Category Archives: rhythm and tempo

Your Ideal Golf Swing Tempo

It’s funny how you can hear the same thing over and over again and it doesn’t make sense until something happens that just makes it click.  That happened to me a few days ago when I was watching Tiger Woods hit a few tee shots.

On every tee, His GOATness took two relatively slow, graceful practice swings—swings any one of us could make.  I would hurt myself if I swung at the ball like he does, but I am right in there with his practice swing.

Which gave me an idea for my game.  Hit the ball with my practice swing.

I know, everyone has heard that a thousand times before, but watching Tiger’s practice swing next to his real swing made me finally comprehend what that advice really means.

His practice swing is slowed way down so he can feel everything.  He’s checking all the marks that he pays attention to along the way.  What those marks are is not important.  That his swing is error-free is important.

Now he is good enough to step on the gas with a ball in front of him and still make an error-free swing.  We are not.

I would suggest that before each shot the recreational golfer take a few unhurried, perfect practice swings, and use THAT SAME SWING for hitting the ball.

That will provide the time to hit all the marks that are important for making a successful swing.

You will not rush yourself through your swing and miss some of your marks, or more importantly, force the club out of position by making your body keep up with itself, and fail to.

Many amateurs have a problem getting their weight onto their left side before impact.  Swinging slower gives them time to do that.

Many amateurs throw the club at the ball from the top.  Swinging slower makes it easier to hold onto their lag and release it naturally at the ball.

Swinging slower makes it easier to swing from start to finish rather than from start to impact.

And so on.

I wrote in my Living Golf Book that your ideal tempo is the fastest you can swing through impact and consistently hit solid shots off the center of the clubface.  For many recreational golfers, that isn’t nearly as fast, or as forceful, as they now swing.

Will you lose distance?  Maybe, at first, but when you have settled into hitting the center of the clubface, that distance will come back AND you will be much straighter.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

The swing you make before you hit the ball is the same swing to hit the ball with.  There should be no, zero, difference between the two.  Hopefully it is an unforced swing that leads to your finest shots time after time.

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.

A Tempo Feeling

When I write about tempo, I make it somewhat technical so you can work it out precisely at the range. But you can’t use technical methods when you play.

So try looking at tempo this way.

Swing at a pace that feels unhurried. Not too slow, though. For sure, the swing is not a horse race, but it’s not a mosey.

A Sunday afternoon, unhurried tempo will work wonders.

Golf Swing Rhythm Illustrated

Here’s one more way of looking at it. Literally.


This is Bobby Jones’s swing, with a tracer on the clubhead. The points of the swing rhythm are marked.

1 is the instant of takeaway. 2, 3, and 4 are the backswing, 4 being the end of it. 5 is impact.

Again, it looks like you would have to rush to get back to the ball in one count over the same distance it took you three counts in the backswing.

But you don’t.

Try it.

Advanced Tempo and Rhythm in Golf

This is my third post on rhythm and tempo in a month. Maybe you think I’m obsessing on his subject. I’m not. It‘s that important and it can make such a big change if you get it right.

A month ago, I talked about the meaning of tempo and rhythm, and went into greater detail two weeks ago. Nothing I said in those posts needs to be changed. But there was something I left out. Here it is now.

This 3:1 rhythm looks like a mechanical formula, but it is anything but that. There is a personal dimension to this rhythm, which you must figure out for yourself in order to make it work for you.

Let me give you an example from music, where the notion of rhythm comes from.

Most of you have heard classical, orchestral music. Most of you as well have heard jazz. The rules of rhythm are the same for each genre. The expression of rhythm is quite different in each, though. One swings, the other doesn’t.

To play jazz in an orchestral style would fail. So would trying to play orchestral music in a jazz idiom.

We all have our own feeling for rhythm built into the way we think and thus the way we move.

For example, some people perform their backswing in strict time, at a steady pace from start to finish. Other people might accelerate a bit as the backswing develops.

