All the great players, such as Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods had swings that were beautiful to watch and highly effective in winning major championships. But what was it about these swings that made them so consistent, especially under the pressure of major tournaments? Was it swing plane? Grip? Posture? These can obviously vary slightly from player to player. But there’s one thing that all the great swings have in common and it could explain why you see inconsistencies in your own results, especially in tournaments.
When under pressure, this is the thing that is most likely to change in your swing and impact the distance and direction of your shots. Some would argue it’s the 6th fundamental of golf and the most overlooked way to improve your swing. Many of us have heard of it, but few of us know what it is and how it can work for you to help you play better golf. I am of course, talking about T-E-M-P-O.
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 backswing to the time it takes to get the club back to the ball (the downswing).
On the professional Tours (and among your golf buddies), some swings are quick, like Rickie Fowler and Brandt Snedeker, and some are slow like Jim Furyk and Hideki Matsuyama. But one thing they all have in common: their tempo is consistent and hence their swings are consistent.
How do we know 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 backswing and downswing were different, they all had a backswing to downswing ratio of 3:1. Since then, it’s been found that there are several exceptions to this ratio, but there’s an important reason to find your own tempo number and try to replicate it.
Why does tempo in the golf swing matter?
There are a lot of moving parts in the golf swing that have to be synchronized without you thinking about them. A consistent golf swing is about a consistent kinematic sequence, and that is controlled by your rhythm and tempo. The 3:1 ratio represents the most efficient kinematic sequence in the golf swing (for those players who swing best with that tempo). One of the reasons that most weekend golfers see such inconsistency in their scores is not because their technique changes from week to week, but because their tempo in the golf swing changes, causing the timing of the sequence to change.
Whereas most Tour players have a consistent 3:1 backswing ratio (this is found to be 2:1 with the short game and putting), most weekend players have a more erratic tempo in the golf swing. But tempo changes don’t only explain variability in a weekend players results – even Tour players can get out of sync. When Tiger Woods returned to the PGA Tour a couple of years ago after injury, those that analyzed his swing determined that his tempo was very inconsistent from shot to shot. The same thing happened to Greg Norman’s swing during his famous melt-down in the final round of the 96 Masters.
The reason that a 3:1 ratio of backswing to downswing is the magic number (for most), is that it allows enough time to follow the sequence and transition properly into the downswing (lower body, torso, arms…). What typically happens when a player is under pressure (when grip pressure tightens and muscles tense up) is the ratio changes and the swing gets out of sync meaning an inconsistent path and clubface angle at impact. Usually the backswing speeds up and the downswing starts before the backswing has been properly completed.
How to find your optimal tempo
We are all different in our personalities and the way we move, so 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) we 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 in the golf swing.
2. Use the Tour Tempo app
Many of my players have purchased the Tour tempo app and have found it helped.
3. Use music
Finding and listening to music that fits your ideal tempo is a good way to internally produce that tempo on the course.
4. Use a swing analyzer
Swing analyzers like Zepp or Golf Sky Pro can give you a tempo reading for your swings. Notice how increasing and decreasing tempo affects the quality of your shots and find your optimal number.
Perhaps you are more feel oriented which can help you find the top of your backswing, at which point you start your downswing. Your practice swings could include a few swings that start from the top of the swing to feel that position.
Keeping tempo in the golf swing helps you play better under pressure
From my work as a mental golf coach for many competitive players, I know that one of the most effective swing thoughts when under pressure is to think about tempo.
The mental game is about getting access to your best skills under pressure and setting an internal tempo with your mind is a good way to do it.
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 try and slow everything down and control your tempo in the golf swing. This is one of the key objectives of the pre-round warm-up before going out to play.
Ways to 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 like a waltz 1-2-3, 1-2-3
Work through these steps in practice and play and I’m sure you’ll see some improvement in your results. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.
Photo by Bröder Media Group