Sunday, I promised I’d share the secret of golf that I discovered in a lesson over the weekend.
It was said that Ben Hogan supposedly was coaxed to share his “secret”, but that he kept the real secret for himself. Many now claim to know the lost secret move that gave Hogan’s swing the magic.
Well, I’m afraid that it has nothing to do with angles or positions. If golf swings were meant to be a series of geometrical checkpoints, then players like Jim Thorpe, Jim Furyk, Lee Trevino, and so many others never would have made it to where they did.
I asked on Sunday if anyone knows what I’m referring to. I will guarantee that the secret to the golf swing is something that any golfer has heard time and time again. The question is, do you realize the importance? I don’t think I did.
Are you ready to know?
Here it is: tempo.
That’s it. The secret to consistency in golf is tempo. Of course, consistency is what leads to scoring and scoring, obviously, is success.
Do you feel cheated? Did the answer not live up to the hype? Let’s look a little further.
When we’re talking about tempo, we’re referring to the natural flow of the golf swing. It is very much the same as tempo in a musical sense. To strike the ball with solid contact and more importantly, to do it consistently, a player must have a smooth-flowing tempo and rhythm that lets him stay in balance.
I’ve heard it said that in many great players, the amount of time that the backswing and downswing take are nearly identical. That’s tempo. In a musical sense, we’re talking about beats, like with a metronome. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. The golf swing is the same. Tick (backswing) – tock (downswing). Not tick-tooooooock. Not tiiiiiiiiiiick-tock.
Let’s take a look at my own case.
As I told you on Sunday, I’ve resumed taking lessons and while I have had great success on the lesson tee, when I get on the driving range or on the course, it’s all been falling apart.
My problem? I’m always trying to hit the ball too hard.
This is something my pro noticed immediately in my most-recent lesson. I told you that he gave me three minor technical adjustments to make, but that wasn’t all. He noticed within a swing or two that my tempo was way off.
When I swing the club back smoothly, and keep that smoothness through the transition to the down swing, through impact and into follow through, then I hit great shots.
Unfortunately, my tendency to try and hit the ball hard leads to some adrenaline creeping in and taking over. Sometimes, I take a smooth backswing and then jerk the club down at the ball, trying to get some serious clubhead speed going. Sometimes, I know I’m going to try and kill it, so my takeaway is jerky, and once I’m in a bad position at the top or my rhythym is off, then the shot is a disaster.
As I hit a few 7-irons, my pro had me dial back to try and only hit them 150 yards. Still, I was smooth all the way to the downward transition, and then the adrenaline took over and I was pulling them left. The tension in my hands and arms was causing me to flip the club closed. I was hitting them off the toe. It was bad.
Then, he did something that turned on the light bulb for me. He handed me my pitching wedge and had me aim at the 100 yard flag. Since a full wedge is about 125 yards for me, I had to dial it back. I immediately fell into my Pelz-style, dead-hands, finesse wedge swing. I began striking the ball crisply and on target.
After that, he simply handed me my 7-iron and told me to put my wedge swing on it. I did and the results were immediate.
Surely you’re thinking that I can’t be suggesting to hit drivers with a finesse wedge swing. No, not exactly.
What I’m saying is that he found a way to show me what proper tempo is, and how to bring it out of the wedges and into the rest of my bag. It was there on the wedges but on full swings, I was just suppressing it.
Trying to increase my tempo by jerking the club from the top and trying to crush the ball was actually having the opposite effect. I was tensing up and getting out of sync. From there, all hope is lost.
I actually fall into a common trap on the range. When I hit a solid shot at 70% power, then my natural tendency is to hit the next shot at 75% to get more distance. Then 80%, then 90%, and so on. Long before that, my ball striking has broken down because I begin to sacrifice tempo for power.
Then comes the funny part – do I then peel back to 70%? No. What happens then is, I try to “fix” the things that I perceive I’m doing wrong at that time. I change my shoulder alignment, the alignment of my feet, the tilt of my spine, my distance from the ball. On and on and on, until I have no hope of making progress.
My pro proved to me that tempo is the secret by forcing me to find it and then stick with it after I went back to my 7-iron. The fact that I went back to hitting perfect shots proved that I wasn’t off-plane and didn’t have a bad wrist cock, or have too open/closed shoulders or anything else.
Are those things in my swing (alignment, plane, etc.) what you’d consider “textbook”? No. But they’re also not what’s keeping me from scoring well. Before I get to the next level, we’ll look to refine those areas. But building a foundation that includes tempo, rhythm, and balance is crucial. I finally see that I didn’t have it.
Now, what you want to know is, what is the proper tempo for you?
I have no idea. There is no single proper tempo. Tempo is an individual trait. Some players swing very quickly with a fast takeaway and a fast downswing. Some players swing more slowly with a deliberate takeaway and downswing.
One thing is certain, though – the “beats” on your backswing and downswing (tick and tock) should be very close to the same. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Backswing-downswing. You’ll need to adjust the pace of the beats to find your optimal tempo, but once you do, your ball striking will improve.
The beauty (and curse) of tempo is that it’s the foundation of the swing. When things go bad, it’s like a baseline that can be comfortably returned to, like a ship returning to a safe harbor to escape a bad storm. If tempo itself goes bad, then the swing begins to crumble. I discovered that on Saturday. As bad as I was hitting the ball, fixing my tempo immediately resulted in good shots again.
No matter how good or bad your mechanical swing fundamentals are, you’ll never reach the full potential of your swing unless your tempo is good. If your tempo is poor, then without question it’s holding you back.
Still don’t believe the importance? Well, how about this – I’ll show you any number of great players you want with different grips, stances, swing planes, and so on, and you point me to a single great player with poor tempo. I’ll wait… Give up?
If you suspect an issue with tempo, then you have to try and work it out. Hit balls to the beat of a metronome to get the feel of perfect tempo. Don’t forget that you might have to slow it down or speed it up to match your natural rhythm. If you don’t have access to a metronome, then just do the tick-tocking in your head as you swing.
Most likely, though, you don’t even realize there’s a problem with your tempo, so the best solution is to meet with a pro and get a swing check-up. If you discover a problem with tempo and work it out, you’ll be making music on the course in no time.