Tempo: The Cornerstone of a Great Golf Swing

Dan Gold
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John Novosel and Tour Tempo

Walk into any golf shop and see the vast array of clubs, balls, bags, tees you can choose from.

Then think about a young kid 8-years old or less. This young kid has a swing much better than yours, mine or probably any of his instructors.

The reason is that the young kid is using his Tempo. What is his tempo?

If you remember your childhood growth and development, you know how muscles grow and developed in the young. The same happens in a golf swing. The right tempo is an enormous asset to anyone who plays golf.

Look at any great ball-striker on the PGA Tour and you’ll see a common trait.

They all use tempo to generate tremendous power. Tempo is the cornerstone of a great golf swing.

There are four unique planes of motion in a golf swing. The first is the plane of your body when you swing back. A plane is nothing but a straight line or area.

The planes of motion are created by the least motion, the easiest and the fastest to become instant. The plane of your backswing is created by your shoulders.

All great ball-strikers get their body back in this way. It's the slowest plane in the swing yet it's the easiest to control.

The Physicist

There are a lot of different approaches to build a proficiency in any skill. If you want to excel as a garden variety dumb jock, you’ll focus your training on getting bigger and stronger, and you’ll add muscle by squatting with heavy weights and feed yourself a diet of animal flesh. If you’re a runner, you’ll focus on training your cardiovascular system by running 10k-20k a day, and if you pick up the violin, you’ll focus on finger strength through scales and technique by practicing up and down scales every day before you even get to the fun stuff.

For the physicist, however, the only method is the scientific method. Every self-respecting physicist knows that the path to success is turning complexity into simplicity, and that the key to any good theory is the ability to make predictions and be proven right. So that’s exactly what they do. Here’s an example. To get really good at tennis, you’ve got to start with the same exercises you’d do to get really good at astrophysics, which is all about learning to jump from the known to the unknown at the right time.

Jim Hackenberg and The Orange Whip

A Perfect Example of Tempo

Jim Hackenberg almost single-handedly revolutionized golf instruction. During the 1940s and 1950s, he coined new terms in golf instruction and introduced innovative teaching aids.

Upon his appointment on the staff of the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta in 1941, he created a sensation. Before long, his students were winning tournaments, giving Hackenberg something to be proud of.

One of his disciples, a young Canadian named Moe Norman, Sr., was something of a free spirit. At a time when most players took a big backswing, Norman used a short, wristy swing to drive the ball 335 yards.

One day, while Hackenberg was struggling with a stubborn hedge at the edge of one of the greens, Hackenberg saw how well Moe Norman did the same thing with a short whip of a club.

Hackenberg was intrigued. He started to experiment, using his first real woods to practice whacking the hedge.

He started to hit a variety of training aids, making a tee out of a wooden pole and stuffing a handkerchief into a sock worn as a mitten.

After a while, he hit upon a piece of orange-colored metal that fit snuggly into his hand and felt like a whippy club.

So why isn’t tempo more important?

If you ask 10 golf pros or 10 golfers what they think is the most important thing they can do in the off-season to improve their golf game, chances are that you would get 10 different answers. There are a lot of different opinions out there on what is the most important thing a golfer can do to get better.

Some say that it’s all about practice, others say that it’s fundamental golf skills, and some say it’s divots and how much sand you’re able to eat. You need to work on your mental game, your physical game, or just take it easy today and relax. In actuality, they are all correct and all valuable.

Are you surprised that tempo is not listed as the most important tip for improvement? If you are, you’re not alone.

Tempo is not something talked about in a lot of golf instruction. Its absence in these discussions does not make it any less important, however.

Why do top golfers work with top coaches? I’m sure that the answer is a lot of factors, but I’m also guessing that one of them is to work on tempo. What is tempo?

John Garrity

John Garrity is a golf instructor and founder of the “Art of Swing,” a golfers’ educational website that is reading America’s favorite golf blog. Being interested in swing tempo (a term that I’m not familiar with), Garrity set out to determine what professional golfers had the easiest and smoothest swing tempo. In the following article, he describes his research.

One of the most interesting things to me about the golf swing is the time it takes to complete it. Have you ever tried to measure it? It can't be done with any significant level of precision, just by how it feels to us mortals.

It's a status symbol in the golf world to have a fast swing. It's attractive to think that you can rip a driver through the ball with a lot of club head speed and by-pass the laws of physics. When Ben Hogan was writing on the club-head and shaft connection in the early 1960s, he spoke of the need to move in a straight line with as little curvature as possible.

My Next Steps

I’m going to continue to utilize tempo on a daily basis. All I need is for you to remember the value of tempo.

I firmly believe it is the cornerstone of a good golf swing, a great golf practice routine and an important part of the golf lifestyle.

I’ll keep you updated on its impact as I continue to use it. Have you incorporated tempo into your golf game? If so, tell me how it worked out for you.

Andrew Rice

Adam Young

A golf pro with a lifetime of experience, put tempo into perspective. In his book, Let’s Play Golf, he points out that the best players in the world have all learned one thing:

It is not where a player wants the club to go, it is where the club goes in relation to the body that matters.

When you learn to control tempo, you will be able to control direction. In time, tempo will be felt as the essence of a great golf swing.

And therein lies the problem most of us have with the golf swing.

When we begin to try to swing the club in a certain manner, the body tries to keep up. The club is the slow, stiff member of this dance, while the body is the active, nimble partner. It takes all day to get the club to move, so the body tries to force the clubhead into it’s ideal position The back gets stiff, the hips get turned out, and the whole swing is off.

That’s another reason tempo is so difficult to learn. We try to make the club go where we want it to, when instead we should focus on making it get there in the right way.

My Experiment with swing tempo

To better understand the role of tempo in golf, I experimented with swing tempo and shot distance with the help of Trackman. Trackman analyzes a ball’s flight characteristics (drop, carry, launch angle and spin) using Doppler radar

The Experiment

My experiment included a 1 iron shot hit with varying speeds and two different tempos. The result was clear! Tempo had a much greater impact on ball distance than club head speed.

My Golf Drill

Before chipping, to maximize accuracy, I choose a tempo near my natural tempo of 1.0 regardless of the distance I was to hit the chip shot. If the shot was short I typically sped up my tempo. If a shot was longer, I slowed down my tempo slightly. This helped me consistently hit my chipping short game targets.

3-Ways I Used the Golfer’s Golden Secret

I applied it to my driver, 3W and 5W shots.

I set up and addressed the ball with a faster swing tempo while keeping the club head speed the same. This allowed me to hit longer shots with more accuracy and consistency.

I applied it to my putting.

With a slower swing tempo I felt my putting was more rhythmic. This allowed me to increase my putting confidence in making those long putts.

So how do you fix your tempo?

Everyone has a tempo, from your buddy to Tiger Woods. But what is tempo and how can you improve yours?

Tempo describes how long it takes you to complete a swing action. It’s the time it takes for you to move from your address position (feet, knees, hips, and shoulders) to maximum follow through position with your club.

If you have a slow tempo, it slows down your rhythm. If your tempo is fast, it may take you out of a rhythmic swing.

Getting your tempo down will help smooth out your swing, allowing you to execute each swing with good tempo.

There are a number of pre-swing cues and drills designed to get your tempo down.

Here’s the simplified version of the method for players without a golf coach:

Select a target to address. Walk to the target and address your putt with a short iron or wedge. While addressing your putt, start your swing motion, but stop about halfway through. Your weight should be swinging back and forth between your back foot and front foot. Now, count the number of times your club face stays closed while you’re swinging through. Try to get that number down to one. This will help you develop a good tempo.