Tempo is one of golf’s most basic yet elusive concepts. So what is it, exactly?
According to the dictionary, tempo is the "characteristic rate, rhythm or pattern of work or activity." In golf terms, it’s the pace of your swing, back and through. Some golfers have a slow or smooth tempo, like Fred Couples. Others swing with a quick tempo, a la Nick Price. In other words, it’s a highly individualized component – there’s no correct tempo for every golfer, but there is a correct tempo for each golfer.
Swinging with a consistent tempo, club to club and shot to shot, is critical to making solid contact. Tempo is closely tied to balance as well, another key to steady ballstriking.
Try these three drills to improve your tempo and keep it consistent:
1. Feet-together drill
The best golf drill ever devised? Many instructors would vote for this one based on its simplicity and effectiveness at instilling an even-keeled tempo and finely tuned balance. Bottom line: Every golfer, no matter how accomplished, should regularly utilize the feet-together drill.
2. Swoosh drill
Another classic, the swoosh drill involves three basic steps: 1) Turn a club upside down and grip it just below the clubhead. 2) Make a full swing. 3) Hold your finish for three seconds.
At first, you may be surprised at the difficulty of staying balanced at the finish. To reiterate: balance and tempo are two sides of the same coin. Practice numerous repetitions of the swoosh drill and you’ll find it translates well to actually hitting the ball.
3. The 80% wedge swing
On the range, hit a series of balls with a wedge while swinging at 80% of your power. In other words, nice and easy. Move up a club or two, to an 8-iron for instance, and repeat the process. Continue through the driver, swinging no harder than 80% on any shot.
You should not only see better balance, pace and contact, you may find that your shots fly farther despite the easier swing.
That’s the beauty of great tempo.
How to Improve Your Personal Golf Swing Tempo
Golf swing tempo might be the single hardest part of your game to work on just because it is so elusive. If you are working on another fundamental part of your swing, like your grip for example, you can see exactly what it looks like and make changes to try and fix it. Even for other things like your position at the top of the swing, you can use video equipment to record your technique and watch it back to make corrections.
It isn’t that simple with tempo. While you can ‘kind of’ see your tempo on video, it is more about feel than anything else. How does your tempo feel during the swing? Too fast? Too slow? It can be frustrating to feel like your tempo is causing problems in your swing, and yet have no idea how to fix it. In fact, you might not even be able to figure out that tempo is the problem in the first place. Most golfers work for countless hours on other parts of their swing before even thinking about the possibility that bad tempo is to blame. Since tempo is an individual swing element that varies from player to player, you can’t just watch the other players in your group and try to copy them – the only tempo that will work for you is the one that feels right. See why it can be so elusive?
To better understand how to fix your own tempo, you need to understand what good tempo really is. Since you can’t look at it in a picture or really copy it from another player, it helps to know exactly what you are working toward. Good tempo is swinging the club at a speed that compliments both your personality, and the rest of your mechanics. Your golf swing tempo shouldn’t be forced – it should come naturally to you.
One common amateur mistake is to copy the swing tempo of a favorite professional golfer. Chances are, their tempo and yours aren’t going to be anything alike. If you are trying to answer the question of what is a good golf swing tempo, you need to understand that there is no one right speed for every player. Be wary of golf swing tempo tips that try to force everyone into the same kind of rhythm – it just doesn’t work that way.
It is important to know that not only is tempo an individual thing that varies from one player to the next, it is also one of the parts of your swing that is difficult to keep consistent throughout a round. While your mechanics aren’t likely to change much from the first tee to the last green, your tempo can vary wildly from shot to shot. One of the signs of a good golfer is the ability to hold a steady tempo all day long. If you are often frustrated by your lack of ability to maintain a certain level of performance for the duration of the round, it is likely that tempo is to blame.
Putting the Blame on Your Tempo
A big part of being a good golfer is simply knowing what to blame when something goes wrong. Countless amateur players lead themselves astray by blaming one part of their swing for a bad shot when it was actually something else altogether. You can’t fix the problem if you are looking in the wrong place for the solution. Therefore, in order to fix your tempo, you have to be sure that tempo is the problem to begin with.
Following are a few signs that you might be dealing with a tempo problem in your golf swing.
- Inconsistent ball striking. Do you often hit one shot fat, then another shot thin, followed by a shot that is hit just perfectly? This is a classic sign of an inconsistent tempo. It is very unlikely that your mechanics are changing so much from swing to swing that they could be causing this kind of poor performance. More likely, your swing looks mostly the same from shot to shot by you are swinging at different speeds – and therefore throwing off the timing and rhythm of your swing. Good timing has everything to do with making solid contact.
