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Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Traditional Approach to Learning Swing Tempo

It's probably no surprise to learn that the search for simple ways to teach proper swing tempo is an ancient quest indeed. And while you can buy many devices -- both mechanical and audible -- that claim to teach proper tempo, teachers have been using an extremely low-tech training method for many years. If you have my putting book you'll recognize it, since I use a variation of this technique to teach distance control.

Shoelace and keysThe original used a penknife and a piece of twine, but you can get the same results using anything similar. In my book I used an old shoelace and a few old keys. (In fact, this illustration is the very one I used in the book. Don't worry about copyright infringement; I gave myself written permission to use it. ;-)

The traditional way to use this device is to grasp the end without the keys, let the keys hang down, and try to get a pendulum rhythm going by swinging your arms back and forth. You want to swing your hands from waist-high to waist-high, and there's no wrist cocking involved. (Obviously, if you tried to swing this limp little pendulum on a longer arc, the keys would fall back toward your body... just the way a child's swing does when it gets above the top bar.) And you want to try to keep the string in a straight line with your hands and arms, just as the club shaft would be.

This isn't the whole drill by any stretch of the imagination, but what this little exercise does is give you some idea of just how fast (or slow, if you prefer) a gravity-powered swing feels. Now, as you'll remember, Bobby Jones's downswing was measured at just a little faster than gravity, which is a little faster than what our drill does. Still, this gets you in the ballpark.

Now we add a club to the mix. We take our regular grip on the club, but we hold the key-free end of the string against the rubber handle of the club, and we try swinging them both together just like we did with the string/key rig alone. We want the keys to swing alongside the shaft. It may take you a few moments to get the hang of it, but it won't take long.

Personally, I don't think this drill is enough to develop a good tempo because it doesn't include a wrist cock. However -- and this is really important -- it will teach you the basics of how the change of direction feels. That's where most of us screw up our tempo.

When you reach the waist-high position on your backswing, you simply can't jerk this club to start your downswing and keep the weighted string swinging beside the clubshaft. What does this change of direction feel like? It's as if your hands coast to a stop, then start falling toward the ground.

I'd almost be willing to bet that this feels unfamiliar to those of you out there in Blogland. We just get too determined to hit that ball hard, so we rush the change of direction. When you read the Bobby Jones quote that says, "No one ever swung a golf club too slowly," this is the part of the swing that he's referring to. It's also why some players have described the change of direction in words similar to this: "It's as if you have all the time in the world."

While we'll add a little to this drill later on, this traditional approach can still help you make progress toward a better tempo. After trying this drill with the club and weighted string, try to duplicate the feel of the change of direction while making a full swing with just a club. Pay particular attention to both how it feels in your hands and how it feels in your head. I think you're going to find yourself feeling frustrated by a perceived lack of power. That's part of the mental game, and it's why good tempo eludes so many players.

Good tempo isn't just about good mechanics, but about how you perceive the effect of those mechanics.

Play around with this drill and become familiar with your reactions to the change of direction. I'll be interested in knowing how you react, so drop me a comment on this post. I'll give you a few days to try it, then I'll come back to it next week.


  1. Love the tempo trainer. We used to do it with a tube sock and a couple of tennis balls. (less chance of putting out an eye or cutting the skin)

    Have you checked into the Orange Whip ? It's my favorite training aid.

  2. I hadn't seen the Whip... but I've burned out on training devices. It's not that I don't think they can be useful, but if most training devices were as effective as they claim to be, we wouldn't need so many. ;-)

    Because of that, I tend to favor homemade devices that cost little or nothing. I really like the tennis balls/tube sock idea; the main advantage I see to the shoelace/key version is that it fits in your pocket.

  3. Not to mention that if you break a shoelace, you have a replacement. :-)

    I'm with you on so many of the toys on the market. I don't doubt that most of them have good intentions, but most of them are so specific to one part of the swing, they're pretty useless.

    I have quite a collection of these toys from trips to the Merchandise Show and only a few of them get time on the radio show or in an article. The Orange Whip is definitely one that makes the cut.

    Sam, down at has developed a lot of good tools for the short game and putting over the years.

  4. Great stuff Mike! It has finally stopped raining in S. Florida so I will be able to get out for some practice. This is a great drill because it can be done in the house which is good for me during hurricane season. I'll be back to let you how it worked for me.

  5. Let me know if it helps, Dex. And next week we'll build on this drill to add the wrist cock into the mix.