Some people might move from the backswing to the downswing without pause. Others would allow the backswing to come to a brief rest before it falls into the downswing.

In other words, the 3:1 rhythm does not confine your swing to one mechanical style. As long as you stay within that external framework, you can, and should, express it in your own way.

A good way to discover your expression is to swing in the air, about halfway between a horizontal plane, like baseball players do, and near vertical, like golfers do. Split the difference. Swing back and forth at that middling angle looking for the way of expressing the 3:1 rhythm in a movement that feels right for you.

I know you’ll find it, along with a tempo that’s comfortable.

Now try hitting a few golf balls. You might find it to the the easiest thing you’ve ever done.

The Difference Between Rhythm and Tempo

I just talked about this a few weeks ago, and I wouldn’t normally revisit the subject for another few moths at the earliest. But a few things came up after that most recent post was published that made me realize the difference between rhythm and tempo is not clear in the golfing world.

Either people get rhythm and tempo mixed up, or think they are the same thing. You must understand the difference if you are to build them into your swing.

What came up? Two things. First, I was talking to one of my sons about his swing. He was telling me his rhythm was very good and when I asked him more about it, it became clear he was really talking about his tempo. And when he mentioned tempo, it turned out he was really talking about his timing. And when he mentioned timing, he was talking about rhythm.

Then I went to a post I wrote earlier in the year about Ernie Els’s swing, in which the embedded video by Andrew Rice talks about how to make your swing faster (good advice) but says to do that he wants us to have three counts to the top of the backswing and one count back down to the ball (more good advice).

He wants you to speed up your swing and tells you what the rhythm of the swing is. Oh, my.

Even the experts get confused.

So let me be very clear here. Rhythm and tempo are words taken from music. Tempo is the overall speed of a composition. Rhythm is the relative duration of its component parts.

You can play Stars and Stripes Forever at a quick pace or slower pace (tempo) but the quarter notes stay quarter notes, and the eighth notes stay eighth notes (rhythm).

If the golf swing were music, the backswing would get three beats, and the downswing would get one beat.

Count out your swing, starting at 1 when you take the club away. Then count 2, 3, 4 to the top of the backswing, and 5 back down to the ball. That’s your 3:1 rhythm laid bare.

The tempo of the swing is how long it takes to make those five counts. It takes Els 1.0 seconds to execute a 3:1 rhythm. It takes Price 0.8 seconds to execute his 3:1 rhythm.

So if you want to speed up your swing, just take less time to execute the 3:1 rhythm.


Golf’s First Fundamentals – Rhythm and Tempo

The correct rhythm and tempo makes everything you do right fall into place. It is the glue that binds the swing together. Until you get this part right, all your other work is for naught.

The correct rhythm is three parts backswing, one part downswing. Count from one to five as you swing. One is the moment you take the club way. Four is the top of the backswing. Five is impact. Three parts up, one part down. That’s it.

Tempo is how long the one to five count takes. Swing as fast as you can while still controlling the club.

Find your optimum tempo by hitting balls using the 3:1 rhythm. Start out by swinging slowly, even leisurely, at first. Gradually start picking up the overall pace of your swing, staying inside the 3:1 boundaries. The assistance of a portable metronome keeps your swing speed consistent at each point, which controls the experiment.

At some point you will find the ball leaving your clubface with authority, going high, straight, and far. Keep swinging faster just to make sure, but I promise you will reach a speed at which your swing just falls apart. That’s too fast.

Slow back down to where you get those pure strikes. That is your standard tempo. You might be surprised at how fast it is.

Use your pre-round warm-up to groove the 3:1 rhythm and find the tempo that is working, because tempo will vary from day to day.

When you’re playing, a sudden decline in the quality of your shot-making often means nothing more than your swing rhythm is off. Take a few practice swings to remind yourself of the 3:1 rhythm. That should be enough to get you back on track.

