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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Tempo Experiment

Yesterday Court left a comment that I am all too familiar with. He was lamenting the fact that when he hit one of those awesome shots that keeps you coming back despite all the bad ones, he couldn't remember what he did that gave him that great feel and great result.

Well, I began working on my next golf book about a month ago and that's one of the problems I'm hoping it will address. I want to identify the few simple "intangibles" that make a swing feel good and give consistently good results... and I'd like all of you readers out there to help me. The beauty of it all is that by helping me you should also help your own game. Sweet, eh?

What I want you to do is help me determine whether some simple swing thoughts and tips can improve your consistency by simplifying your game. The ball positioning tip from yesterday is a good example; can a very simple guideline like that improve your ball striking consistency by eliminating confusion over where your ball should be placed? Obviously I'd like you to leave comments on the post and tell me whether it does or not.

Today I'm going to try and simplify some problems with tempo. In the last couple of weeks I did a few posts about how tempo has traditionally been taught and how the mechanics work... but how do you condense all of that into a single swing thought that you can use on the course? There are a lot of suggestions, most of which involve some sort of counting, whether it's a simple "one - two" or the more creative "boom - boom" from Heather's now-infamous post at Real Women Golf.

The one problem I've seen with all of them is... well, you can use them and still have poor tempo. It's not just a simple matter of back and through, even though that's better than nothing. For example, you may remember I referred to a book called Tour Tempo in my tempo posts. Author John Novosel studied scores of pro swings and found that the "personal metronomes" of the players may have run at different speeds but they had consistent ratios between the time it took to make the backswing and the time it took to make the downswing. That ratio is roughly 3:1 --  the backswing takes three times as long as the downswing.

Furthermore, Novosel found that there was a fastest swing time and a slowest swing time -- the fastest took .93 seconds, the slowest took 1.20 seconds. (A middle time, 1.06 seconds, was also common.) Now, although it may seem contrary to common sense, the speed of the swing didn't determine how far you hit the ball. He found short hitters at both ends of the time range, and he found long hitters at both ends as well.

But these two aspects of tempo -- backswing-to-downswing ratio and total swing time -- are considerably more involved than you can capture with a simple "one - two" swing thought... so I've been looking for something that might help you keep track of both of them easily without taking a ridiculous amount of brainpower.

I think I've found it... and I'd like you to help me test it.

Were you ever taught how to count seconds when you didn't have a watch? You simply count "one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three..." If you have a quicker swing -- one around the one-second mark -- just use the phrase "one-thousand-one" to count it as you swing. Even better, remember that 3:1 ratio? There are four syllables in the phrase! So if you start your swing on the first "one," reach the top about the time you say "sand," and then hit the ball right around the second "one," both aspects of your tempo should be about right. (A personal note here: If you're like me, you'll tend to emphasize the "thou-" syllable and the second "one" syllable most. You might find it easier to use these two syllables as your keys. In that case, your left arm -- if you're a righty -- will be parallel to the ground or just moving past that when you say "thou-".)

Based on Novosel's figures, two of the most common speeds -- .93 seconds and 1.06 seconds -- should both work with this phrase; the times are so similar, I bet you'll automatically adjust your count so your hit falls on the second "one."

And if you have the slowest speed? Use the phrase "one-thousand-one-and." This one is less exact, of course, but you should still reach the top of your backswing at about the "wuh" sound of the second "one" and hit the ball on the final "and." (Or you can focus on the "sand" syllable. At this speed, your left arm -- if you're a righty -- will probably be parallel to the ground or just moving past that when you say "sand". Just emphasize the "sand" and "and" syllables as you swing.)

If you're like me, you'll probably find that you have to speed up your swing a little The "one-thousand-one-and" phrase was too fast for my swing originally; I tended to reach the top of my backswing just before the final "and"! I won't be surprised if a lot of you have that problem. After a dozen swings using the "one-thousand-one" phrase, my swing felt much better and I seemed to be getting through the hitting zone much more consistently. (That is, I stopped moving around so much over the ball during my swing.)

An interesting note: Although I couldn't find where I read it, I remember hearing that your tempo should be consistent on every shot... which means putts and chips should take the same length of time and fit the same ratio as the full shots. My experiments so far indicate that it is indeed true! My short game has always been good... and it fit the tempo phrase from the first time I tried it.

So here's what I'd like from you. Give this tip a try and, while I'd like to know if it helps your tempo, I'm also very interested in how it affects the intangibles of your swing. Can you hit the ball farther? Are you straighter? Do your shots feel more solid? Do you feel more or less confident when you swing? Did it force you to make other changes in your swing? These are the kinds of things I'd like to know.

Maybe we'll discover some useful information for weekend golfers out of this. I'll be interested to know how it affects your game.