- Nerves cause you problems. If you really struggle to hit quality shots when you feel a little bit nervous, it very well could be your tempo that is failing you. You don’t even have to be playing in a tournament or a competitive match to notice this effect, either. Just coming down the last few holes of a good round is enough to make you feel slightly nervous or anxious – which could lead to disaster for your swing if there is a problem with your tempo in golf swing.
- Loss of distance. Golfers who suddenly can’t hit the ball as far as they used to also might have a tempo-related issue in their swing. Unless there is a good reason for the loss of distance, such as an injury, it is likely that poor tempo is cutting short your swing speed and leading to shorter shots than you are used to hitting.
These are just a few of many possible problems in your game that can be caused by poor tempo. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of good tempo in your short game. When you start to have problems with the tempo in your full swing, it can easily carry over to your short shots and start to give you trouble there as well. No matter what length shot you are trying to hit, good tempo is something that always matters.
As mentioned above, most golfers try just about every other possible fix for their swings before they realize that their tempo is actually the problem. In order to avoid that kind of wasted time and frustration, it is best to start by assuming that your tempo is to blame. It might not be, but start there and see if you can fix the problem through better tempo. Why take this approach? Because tempo is the most common thing to change in a golf swing. If you have been playing for years, it is highly improbable that your swing mechanics just suddenly decided to change for no reason. It is, however, very possible that your tempo has changed somewhere along the way.
If working on your tempo doesn’t sort out the problems that you are having with your swing, then you can move on from there and explore other possibilities. Most of the time, fixing your tempo will get you back on track and you won’t need to deal with more elaborate technical fixes to your swing.
Finding a Tempo that is True to You
Ask any golf teacher, and they will likely tell you that tempo is the single hardest thing for them to teach to their students. It is such an individual thing, and such a hard thing to ‘see’, that it gives even the best golf instructors trouble.
Hopefully, the following information will help you work through your tempo problems and find the perfect tempo for you and your game.
To start with, think about your personality away from the golf course. Are you a person who walks fast, talks quickly, and is generally in a hurry to get things done? Or are you someone that takes it easy, speaks slowly, and is never in a particular hurry to get anywhere? Your personality type away from the course says a lot about how you should swing the club.
People who move quickly in their day to day life should usually swing quickly as well. A fast golf swing tempo fits right in with everything else that they do in their life. If you are someone that fits into this category, you have probably struggled in the past with trying to slow down your golf swing use a slower tempo. Why fight against what your body wants to do naturally? You will never ‘own’ the slower tempo because it runs against who you are as a person. Embrace your fast-moving personality type and build a golf swing that fits right in with everything else you do.
Of course, that means that you should use a slower tempo in your golf swing if you are a more relaxed personality type. It is hard to take a person who is rarely in a hurry to do anything and then make them swing the golf club fast when they hit the course. Again, it just doesn’t make sense. Think of your golf swing as an extension of your personality – if someone watches you play golf, they should be able to get a pretty good idea for what kind of person you are.
If you are looking for a golf tempo drill that can help you zero in on the right speed swing for you, try the following. Head to the driving range with only a couple of clubs, and a bucket of practice balls to hit. In order to determine the tempo that is going to be best for you, this golf tempo drill starts by having you do the opposite of what you think is correct. So, for example, if you think your personality type lends itself to having a slower tempo, start your range session by making some super-fast golf swings. Hit five or so shots using this quick tempo, then stop.
Most likely, those shots didn’t go well. The reason that this golf tempo drill is so important is because it exposes you to what it feels like to use a tempo that is dead wrong for your swing. You probably felt uncomfortable, awkward, and even self-conscious about those swings. Now, work on hitting some shots with the tempo that you believe to be right for you. Suddenly, this proper tempo should be much easier to feel. Having hit a few shots with an intentionally-wrong tempo, you gave your body a chance to get a better feel for the tempo that you should be using.
For many golfers, that simple drill will be enough to answer the question of ‘what is a good golf swing tempo for me’? However, if that doesn’t do the trick for you, there is another drill that you can try. This drill uses a similar method to find the right tempo in golf swing, but it goes about it in a slightly different way. To start with, hit two shots on the driving range – one with the fastest tempo you can manage while still hitting a decent shot, and one with the slowest tempo you can manage. Once you have hit both of those shots, decide which felt better to you, fast or slow?