Build Natural Rhythm Into your Golf Swing

It is a fact that when the rhythm of your swing is right, it is a lot easier to hit the ball consistently well. You can count it out, and I have written often on that method. There is another method, which is perhaps easier in that it follows an energy that is universally available and is always the same — gravity.

My previous post alluded to this in helping you make your swing feel like it is one continuous motion, not two motions connected somehow. In this post, I want to go into more detail on the gravity-assisted swing to show you how it creates proper rhythm. We’ll do that by refining the transition.

The backswing should be thought of as making the clubhead float upwards, not of lifting it upwards. This style of taking the club back ensures that the golfer stays relaxed. Tension is the enemy of sound movement.

When the backswing has reached the limit that the golfer has selected for it, the backswing movement comes to a gentle, but definite halt. Though your body has stopped moving, your mind might feel like there is still movement in that direction.

The club will still feel like it is floating, and for split-second, it is. At the apex of its flight, when it is moving neither up nor down, it feels weightless in your hands. The handle places no pressure on the palms of your hands at any spot. Now comes the key to achieving natural rhythm.

As the club comes down, the hands must come down with it in such a way that the neutral feeling inside them remains unchanged. If you move down too early, it will feel like you are pushing down on the handle. If your hands are late, you will feel the handle shifting inside your hands a pressing upwards on your left palm.

Your hands must move so they follow the weight of the club. By doing this, the club begins dropping at a constant speed, the acceleration due to gravity. If your hands get the right feeling every time, your rhythm will be the same every time.

Gravity alone is not enough to build up the amount of clubhead speed you need to hit the ball a reasonable distance. You add to that speed with your body turn. At no time, though, can you turn your body so fast that your are leaving the club behind.

There is a third factor in acceleration, leading with your left side. Your left hand should get back to the ball before the clubhead does. Actually, this does not accelerate the swing. It prevents the swing from being decelerated as would be the case if the right side were to push the club through the ball. That actually slows down the swing.

So this is what you practice — letting the club float downwards from the transition so the  neutral feeling in your hands does not change, adding on your body turn without it getting out of harmony with the feeling the hands, and leading the club through the ball with the left side. The half wedge swing from the previous post is the drill to use to learn all of this.

If you master this kind of downswing, the improvement in your ball-striking will be amazing.


Tour Tempo

In an earlier post I talked about the importance of tempo in your golf swing. Most instruction books mention tempo, but go no further saying they’re in favor of it and end up wasting two or three pages with contentless blather that teaches you nothing useful about making good tempo part of your game.

John Novosel explains, in his book, Tour Tempo, how he discovered through video analysis of elite golfers’s swings that the golf swing consistently breaks down to 3 units of time going up, to 1 unit coming back down to impact.

He also noted that while different golfers have different swing speeds, they all swing with this same 3:1 ratio between the backswing and the forward swing.

Novosel then developed a program of instruction so golfers can learn to swing with this 3:1 characteristic. This program is contained in a disc that comes with a book that and video and audio tracks. Let me recommend this book to you with several caveats.

First, Novosel uses the word tempo to refer to two different things. Tempo is the overall pace of your swing, which varies from player to player. The 3:1 ratio he found is the rhythm of the golf swing. Because of his emphasis on it, the book should have been called Tour Rhythm

Second, the audio track ratio is 2:1, not 3:1. The sound tracks on the disc are precise 2:1 intervals. Watch the videos to learn the exercises, but don’t listen. You’ll get the wrong rhythm in your head.

Third, the sound tracks coach you through only three discreet tempos. If the tempo that feels right for you and lets you hit the ball the best is between two of these tempos, you won’t be served by using the disc as a training guide.

Keeping those things in mind, this book has had and continues to have an enormous impact on my game. I worked hard to find the tempo that is right for me and to maintain it. I hit the ball really well when I swing at my tempo with the right rhythm. When I start hitting poor shots this is the first thing I check, and getting back to my preferences is usually all it takes to start hitting the ball well again.

Building the correct rhythm and tempo into your swing, will be the best thing you ever did for your golf game.