This article is based on the experience, education and talent of Roland Stafford. He was a graduate of Northwestern University and earned a Masters Degree in Music Education from the University of Arizona. His musical talents and golfing abilities together culminated in his success as a player, and evolved into his golf instruction methodology that has been benefiting students of the game for over 27 years. A video presentation may also be found at www.staffordgolf.com/video#tempo.html
For our purposes, tempo is the length of time it takes to make a swing from start to finish. You must have a smooth, rhythmic tempo in order to get the most of your game day in and day out. You notice I did not say slow or fast, but smooth and rhythmic. Speed is how fast the club swings. If in fact you are having a bad day on the golf course the first thing you check is your tempo. It is about the only thing that can vary from day to day, even from shot to shot.
It’s amazing how one’s tempo in the golf swing parallels the tempo of one’s daily life; the way we walk, eat, and talk and our patience or impatience. Two perfect examples in golf would be Fred Couples and Craig Stadler. Fred has one pace, slow. His relaxed attitude reflects in his golf swing. Craig has a relatively fast tempo and very evident in his tournament play is his impatience, annoyance with himself and his fast pace. A good example for women golfers would be the slow pace of Nancy Lopez verses the quick or fast pace of Laura Davies. The tempo of all their swings however is smooth and rhythmic. The important thing to remember is every club should be swung at the same tempo which will vary from person to person.
Establish Your Tempo: After you have warmed up, establish your tempo by hitting some 5 irons or equivalent, as it is an average length club. When you are satisfied with the smoothness and rhythm of the swing use this tempo for all your clubs. In other words, every club should take the same length of time to swing from start to finish as your 5 iron. You will find the longer the club, the wider the arc and consequently the faster the club will swing. Conversely the shorter the club, the smaller the arc and the slower the club will swing. Maintaining your established tempo will automatically dictate the speed of the club. Remember the speed of the club is dictated by the length of the club and is not your concern. The same tempo is your concern.
Example: A conductor of a chorus establishes the tempo with the preparatory upswing of his arm. He would not raise his arm slowly and then try to have a fast tempo nor would he raise his arm quickly and then try to have a slow tempo. The chorus would not be able to sing together. The tempo of a golf swing works the same way in that the backswing creates the tempo of the swing. It must be smooth and rhythmic. A fast backswing followed by a slow forward swing won’t work nor will a very slow backswing followed by a jerky transition to a fast forward swing work. What will work is smooth, rhythmic tempo using the same tempo for every club.
The Short Game: It is extremely important to maintain your tempo in your short game. Pitching, flop shots and chipping all require a smooth rhythmic tempo and a very soft grip so your hands don’t take over and flip in the hitting area. Most Professionals when warming up on the practice range and before a teeing off will finish their session with a sand wedge making flop shots. The flop shot is a full swing but soft and smooth and contains all the elements of a long swing but with little effort and a good tempo. This shot will smooth out your tempo for that first tee shot.
Putting With Tempo: A good putting stroke will lower your score. Try to use the same tempo for every putt. That is, take the same length of time for every putting stroke. Two things dictate how far the putt travels: 1) The length of the backswing; 2) The speed of the club head. Establish your tempo with about a six foot putt (the length of time the stroke takes from start to finish). Using a metronome is the best way to practice this. However, you still must mentally establish your tempo. You will find with a little practice the length and speed of the putt automatically change using the same tempo.
Definitions: Tempo- A characteristic rate of activity, pace; Swing- To move rhythmically back and forth; Rhythm- A pattern of flow and movement; Speed- The rate of rapidity of a motion.