The extreme end of the spectrum isn’t going to be the right tempo for you to use all the time, but it gives us a starting point. So, for this example, let’s say that you decide that the slow tempo felt better. Now, hit a shot that is just slightly quicker in tempo, but still rather slow. Continue to hit shots that get gradually quicker in tempo until you hit one that feels just perfect. Try not to think too much about the process – just let it happen and you should know the feeling when you get it right. The drill works the same way in reverse if you decide that the faster tempo was better for you. Gradually work down from that point until you hit the spot along the tempo spectrum which fits you nicely.
Fighting the Tempo Battle
It is challenging enough to arrive on the first tee with a good tempo in your swing – but it is even more difficult to keep that tempo as the round goes on. With so much going on around you, and in your own head, during a round of golf, the challenge of maintaining a steady tempo all day long is greater than you might think. Good golfers are able to do this successfully much of the time, but even the best players fight their own tempo problems from hole to hole as the conditions change. Below is a quick list of things that can influence your tempo in a negative way during the round.
- Pressure. This is the most common cause of losing your tempo. When you start to feel pressure, no matter from what source, your tempo is likely to get off track. In almost every case, that means that you will speed up from your normal tempo and rush through your swing. If you are going to successfully hit good shots when you start to feel the pressure, make a conscious effort to slow yourself down and take enough time to keep your tempo in order.
- Pace of play. Some rounds are going to be faster than others in terms of pace of play – as a golfer, you already know that. One of the best golf swing tempo tips you can receive is to not allow the pace of play for the round affect the swings that you are making. When the pace of play slows down and you have to wait on every shot, it is natural to rush through your swings out of frustration. To counteract this problem, make sure you go through your normal pre-shot routine before every swing to get your mind in a good place. While slow play might be frustrating, don’t compound it by playing badly as well.
- Uncomfortable shots. Frequently, golfers will lose track of their tempo when they face a shot that just doesn’t set up well to their eye. For example, imagine that you are a right handed golfer and you hit a draw on almost every tee shot. As you walk up to the tee, you notice that there is water all the way down the right side of the fairway. That means that to hit the fairway, you are going to have to aim your shot out over the water – and if it doesn’t draw, you are going to watch your ball splash into the lake. This is a shot that would make almost any player uncomfortable. However, instead of fixating on the water and forgetting to keep a good tempo in your swing, focus your mind on the task at hand. By staying in your tempo even over shots that you aren’t sure of, you improve your odds of success.
It is inevitable that you are going to lose your tempo at some point during a round – it happens to everybody. The important thing is that you get it back as quickly as possible. Instead of thinking that your mechanics have deserted you when your game starts to go sideways, look at your tempo right away. Even just one bad shot should be enough warning to think about tempo and make sure it is on track for your next swing. Good golf is all about making adjustments on the course during the round, and tempo is a great example of that skill.
The Tempo-Distance Disconnect
There is a myth out there that ruins the swings of many golfers – they think they need to have a fast tempo in order to hit the ball a long distance. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. There are plenty of great golfers who hit huge drives with slow, smooth tempos. Of course, there are also golfers that hit long drives with extremely quick tempos as well. It just doesn’t matter what tempo you use when it comes to distance – it only matters how much club head speed you are able to generate through the hitting area.
This is probably the reason why most golfers use a tempo that is too fast for their swing. Fast tempos are far more common among average golfers than they are on the professional tours, because the pros know they don’t need to force a fast tempo in order to hit the ball a long way. As long as the hands and wrists are working at the proper time along with the rotation of your body, there is no reason a slow tempo swing can’t unleash incredible power right into the back of the ball at impact. Looking back through golf history, many of the longest drivers on the pro tour had swings that would be classified as ‘slow’ when it comes to tempo.
The thing that is important to focus on when you are hoping to build power in your swing is making sure that your tempo is the same throughout the swing from start to finish. You don’t want to have a quick tempo in the backswing and then suddenly slow it down, or vice versa. An even tempo throughout the swing is best because it make it easier to keep your balance and make solid contact with the ball. While it is perfectly acceptable to play with either a fast or slow tempo, it doesn’t work to shift gears part way through the swing. Pick a speed that you are comfortable with and do your best to keep it consistent all the way through each swing, and all the way through the round as well.
Golf swing tempo is always going to be something that is difficult to teach, and a little bit hard to understand. However, you can improve on your tempo by using the golf swing tempo tips included above. Just like with any other part of your golf swing, you will want to focus on your tempo on the practice range in order to see improvements out on the course. Take your time to think about your personality away from the course and decide how it is going to play into the tempo that you use within your golf swing. Most likely, the tempo that you naturally used when first starting to play the game is going to be close to ideal for you. Make some small adjustments until you are happy with the results, and then do your best to be consistent with every shot that you hit.