Category Archives: fundamentals

Melding Rhythm and Tempo

As I search for ways to play better golf, and pass my findings on to you, I never stop looking for ways to integrate rhythm and tempo into my swing.

I have suggested ways to find the 3:1 rhythm, and ways to find your right tempo, which varies from player to player. But these cannot be learned separately and then put together. You could get very good at swinging with a 3:1 rhythm, but if you move to a new tempo, your rhythm can break down. You would have to re-learn 3:1 all over again. Rhythm and tempo must be learned simultaneously as a unified pair by using the same exercise.

About a month ago I found a copy of John Novosel’s book, Tour Tempo, at a used book sale. This book teaches you the 3:1 rhythm at different tempi. (The book should really be titled, Tour Rhythm, by the way.) By swinging along with any one of the audio files, you are learn rhythm and tempo together.

There is on problem with these files, though. Only three discrete tempi are given, and none of them might be suitable for you. The slowest one, 27/9 (3:1 ratio) is too slow for me, and the next fastest one, 24/8, is too fast. These integer-based selections are the result of Novosel playing a video of a swing frame by frame and counting frames. Yet, a tempo of 25.892/8.631 might be just the ticket. And it’s still 3:1.

You can’t solve this problem by getting a feel for the 3:1 rhythm and then modifying it in your head as you swing. It is too easy to adjust your counting to your swing instead of adjusting your swing to the correct count. Musicians practice with a metronome* to prevent that from happening with their instrument.

There is a simple solution, though. If you have Windows Media Player** on your computer, you can adjust the speed settings to almost whatever you want. Then, you could play the TT audio files, say the 27/9 one, and speed it up bit by bit until you find the tempo you like. Or, you could start with 24/8 and slow it down. Either way would work. You can write down the new speed setting that WMP shows you so you can go back to it again.

I strongly recommend you use the TT audio files to get this vital technique built into your swing. Swinging with correct, unified rhythm and tempo is one of the best golfing habits you can have. It forgives many sins.

* A metronome, though, is inadequate for this task. The metronome must be set so there is a tick at the moment you start the club down from the top, and the next tick must be when the ball is struck. This is the 1 part of 3:1. The 27/9 tempo corresponds to a metronome setting of 200. The highest setting on a metronome is 208, which yields a rhythm of 25.95/8.65. If you need to go faster, you’re stuck.

** If you have Mac, you can use VLC, but that only produces discrete, not continuous, speed adjustments.

To Be In Position

I was hitting plastic balls at my backyard driving range earlier today, and just not getting the results I wanted. Everything was a hair fat. So I moved the ball a half inch back in my stance. Bingo.

One of Ken Venturi’s basic teaching precepts is that players do not get out of swing, the get out of position. Put them back into position and the swing comes back. So many times it isn’t the swing that needs correcting, it’s the position.

This means grip, stance, posture, and ball position. Grip: where do the Vs point? How many knuckles do you see? Stance: how far apart are your feet? To where do the toes point? Posture: How much do your knees bend? How much does your back or neck bend? How far apart are your elbows? Ball position: how far from the ball do you stand? Where is the ball from front to back of your stance?

Practice these. Actually practice them. Get in and out of your setup and learn your position well enough so that you never have to find it — you get into it automatically.

This will solve so many problems before they start.

Your Stance

Have you ever stood over the ball just knowing that this shot is going to be one of your best? And when you make your swing that’s exactly what happens?

Now remember the times when you stood over the ball and you started worrying about where the ball was going to go because you KNEW there was something wrong. Or whether you would be able to make good contact and you didn’t.

Ken Venturi said many times that good players do not get out of swing. They get out of position. You put them back in position and their swing comes back.

That’s what your stance does for you. It gets you in position to make your best swing.

I would imagine you never practice your stance. If that’s true, then please start getting into the habit.

You can do this inside your house. Drop a ball on the carpet and address it with your 5-iron. How do you feel? Do you have that feeling of great confidence, or is it just you standing up to the ball?

Break your stance, take a few steps away, then approach the ball and set up again. How about now?

What you’re watching out for are minute changes in your grip, in your posture, in ball position, and anything else that makes one stance feel different from another.

What you’re practicing is perhaps the most important thing you can practice. Your swing emerges from your stance. Your stance leads into your swing. Good golf is played by making your best swing more often, and that means taking your best stance more often.

When you’re in position, you don’t need swing thoughts, and you don’t need to think about whether this will be a good shot or not. Your mind gets filled with the quiet confidence that all you have to do is get the club in motion and everything will be all right.

Believe me, when I’m at the range and I’m in position, I KNOW that my best shot is coming up next. My bad shots? They didn’t happen because my swing changed. They came because I took my stance for granted and couldn’t swing the way I wanted to.

Of course you want to practice your swing, but spend time practicing your stance, too. It will really pay off.

