Tempo is one of the most important fundamentals in golf but it's not always easy to teach or understand.
Basically, it refers to the speed and rhythm of the swing. There may not be one absolute correct tempo in golf but some research suggests that the best players in the world all tend to have very similar tempos and are remarkably good at consistently swinging within their tempo.
Yale University researchers Robert Grober and Jacek Cholewicki conducted a study on tempo in the golf swing and discovered results that have helped many instructors and players to better develop and teach golf swing tempo. As previously mentioned, they found that the swings of professional golfers had very similar tempos and also that they tended to be faster than the amateurs that were tested. With incredible consistency, the best golfers hit the ball using a 3:1 time ratio of backswing to downswing.
A common method for teaching tempo is the use of some kind of cadence or expression to use as a guide to swing. Some suggest counting to 3 during your swing can help groove a good rhythm while suggesting faster swingers to count to 2. For example, a smooth tempo player might initiate her swing with saying “1” as the backswing starts, “2” as it reaches the top of the backswing, and “3” on the downswing. Faster tempo players may simply start back with “1” and swing down with “2”.
In the Inner Game of Golf, Timothy Gallwey suggests swinging while saying to yourself, “da-da-da”. This is very similar to the counting method and as Gallwey noted, this method also helps you stay focused. The golf swing is a complicated motion and to hit the ball well, you can't be thinking about all your swing notes at once. But you also don't want to fall prey to the ocean of negative thoughts that tries to flood your mind before you make your swing. Since it's best to only keep a few swing thoughts in your head at once, having one that helps you swing in a consistent rhythm is a valuable tool to have.
I suggest trying out these methods and I strongly encourage you to experiment on your own to find what rhythm cues work best for you. As you learn more about the swing and improve your game, you will still always want to ensure your swing has good rhythm and tempo. This is one of those fundamentals along with the grip and posture that simply needs to be correct. And again, there is not one correct method. The key is to practice until you discover your ideal tempo and be consistent with it.
Top Four Thoughts on Golf Swing Tempo
The tempo of your golf swing is one of the key ingredients to hitting successful shots. Since most players overlook the importance of tempo – instead focusing on other fundamentals like stance, grip, and posture – you stand a great chance to gain on your competition by working on this crucial part of the game. Not only can a good tempo help you produce solid shots on the driving range, it can also do wonders for your ability to perform under pressure out on the course. As you know, it is much more difficult to hit good shots on the course than it is on the range, but you can largely conquer that problem through the use of an excellent tempo.
While tempo is important, it is not important that you use the same tempo as everyone else. In fact, your tempo should be unique to you. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' when it comes to tempo – there are great players with fast swings, slow swings, and everything in between. The important thing for your tempo is that it is consistent from swing to swing, and that is matches up with the mechanics you are using to hit the ball Everything within your golf swing needs to be coordinated nicely if you are going to achieve satisfactory results. Find a way to use a tempo that allows the mechanics of your swing to perform at their best and you will be well on your way to great play.
In addition to improving the performance of your full swing, a good tempo can actually translate into better performance in the short game. Putting and chipping both require nice tempo, and the tempo that you build in your long game should naturally move into your shorter shots. Short game shots are helped by tempo because you should be able to control the speed of your shots better when using a consistent and reliable tempo. Players who swing the club with an uneven speed back and through the ball usually struggle to hit their shots the right distance, meaning it can be a struggle to get down in two with any kind of consistency. You might start out on a path to improve your tempo as a way of hitting better full shots, but the payoff could actually be the biggest when you have a short club in your hands.
Working on your tempo can be a little bit tricky because you can't observe it as easily as you can see things like grip and stance. If you want to work on your address position, for example, you can stand in front of a mirror so that you can see exactly what you are doing right or wrong. Once you make adjustments, you can stand in front of the mirror again to see if things look better. With tempo, however, you are going to have to go by feel. What does your tempo feel like now? What would you like it to feel like? These are the kinds of questions you have to answer for yourself. Of course, you can somewhat observe tempo on a video recording of your swing, but this is a point that is mostly going to come down to how you feel during the swing.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Tempo Thought #1 – Be Yourself
This might be the single most important point of all when it comes to the tempo of your swing. Copying the technique of other golfers can be a somewhat effective strategy when it comes to things like backswing plane or even impact position, but you shouldn't be trying to copy anyone else's tempo. More than any other part of your swing, your tempo needs to be perfectly fit to you and your personality – it needs to 'fit you like a glove'. Even if you like the tempo that is used by a specific professional golfer you have seen on TV, it would not be a good idea to copy that tempo directly. Being yourself is good advice for life in general, and it is certainly good advice when it comes to the tempo of your golf swing.