  1. really ? You say "one THOUsand" ? Most people put the emphasis on the "one". "ONE thousand"

    my problem ? the old "can't walk and chew bubble gum at the same time" problem. counting out loud like that distracts me from the swing and I don't feel the swing.

    a metronome works better for me since it's outside of me - I can feel the tempo and rhythm instead of making it up. Using the Tour Tempo disk is also good.

    another problem with counting yourself is that most people THINK they have rhythm, but they really don't. Most people can't keep a regular beat very long. If we weren't singing along with the recording, we would stray fairly quickly.

    remember the Luke Donald conversation during the Tour Championship ? His swing was called "too good", so he was going to have a lot of things that can go wrong. (a statement that makes no sense to anybody except in the rattly brain pan that it came from in the first place) Donald's problem is tempo...ok...white guy joke - white people have no rhythm. Donald's tempo slows down and he hooks - speeds up and he slices. Nothing to do with his mechanics - dude can't keep a beat !

  2. by the way - here's the metronome I use. it's very adjustable to different tempos and even counts people like to use.

  3. How I pronounce the phrase varies with the use. I've had jobs where I worked a lot with music, and in those situations I developed a counting rhythm -- "one THOUsand ONE, one THOUsand two..." For a rhythmic golf swing, that seems the most natural way to count.

    I don't count out loud when I do it; I just hear the words in my head. Any way of keeping a beat -- even just "da-DUM, da-DUM" would work. I find it easier to use a phrase, because I'm less likely to vary the speech rhythm. Any four-syllable phrase accented at the "key" points in your swing is good. My experience is that most people have a natural speaking rhythm that stays pretty constant, which makes it a good basis for an "internal metronome." You don't need a great sense of rhythm when you only need to keep your rhythm for a literal second!

    And bear in mind that you can't use an outside metronome during a tournament -- another good reason to mentally count the swing. You might want to work on that gum-chewing!

  4. the other day on the range i was having tempo issues. after 116 balls and with 4 balls left, i was at wit's end as i couldn't hit 3 shots the same to save my life. but it was too nice a day (the last nice day of the year up here in the pnw) to get frustrated. so as i was looking down the range thinking about what i was doing wrong, your post on john novosel's 3:1 tempo popped into my head. hmmm... so i addressed the ball thinking only of the 3:1 tempo, and striped a 5-iron.

    i didn't start with 'one' at address. 'one' occurred when my hands were waist high. 'two' occurred when they were about shoulder height. so obviously i was at the top of my swing before 'three', but that was fine. that gave me the pause that let the club continue and for me to feel the pressure of my wrists cocking. i waited until 'three' then started down normally. 3 identical crisp, straight 5-irons later, i went home a happy camper.

    hope this helps.

  5. Thanks, NC -- that helps a lot! That's exactly the kind of info I'm looking for.

    And I can certainly see some logic in not starting the backswing on "one"; some people might feel my count as actually being less than a 3:1 ratio. I'll have to do some experimenting with that. Thanks for the idea!

  6. Heading out to go practice right now. I'll give it a try and get back to you. Although I have been doing the drills from the previous posts, I am still struggling. My tempo is too slow, I think. Whenever I get too slow, funky things start happening at the top of my swing. Ugh!!! Thanks for the post. I'll be back.

  7. Oooo - Dex is going to get funky on the range - We need video !! (break out "Undercover Brother") :-) (and if you haven't seen that movie - you're missing an all time great comedy)

    Gum works pretty well, but I tend to chew faster if I get upset or anxious. Something you have to be aware of.

    I'm a little concerned that Mike's hearing voices, though. :-D

  8. The voices aren't a problem. The echoes get a bit confusing though... ;-)

  9. I use "seventy one". It has four syllables, and it re-enforces what I want to shoot. Ideally for 18 holes, not 14 holes.

  10. Thanks, Scott. I figured different people might have different phrases that worked for them, and I'm very interested to see what patterns of syllables and stresses they choose. I also like the idea that this one reinforces the score you want to shoot -- that's cool!

  11. Hey Mike. The "one thousand one" drill worked well for me. If anything, it distracted me from "thinking" about my swing. Instead of thinking, I need to be in this position at waist high, and this position at the top of the swing, I just counted.

    As I started to get tired, I did notice that the cadence slowed down a bit and it got a little funky at the top of the swing. I didn't get too discouraged because I figured that I never really get that tired during a round.

    And Court, I would like to keep it funky on the dance floor and not on the range. I didn't play today, but imagine if I showed up as Undercover Brother for a round on Halloween? I'm doing it next year:-D

  12. Everybody gets a little sloppy when they get tired, Dex. I'd say the experiment worked well for you.

    In time you won't need the counting -- at least not on a regular basis. But I think it will remain a good way to help you get your swing back under control on bad days.

  13. I have found that, especially with the driver, if I inhale slowly on the takeaway and exhale on the downswing that I am more accurate.
    I noticed a while ago that I would not breath (not physically holding my breath, which would create tension)but not breathing. I was surprised. True, the movement is over in less than a second.
    I have noticed in pictures of better golfers (there are so many) that they are exhaling on impact.
    Breathing, huh. Who knew....

  14. That's a form of counting too. I'm glad you mentioned it because -- and this isn't just in golf, it happens when people work out too -- if you don't inhale and exhale correctly, it can interfere with your tempo and even cause you to hurt yourself. That's because muscles contract when you exert yourself, and if your chest muscles try to contract while you try to inhale... well, you can see where that could cause problems!

    Thanks, Lefty. That's a real good suggestion for keeping your tempo: Remember to breathe properly -- inhale on the backswing, exhale on the downswing.