tempo in the golf swing

The “unspoken” fundamental that all golfers should be aware of is TEMPO. In this article, we’ll explore what tempo is, why it matters, and how you can control it to produce your best golf more often.

What is Tempo In The Golf Swing and why does it matter?

Tempo in the golf swing is the ratio of the time it takes to complete your back-swing to the time it takes to get the club back to the ball.

Why does tempo in the golf swing matter? The golf swing is a sequence. The dynamic relationship between your moving body parts during the swing largely determines the all-important position you get into through impact.

When you make a good swing, the timing and sequence of these moving body parts (arms, torso, hips, etc.) is how it should be. However, when this timing is off i.e. tempo changes, the time taken for these movements (“the kinematic sequence”) varies, resulting in varying impact positions.

Essentially, your tempo needs to be more consistent if you are to play more consistently.

On the professional Tours, some swings are quick, like Rickie Fowler and Brandt Snedeker, and some are slow like Jim Furyk and Hideki Matsuyama. But the one thing they all have in common is a consistent tempo and hence they reach a more consistent impact position (club square and maximum energy being applied to the ball).

How do we know that Tour players’ tempos are consistent?

Back in 2004, a guy named John Novosel underwent a study and measured the tempos of hundreds of LPGA and PGA Tour players. He found (and published in his book and CD “Tour Tempo”) that although the speeds of the back-swing and down-swing could be different, they all had a consistent back-swing to down-swing ratio of (approximately) 3 to 1. More importantly, they are able to reproduce their optimal tempo over and over again during tournaments, when under pressure.

The reason that a 3:1 ratio of back-swing to down-swing is the magic number (for most), is that it allows enough time to complete the back-swing and then transition properly into the down-swing (with lower body > torso > arms etc.). Whereas most Tour players have a consistent 3:1 back-swing to down-swing ratio (this is found to be 2:1 with the short game and putting), for most weekend golfers it’s inconsistent. In other words, it’s less likely that their technique changes from round to round, but more likely that their tempo changes.

So why is a mental coach for golf explaining this? One of the ways I help players succeed is by making them aware of what changes under pressure. Tempo is one of those things. What typically happens when a player is under pressure (when grip pressure tightens and muscles are tighter) is that the back-swing speeds up and the down-swing starts too early, which doesn’t allow adequate time to get the sequence in order and get into a good down-swing position.

For this reason, I make sure my students are very aware of their tempo and learn how to control it during competitive play.

How to find your optimal tempo

It’s important that you find a tempo that you are comfortable with and more importantly, produces your best swings (don’t try to fit it to the 3:1 ratio, instead let the quality of your shots tell you what tempo is best). The idea is that (with practice) you can determine your optimal tempo and then internally produce it (consciously and subconsciously) when you are on course to improve the consistency of your swing, especially under pressure. Here are a few ideas for finding your optimal tempo:

1. Using a metronome app
Download a metronome app to your phone and put your ear phones in while you practice. At first set it to 45 BPM for the full swing and 70 BPM for putting. Adjust the BPM as you practice to find your optimal tempo.

2. Use the Tour Tempo app
Many of my students use the Tour tempo app which uses music to find and reproduce your optimal tempo.

3. Practice tempo awareness
While you’re practicing on the driving range, experiment with different tempos. Hit some shots at 100%, some at 75%, 50% and 25%. This will help you become aware of your best tempo and whether you are swinging at that tempo on the course.

Keeping tempo in the golf swing when you play better under pressure

When you feel pressure, everything tends to happen faster than you think – you walk faster, go through your routine quicker, and you swing faster. The key is to slow everything down and be aware of your tempo. Here are some ways you can control tempo under pressure:

  • Words or phrases like “Super-Smooth” (Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriot)
  • Use a “performance statement” (Jason Selk) before you swing like “slow back and powerful through”
  • Counting during your swing e.g. 1-2-3, 1
  • Imagining music as in Tour Tempo
  • Become aware of any tension in your body (make sure your grip pressure is not too tight and/or there’s no tension in your arms and shoulders

Work through these steps in practice and play and I’m confident you’ll see better, and less, variable results in tournaments.

Photo by Bröder Media Group