So how do you 'be yourself' when it comes to the tempo of your golf swing? The first thing to do is avoid trying specifically to swing faster or slower than what comes naturally to you. During your next trip to the range, start out by hitting a handful of shots without thinking about anything at all. Do your best to clear your mind completely, or at least, think about something other than golf. How do these swings feel? Most likely, they feel pretty natural, even if the outcome of the shots isn't perfect. Without the interference of your brain telling it what to do, your body will naturally find a comfortable rhythm and use it for the swing.
The rhythm that comes naturally to you is going to have a lot to do with your personality on and off of the golf course. For example, players who talk and walk quickly are likely to make fast swings, while people with laid back personalities are more likely to make a long, smooth swing. Again, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the tempo of your swing. If you are a person who moves quickly through life, you should find that a quick tempo will match up nicely with your swing. On the other hand, those people who are rarely in a rush shouldn't start rushing just because they are hitting a golf ball. If you like to take your time in life, feel free to take your time during the swing.
Since you are going to be using a swing tempo that comes naturally rather than one that is forced, you should be able to self-correct your tempo when you get out of line. All golfers go through periods where they are swinging quicker or slower than they should be – it is just part of the game. The ability to get your tempo back on track as soon as possible is an important skill, yet not every golfer is able to handle that task. By sticking with your natural tempo, you should have no trouble noticing when you get out of your rhythm. To get back on track, simply slow yourself down or speed yourself up as needed to fall back into the right 'groove'.
Tempo Thought #2 – Transition is Key
When talking about tempo, one of your main concerns should be the transition that you make from backswing to downswing. The transition is one of the most important single parts of your swing, as getting things right at this point will set you up to make a clean strike of the ball at the bottom. Many players go terribly wrong during the transition phase, and they pay the price at impact as a result. With a good tempo, however, you should be able to make it cleanly through the transition and into your downswing without any problem at all.
A good transition is one that is neither too quick nor too slow. That might sound obvious, but it is important to think about what that means for a moment. You don't want to rush through the transition, because rushing the club at the top will prevent your lower body from leading the way in the downswing. On the other hand, you don't want to make your transition too slowly, or the club will be left behind and you will likely hit either a push or a hook. When you are able to walk the line between too fast and too slow, you will find yourself at a happy medium where the club stays in front of your chest and your hips lead the way through impact.
One of the biggest killers of a smooth transition is the desire to hit the ball as hard as possible. There is nothing wrong with wanting to hit long drives, but you can't let that become the complete focus of your swing. When you are willing to do just about anything in order to get more yards out of your driver, you will wind up with a golf swing that falls apart from a fundamental perspective. Players who are trying to hit the ball extremely hard often fall off balance, and they often rush through the transition as well. If you have found that you frequently pull the ball to the left – or hit a slice – when you are trying to hit a hard drive, it is a safe bet that you are rushing through the transition of your swing.
To make sure your tempo is leading you to a successful transition, focus on keeping the speed of your swing consistent throughout the backswing and the early part of the downswing. It is only as the club is approaching the ball that you really want to 'step on the gas'. Prior to those last few moments, however, you will be better off letting the club carry and even tempo that matches the turn of your body. Swinging this way might not feel particularly powerful, but don't worry – as long as you keep everything in the right order and you accelerate the club at the bottom just prior to impact, you will be able to create powerful shots that consistently find their targets.
Working on the quality of your transition is another part of the full swing that translates nicely into the short game. Many players get into short game trouble when they rush through the transition, whether it is a putt or a chip shot that is at hand. Learning how to take your time and keep the club moving smoothly is a great skill to have in your full swing not only because of the shots you can hit, but also because of how much your short game will stand to improve.
Tempo Thought #3 – Ignore the Situation
This is a point that is far easier said than done. When making your golf swing on the course, the idea is to swing the club with the same tempo all day long – regardless of the situation at hand or the shot in front of you. As you know, however, it is very difficult to keep your swing working the same way no matter what is on the line. For example, hitting an iron shot to a green that is 150 yards away might not be a big deal normally – but it can quickly become stressful if there is a water hazard between you and the target. Maintaining an even tempo whether you are hitting over grass or water is just one example of how you need to keep your swing consistent regardless of the circumstances.
