Tempo or Rhythm in the golf swing has different meanings to different golfers. There is no right or wrong tempo in golf. Some great players like Nick Price had a quick tempo and he won more than his fair share on the Tour. The Big Easy, Ernie Els, swings the club so much slower than Price, and both have achieved success.
So What is Tempo?
It is the time it takes from the beginning of the backswing to the completion of the follow-through. Some players start the swing slowly but tend to rush the transition to the downswing and lose the timing, which is so important to strike the ball solidly. There are many reasons and let’s look at a few.
Pressure—Playing the final hole well to win a tournament, is the most common. Often the player will mis-hit the driver off the tee, due to trying to “steer” rather than swing normally through the shot. It is the fear of failure!
Windy Conditions—Playing in the wind tends to make players rush the shot, without completing the backswing. The sequence is lost and hooks and slices result! Alternatively, they try to hit the ball too hard into the wind and increase the spin on the ball, which can have disastrous consequences.
Not electing to play a “go-to” shot—I will explain further. If a golfer hits a fade naturally, then when faced with a difficult recovery shot, he should elect to hit the shot that he knows he can execute without too much stress and maintain a good tempo. But if he decides to try and hit a hook, knowing that it is a dangerous shot for him, then the chances of success are diminished, due to a tempo change.
So What Tempo Should I Use?
If you are a person who talks fast, moves fast, and is always in a hurry, swing a golf club with the same tempo. Don’t try and swing with a slow tempo. It may work most of the time, but when under pressure, your natural instinct will take over with bad consequences.
Conversely, if you move and talk slowly, swing the club with the same tempo. Unfortunately, when under pressure we all tend to want to rush the shot. This is where practice comes into play, so keep practicing with a slow tempo.
How do I develop my Tempo?
A rule of thumb is to develop a tempo that you can repeat without too much effort. If you take 3 seconds to complete your backswing, the downswing should take about 1 second. That may sound slow to some on the backswing, but quick for others on the downswing. Get on the driving range and set up to hit shots with a wedge or short iron. Take a normal swing and count on your backswing and the downswing. Vary the speed of your backswing if it feels too slow, but make sure in all circumstances you complete the backswing fully.
Within a short space of time, you will find a tempo and rhythm that feels good, with solid contact on the ball. Now the trick is to write all this down and use the same tempo through the bag. There are gadgets like a Metronome, that ticks and keeps time per second. You can adjust this tempo to fast or slow and then practice to see which suits your swing best.
The Driver and Tempo
This is the toughest club in the bag to hit consistently, partly due to golfers wanting to hit the ball too hard. Distance and out-driving your mates may feel good, but if not hit straight, will destroy your round and confidence. The shaft is the longest, creating the biggest swing arc. That in itself will hit the ball further than other clubs in the bag. Swing the driver with the same tempo and rhythm you swing a short iron and watch your game improve.
The transition from backswing to downswing is the toughest move in golf and wrecks scores and swings. Understand and maintain the swing sequence by starting from the ground upwards. Don’t rush or jerk the club to start the downswing! No one is going to steal the ball! Don’t try and overpower the swing with the shoulders and arms. Transfer the weight from the loaded right side to the left foot, while rotating the hips towards the target. This clears the way for the arms to swing freely through impact.
It is that simple, but unfortunately, when a golf ball is in front of us, it gets all the focus! I think I refer to the transition and swing sequence in any or every swing article I write because it is what makes a good golf swing, with a great tempo.
Which Pros on the Tour should I watch and Copy?
My opening comment here may surprise many, but watch the top women on the LPGA Tour. They are slightly built but hit the ball far without effort. Watch their swing sequence and the smooth tempo they establish with the driver and the irons. It is inspiring and reinforces the belief that raw muscle power is not the only requisite for hitting a golf ball far and straight. Watch them and learn!
On the men’s Tour, Freddie Couples and Ernie Els have classic rhythm and tempo. The other great players on tour all hit the ball magnificently, but generally with a lot more effort. Just concentrate on the tempo that Fred and Ernie achieve, and emulate it.
Tempo in the swing is a personal issue and should be treated as such. Practice and retain a tempo that feels more natural to you. Start with the short irons and graduate to the long irons and woods, maintaining the same tempo throughout. This will change your game and your scores, and bring plenty of joy!
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Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.