chipping, head over to the driving range and hit some shots while thinking about your chipping tempo. Try to take the club back away from the ball with the same tempo that you were using while chipping – only you are going to continue the swing all the way up to the top. If you can successfully match up your range tempo with the rhythm you found in the short game, better ball striking will likely be just around the corner.
Let It Rip with the Driver
This next drill is basically the polar opposite of the previous drill. Instead of heading to the chipping green with a wedge, you are going to go direction to the tee line of the driving range with your driver in hand. The driver is one of the clubs that gives amateur golfers the most trouble when it comes to settling into a good tempo, so you are going to go right after that problem in this drill. The results might not be particularly pretty at first, but you should be able to work through some early struggles in order to find success by the end of the session.
Just as you did with your wedge while chipping, you are going to start this drill by hitting about five shots down the range. Obviously, you will want to pick a target for your drives and take your time to address the ball as you would on the course. Remember, you should never rush through your practice swings on the range – take your time, pay attention to your fundamentals, and hit each shot the same as you would during an actual round of golf.
However, with this drill, you are going to alter one thing from how you would swing on the course – your tempo. To start with, you are going to hit the first few shots with the quickest possible tempo you can manage. Take the club back quickly away from the ball, hurry it up to the top, and move down aggressively through the shot. You need to take enough time to make sure your backswing is completed, but don't allow the swing to drag or get lazy at any point. You are trying to use a fast tempo on all of these initial drives, and you want to watch the ball carefully to see how it flies.
So why are you starting with a fast tempo in this drill instead of a slow one? It comes down to the attitude that you want to have with your driver. You don't want to let the club drag through the hitting area when swinging a driver – you want to move through with purpose and confidence. So, it only makes sense to start out using a fast tempo in order to force yourself to swing the club with conviction. After the first few shots, you should gradually work on slowing down your tempo on subsequent shots until you land at a good rhythm that produces a nice ball flight. Locating a good tempo is one of those things that you will 'know when you find it'. Continue to gradually slow your tempo from the initial fast swings you made, and at some point you are sure to run into a rhythm that feels perfect to you. Of course, when the ball flights that you are producing match up with your positive feelings, you will know you have a winner.
Once you do find a tempo that you like, stick with it and hit as many balls as possible with your driver using this newfound rhythm. The more shots you can hit with this tempo, the better off you will be when you come back for your next practice session. It will take some time to become comfortable and confident in your tempo, so repeated practice sessions are going to be necessary before you can successfully take your tempo out onto the course. Don't cut the practice portion of this process short, either – it is best to visit the range several times to work on your rhythm before you play your next round. Playing on the course can easily take you out of your tempo because you will be distracted by other things. Don't allow that to happen – engrain your rhythm on the range so that it isn't going anywhere when you do hit the course again.
Counting It Out
One of the best drills to use for finding your natural rhythm is simply counting out your tempo as you swing. This is a classic golf drill, as it has been used by many players over the years. If you are struggling to settle into an even, reliable tempo with your game, trying to count out your rhythm is one of the best things you can do.
If you would like to use the counting drill to set yourself on a course toward a better tempo, try following the steps below.
- When you get to the driving range, take your seven iron from the bag and set aside a few balls for this drill. At first, you are going to simply make some 'dry' practice swings (swing where you don't hit a ball). However, after getting the idea, you will then hit some shots while doing the drill.
- Before making a swing, be sure to pick out a target and align your stance with that target properly. Even if you aren't hitting the ball, which you shouldn't be at first, you should still have a target in mind to help align your swing and your stance.
- Once set, you are ready to make your first swing. However, you are going to do one thing differently with these swings from the swings you usually make on the range – you are going to count to four during the swing. You are going to say the number 'one' when you start the club back away from the ball, and you are going to count 'two' when the club reaches parallel to the ground on the way back. The number 'three' will be counted at the top of the swing, and you will say 'four' right at the moment of impact.
- It can be a bit distracting to count like this while you are making your swings, which is why it is important to take some practice swings before actually trying to hit shots. Once you feel yourself starting to get comfortable with the drill, go ahead and put a ball down in front of you to hit a shot.
- Feel free to hit as many shots as you would like while doing this drill before going back to your normal swing without the counting.
So how is this drill going to help you improve your tempo? First, it will help you spot any parts of your swing that happen to be rushed – often the transition from backswing to downswing. You want the counting to be very even from one through four, no matter what your tempo happens to be. Whether you are swinging quickly or slowly, the spacing between your numbers should be as steady as possible. If you feel like you are rushing to count out two or three, for instance, you need to work on evening out your swing. Ideally, there will be no change in your cadence from start to finish – you will count out one, two, three, four in an even, steady rhythm.
Another way that this drill can help you improve on your tempo is by matching up the way you talk with the way you swing. One of the most important things about tempo is that it needs to make sense for your personality and approach to the game. It doesn't make much sense, for example, for a person with a fast-talking, fast-walking personality to swing with a slow rhythm. That golfer would be fighting against their natural personality and inclination. So, instead, you will want to match up your personality to your tempo as closely as possible. When counting out numbers, you will automatically count them in a way that comes naturally to you. By pairing up the counting and the tempo of your swing, you will be a big step close to using your natural rhythm.
The counting drill can be used during any practice session, and it can even be used during your practice swings on the course to help you get back in rhythm if you lose your way during a round. Make this drill a regular part if your routine and you should find your tempo will improve in rather short order.
Take Five Yards Off
This last point really isn't a drill so much as it is a way of thinking when you are on the course. When playing a round, one of the best ways you can get into a good rhythm is simply by trying to take five yards off of every shot that you hit. So, for example, if you can hit your seven iron 150 yards with a full swing, try to hit it 145 when you are playing a round. By backing off of your max distance just slightly, you should be able to make a better swing on a consistent basis.
This technique works because most golfers play right on the edge of their capabilities in terms of control and balance. Most players try to hit the ball as hard as they can with little regard for anything else – and this approach causes big trouble when it comes to tempo. So, instead of falling into the trap of trying to smash the ball, make a conscious effort to take five yards off of your shots and you just might find that you can fall into your natural rhythm without doing anything else differently.
It is most important, and most difficult for many players, to use this advice with the driver. Most golfers want nothing more than to blast the ball down the fairway as far as possible with their driver, but that mindset is going to lead to poor swings and bad results. When standing over the ball on the tee with driver in hand, try to convince yourself that you don't actually have to crush it in order to hit a good shot. A smooth swing with great tempo is the best way to find the fairway, and hitting the short grass should always be your top priority. Also, you might be surprised to learn that you won't really lose much distance – if any – when you swing a bit softer. By hitting the sweet spot successfully, you can regain any distance that might have been lost by swinging just a tick slower through the hitting area.
Tempo is one of the biggest keys in the game of golf. Players who can stay on tempo will be able to repeat their swings time after time, while players who lose tempo easily will always struggle to achieve the consistency they desire. Use the tips and drills included in this article to work on your tempo in an upcoming practice session. Tempo is usually ignored during practice, so paying it even a bit of attention has the potential to pay off in a big way.