Of course, situations other than having to hit over a hazard can play tricks on your tempo during a round of golf as well. If you play in competitions on a regular basis, you know how your swing can get out of order simply as a result of the pressure that comes with playing in a tournament or match at your club. Even if there isn't anything on the line except pride and bragging rights, you are still going to want to perform your best – and that pressure can cause your tempo to falter at the worst time. In order to rise to the top and actually come out victorious in some of your competitions, you will need to understand how to manage your nerves while keeping your tempo steady from the first shot of the day to the last.
So, how do you control your tempo while dealing with a variety of emotions on the course? Whether you are feeling pressure because of a competition or just because you have to hit over some water, the answer to this problem lies in a great pre-shot routine. Nearly every professional golfer in the world uses a form of pre-shot routine to get ready to make a swing, and you should be following their lead. When done correctly, a pre-shot routine can help you fall back into the same kind of comfort zone that you are in when hitting balls at the driving range. Using a routine gives your mind something familiar and consistent to focus on prior to the swing, which will help to pull your attention away from the nerves that you have been feeling.
There is no one formula that you need to follow in order to build a pre-shot routine. You are welcome to include just about anything within this routine, as long as it falls within the rules of golf, and doesn't take too long to complete. You don't want to hold up the groups behind you because you are going through a long and complex process.
While you are free to use just about any kind of moves or thought processes in your routine, the following list includes some ideas to help you get started.
- A good look at the target. This is a point that will be included in almost every golfers pre-shot routine. Once you have picked your target, your routine should include a moment where you can stare at that target and narrow in your focus. One of the leading causes of poor shots among amateur golfers is failing to focus on a specific target – which leads to a lazy and careless swing. With an excellent picture of your target fresh in your mind, you are far more likely to make a good swing.
- One specific practice move. Rather than a full practice swing, consider using just one practice move which highlights a part of your swing that needs to be address. For instance, if you struggle with your transition, use a move that reinforces the right way to transition the club from backswing to downswing. By rehearsing a part of the swing that gives you trouble, you will be building your confidence prior to actually hitting the shot.
- A deep breath. There is nothing quite like a deep breath to calm your nerves and relax your mind. Many players find that they like to make this the final piece of their routine – take a deep breath in, blow out, and then walk up to the ball to hit the shot. You don't have to end your routine this way, but it is a proven finishing step for many of the routines used by the world's top players.
Your pre-shot routine has a lot to do with how you maintain your tempo throughout a round of golf. A good routine can help you to stay focused on the task at hand, rather than allowing your mind to wander onto the bigger picture. A round of golf is simply a collection of shots, so take them one at a time and use your routine to help you perform your best every time you put the club in motion.
Tempo Thought #4 – Let the Club Do the Work
You never want to feel as though you are 'forcing' your golf swing. Ideally, you will feel like the club is doing the majority of the work through the hitting area, while you are just along for the ride. It is not necessarily easy to get to that point with your swing, but it is possible. By using a good tempo from the start of your swing through to the finish, you can successfully feel like the club is doing most of the work at impact.
One of the keys to letting the club work for you in the swing is having the right shaft flex in all of your clubs. If you are using a shaft that is too stiff or too soft, the club won't work in concert with your swing, and the results will be disappointing. Many amateur golfers make the mistake of using a club shaft that is too stiff, thinking they need to follow in the footsteps of the professional golfers – most of whom use stiff or extra stiff shaft flexes. Of course, those pro golfers have the swing speeds necessary to match up with those shafts. If your swing falls short of that mark, you will want to use something softer in order to maximize the performance of your swing.
The best way to wind up with a shaft that is the appropriate stiffness for your swing is to go to a professional club fitter for a consultation. An experienced club fitter will be able to quickly and easily help you locate a shaft that will compliment your swing, rather than one that works against it. If you feel like you are always having to swing as hard as possible in order to get the ball up off the ground and into the air, you are likely using the wrong shafts. Get that problem fixed as soon as possible, and your tempo should improve as a result.
There are very few things in the golf swing as important as tempo, yet many other things are favored when it comes to the time and attention spent during practice sessions. Make your tempo a priority, and use the information contained above to work toward a swing which contains an improved tempo whether you are on the range or out on the course. Remember, your tempo should be completely unique to you and your game, and you shouldn't be trying to copy the rhythm of any other player. As long as you stay true to yourself and make a swing that you feel comfortable with, you should be able to make quality swings even when the pressure is on. It is tempting to fall in love with the positions that you find in your swing, but your tempo is far important to the quality of your game. With tempo crossed off your to-do list, you will be a big step closer to reaching your potential as a player.