My Guest Spot on The Golf Fix

I got a call from The Golf Channel a few weeks ago saying they liked my blog and would I like to be a guest on The Golf Fix. I said, sure. They said bring three things to talk about. I said that would be easy.

So when Michael Breed asks me what I have for the viewers, I will mention three things that if every golfer could do them, the sound of the nationwide crash of handicaps plummeting would be enough to put the National Guard on alert.

Faithful readers of this space should already know what two of them are.

The first one is rhythm and tempo — 3:1 rhythm from takeaway to impact, at a tempo that lets you get the center of the clubface on the ball.

The second one is the hands lead the clubhead into impact. This leads to mastery. The clubhead getting to the ball first leads to one disaster after another.

The third one is to replace your urge to hit the golf ball with the joy of swinging the golf club. If there’s a ball in the way of the swing, so much the better.

Then I would show drills you could use for each point.

To get rhythm and tempo right, just count as you swing. 1 is the moment of takeaway, 2, 3, 4 to the top, and 5 at impact, performed at a pace (tempo) that, to you, feels unhurried.

For the hands leading the clubhead, I demonstrate drill from Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book on swinging down slowly to hip level three times and on the fourth, at the same speed, continuing down and through the ball.

For the third point, I would say take practice swings, as many as you like, with a ball in front of you, but a few inches farther away so you can see it, but won’t hit it. By seeing the ball but never hitting it, you gradually replace “hit” in your mind with “swing.”

I would say, Do each of these drills for two minutes every day (six minutes, total), and see what you get after 60 days.

Then I would look at Michael, who for once would be speechless. After all, what more would there be to say?

This is what I’ll present for my guest spot on The Golf Fix. But you don’t have to wait. Start doing these three things right now, and let me know in 60 days how it came out.

So when will my fifteen minutes of fame be on the air? Well, unfortunately they had the wrong number. When they realized who they were really talking to, they apologized and hung up.

I guess all this will remain our little secret, and my little fantasy.

The Vertical Dimension of Impact

Impact is the big thing these days. We have all learned that the bottom of the swing should take place somewhere in front of the ball.

How deep the bottom of the swing should be is another discussion — do you take a divot, or do you sweep the ball off the grass?

There is a third dimension, which describes hitting the ball off the heel or toe, but we’ll skip that one here.

I’ll be talking about depth today because it doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and it is of vital importance to consistency in shot-making. First, a story.

Last summer when I had a playing lesson in which one of the shots was hitting an 80-yard pitch into a tight pin.

I took three rehearsal swings, each one of which felt good to me. The pro stopped me before I hit the ball and said each swing had been to different depths, which would send the ball to different distances.

He said if I wanted to master this shot I had to learn how to come through the ball at the same depth every time. Here’s how I’m doing it.

I have a piece thick-pile carpet and practice swinging across it with a half swing, making the same sound each time the sole of the club brushes the carpet. That means the club swung down to the same depth.

Here’s a way you might go about feeling your swing so this happens.

As you stand over the ball, feel like your arms are hanging from your shoulders like a shirt would hang down on a coat hanger — no tension, very relaxed.

Now swing the club from the point where the coat hanger is suspended, on your spine at the spot level with the top of your shoulders. Just swing back and forth with that spot as the pivot, with a good rhythm and an easy tempo, and let your arms and hands follow.

Keep a relaxed feeling in your arms the entire time. All you want in them is enough muscle power to move the club and be in control of the clubhead — no more. Don’t try to control your stroke consistently with your arms. You can’t do it, and it all gets frustrating pretty quickly.

As you repeat your swings, key in on that consistent sound of the sole of the club brushing the carpet.

Admittedly, this is all fine tuning that you don’t need if you just want to get the ball around the course. If you want to get GOOD, though, start attending to this detail.

Not to mention, after a month or so you should have a new and effective pitching stroke that will bleed over into your full swing as well.

The Way You Take Your Grip

The tagline for my advice on how to help you play better golf is, “Little Things That Make A Big Difference.” Today’s post is about a thing so tiny you can hardly see it, and which I have never read or heard about before.

It’s about the way in which you place your hands on the handle, no matter what kind of grip you have or what it looks like.

Go get a golf club and I’ll show you exactly what I mean. A 5-iron will do nicely. I’ll wait.

[wait]    [wait]    [wait]

Got one? Good. Now. Hold the club out in front of you, in your right hand, so the shaft is inclined a bit above parallel to the ground. Turn the club until the bottom line of the clubhead is exactly vertical.

While watching the bottom line, don’t take your eyes off it, put your left hand on the handle in its grip position. The bottom line of the clubhead must not get disturbed as you’re doing this. If it got turned slightly to the right or left, the clubface is now out of alignment and, guess what, the ball won’t go where you want it to go.

