While playing golf, surely you have heard someone remark how smooth another player’s swing is. Or perhaps you have felt that your own swing was too quick, resulting in less-than-perfect shots. Many golfers experience frustration because they can’t hit all their clubs consistently — particularly long irons and woods. As the club gets longer, the tendency is to swing at a faster pace than with middle and short irons. As a result, the optimum tempo and rhythm displayed with shorter clubs is compromised.
With poor tempo and rhythm, timing at impact likely will be off, yielding inadequate results. The terms tempo, rhythm and timing are often used when describing a golf swing, but what are we really talking about? There is no question that all three are inherent parts of every golf swing. An understanding of how the concepts are related to golf — and how to discover your own perfect blend — will help you make the most of your golf swing.
In golf, tempo refers to the overall speed of the swing. It is the total time it takes to execute your golf swing from beginning to end. Tempo should be the same with every club in the bag,. For example, it should take the same amount of time to make a swing with a pitching wedge as it does with a 7-iron or driver. What’s different is the speed of the clubhead.
Because the driver is longer than the pitching wedge, the clubhead is moving faster throughout the swing, but if it takes two seconds to swing a pitching wedge, it should also take two seconds to swing a driver.
Rhythm is a pattern of regular beats, and in golf it refers to a recurring pattern of even movements back and through. One of my students, Jeff Peshut of Denver, Colorado, has been helpful in enhancing my own understanding of tempo, rhythm and timing in the golf swing. Jeff’s curiosity has resulted in a book titled Golf’s Timeless Fundamental, which I highly recommend for anyone who would like to explore the concepts in this article in more detail.
In his book, Jeff maintains that rhythm describes how you apportion the total time it takes to complete your swing based on three main parts — backswing, downswing and forward swing. It measures how much time you take to move from: address to the top of your back swing, from the top of your backswing to impact, and from impact to your finish.
If you treat the golf swing like a simple pendulum, dividing it into equal beats or counts, the backswing would take two beats, and the downswing and forward swing combined would take two beats. For example you could count “one-two” to the top of your backswing, and “three-four” to impact and finish. Swing tempo varies from person to person, but rhythm is universal. Like tempo, rhythm is the same for every club and every swing.
Good timing in the golf swing is found when the proper sequence of motion produces correct body and club position at impact. Good timing is a product of consistently producing good rhythm and tempo. Or, simply put, consistent tempo and rhythm leads to consistent timing — thus more consistent golf shots.
Someone who swings his or her clubs with a tempo faster than the ideal, or with uneven rhythm from club to club, has trouble hitting solid golf shots? When you see someone else swing, or make a swing yourself which results in poor balance, the culprit is often improper tempo or rhythm resulting in poor timing at impact.
For example, many golfers swing with uneven rhythm — particularly with long irons and woods. The takeaway is often slow to the top, but there is a tendency to quickly lunge back down to the ball in an effort to generate maximum clubhead speed. If you employ proper rhythm, at a tempo appropriate to you, your swing should react like a pendulum — and that means maximum clubhead speed will naturally occur at impact.
Discovering the optimum balance
Some players, like Nick Price, have a relatively fast tempo compared to others, like Fred Couples. A golfer’s optimum tempo is often related to his or her personality. If you walk and talk fast, like Fuzzy Zoeller, your swing tempo should reflect this. On the other hand, if you are soft-spoken and have a slower gait, your swing should match, like Ernie Els.
Try the following drill to help you discover your optimum tempo. Take three continuous practice swings using a 5-iron. Make the swings in a pendulum fashion, back and through while maintaining good balance. Then hit a ball and focus on repeating that same tempo and keeping a balanced finish.
To help make your rhythm more consistent with every club, try counting out-loud while you make a full swing. Count “one-two” as you start your backswing and continue to the top, then “three-four” down and through to the finish — with “three” being at impact and “four” at your follow through.
Finally, hit five 7-irons with your optimum tempo and rhythm, then hit five drivers trying to duplicate the same tempo and rhythm.
Remember, no matter what type of shot you’re hitting, tempo and rhythm should be the same. It is certainly true that in life and golf, timing is everything. Discover your own optimum tempo and rhythm and pave the way to a well-timed golf swing and more consistent shots.