We’re not finished. Assuming you passed the left hand test, now add your right hand to complete your grip. Do not take your eyes off the bottom line as you do this. If the bottom line turned, even just a bit, you blew it. You haven’t even put the club on the ground and taken your stance, and the shot has been ruined.

Cary Middlecoff said in his book, The Golf Swing,

“… it is quite easy to vary the grip slightly without being aware of it, and just a slight variance can make a vast difference in how the shot comes off.”

And again,

“So many golfers do not relate their bad shots to a basically bad grip, or to slight but relevant changes in their grip from one shot to the next.”

It is one thing for your grip to be identical for every shot. That takes lot of practice, and is a good subject for another post.

But the way you place your grip on the handle is part of it. Doing that haphazardly can make a grip that is perfect in every way ineffective because you did not relate the grip to the clubface when you placed your hands on the handle.

The clubface acts as a surrogate for your hands. They must be coordinated from the very start. Practice this deliberately, and when you play, be that much deliberate when you take your grip. It’s a little thing that makes a big difference.

What Made Me a Good Golfer

I have a 9 handicap. Good, not great, but it is a level most recreational golfers would love to attain. Let me tell you what skills I learned that got me there. They’re skills you can learn, too.

I swing the club with a strict 3:1 rhythm at a tempo that suits my swing.

My hands are ahead of the clubhead through impact.

I play a gentle fade. Most of the time you would have to stand behind me to be aware it.

I have combinations of clubs and swing lengths that let me pitch the ball close from 50-100 yards away.

I have a combination of clubs that let me chip very close from just off the green regardless of the distance.

I developed physical calibration of my approach putting stroke to get the ball close, from 45 feet and under.

My mind believes, whenever I address the ball, that this will be a good shot.Review Android Smartphone

I don’t get upset when I hit a poor shot. I just walk to my ball and start thinking about how to make the best out of the shot I’m facing now.

After a few holes, what my score is stops coming to mind. I don’t know what it is until I write it down after the round is over.

Learning these mental skills is described fully in my book, The Golfing Self.

Of course there is more to good golf than these nine points. But if they are part of your game, par should be a reasonable expectation on all but a few holes of the courses you play.

The Fastest Way to Get Better

The November 2015 Golf Digest has a cover article by Tony Finau with the same title as this post. The article reveals his opinion that the fastest way to get better is to get good with your driver and your putter.

Good advice. Even Byron Nelson once said, “If you can drive and you can putt, you can play this game.”

The driver part won’t do you any good, though if you can’t hit the green with your 7-iron. If you can’t hit the green with your 7-iron, you won’t hit many fairways with your driver. Might as well leave it home.

Change your swing so you can hit the green with your seven-iron, say, eight out of ten times. Then you can haul out a driver.

As for putting, the ones to practice are the 30-footers and the 3-footers.

Learn to get the ball close to the hole from a distance. Not doing that is the major cause of three-putt greens.

Then learn to get the ball in the hole from close in. Missing the short putts is the other cause.

Those two things sound obvious, but surprisingly they’re not.

The way to get better at golf is to be real good on the basics. The 7-iron and putting are the basics. Go get ’em.

The Golf Club and the Japanese Sword

For almost 35 years, I have studied and taught the martial art of Aikido with Ki. Part of the advanced training involves a wooden sword called a bokken. We use the sword to learn how to apply the principles of the art while holding an object (although there is lot to be said about what that statement really means).

What applies to the bokken applies to a golf club.

Of the several principles for using the sword is always to move the sword from its tip. Instead of moving the sword from our hands, we think all the way out to the tip, and move that.

The reasons why are too involved to go into here, but that is the principle that I want to talk about in relation to a golf club.

When we move the golf club, we want to move it from the tip as well. Percy Boomer says in his important book, On Learning Golf, “…our strivings to attain a good swing will have been largely in vain unless at the end we have learned to feel our clubhead.”

We can refine that statement by saying not the entire clubhead but the tip of the golf club, which is on the clubhead. That tip is the sole of the clubhead.

A few week ago I posted an essay on how to stop chunking chip shots. The idea was not to think, “Hit the ball,” but, “Brush the grass.” Well, what is it you brush the grass with? The sole of the clubhead. The tip.

Now the tip of a sword is small and pointy. The tip (sole) of a golf club is broad, long, and flat. But it is a tip in its own way.

You always read, correctly, to hit the ball first and the ground second. You hit the ball with the clubface. What do you hit the ground with? Not the leading edge of the sole, as might seem obvious, but the entire sole.

You control the sword by controlling the tip. It’s the same with a golf club. When the sole goes to the right place, the rest of the club will too. After all, they’re attached!

They key to consistent ball striking is to hit the ball on the center of the clubface every time. We control that in large by delivering the sole of the club to the ground in the same way every time.

You might spend some time working with chips, short pitches, longer pitches, and moving up to a full swing with this thought in mind — swing the sole of the club to a consistent point with each swing. Everything else will fall into place.