Tempo: The Cornerstone of a Great Golf Swing
Swing tempo might be the most important concept that is not discussed enough in the golf world.
Take a look at this image, and see if you can recognize anything similar.
If you can’t come up with anything, don’t worry. You shouldn’t have. It was a trick question.
Despite thousands of teachers’ best efforts over many decades, there is still no right way to swing a golf club. If the best players in the world all have different hand positions, swing planes, and various other technical sticking points, then it should be a pretty good indication that there’s more than one way to get it done.
But what if I told you that everyone in that picture above did have something in common? You’d probably be interested to find out what it is, and try and copy it.
The thing that links all of these players together is one of the most important fundamentals of the swing, and it’s not discussed much these days.
It’s their swing tempo.
Tempo is one of the most overlooked keys to a great golf swing, and I’d like to tell you a story that I believe will open your eyes to its importance.
I would also like to show you how to improve your own tempo, and get you hitting some of the best shots of your life. Through some research and experimentation, I have discovered a way to practice tempo that I don’t believe has been discussed before.
Great golf is about repetition. At the core of repetition is your swing tempo.
This is important.
John Novosel and Tour Tempo
15 years ago, someone figured out what all of the greatest golfers in history had in common.
His name is John Novosel. You may know his name already, and have heard his story. However, I didn’t know who he was until recently, and that probably means a decent amount of you reading this won’t either.
In 2000 John Novosel was editing the swing of a professional golfer for an infomercial. As a small test he decided to measure how many frames it took for the golfer to get to the top of their swing, and then to the bottom. The calculation arrived as exactly a 3 to 1 ratio. He wasn’t exactly moved by this initially because the prevailing wisdom about tempo was that each golfer had their own unique rhythm, and there was nothing really that unified them from player to player.
He then looked at Tiger Woods’ swing from the 1997 Masters. It also had the exact same ratio, 3:1. At that point he knew he was on to something, and started analyzing the swings of all of the best players in the history of the game.
Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Tom Waston, Byron Nelson. They were all 3 to 1. It was as if he had discovered the Rosetta Stone of golf.
In 2004 he published his findings in the best-selling book Tour Tempo, and then again in 2011 with Tour Tempo 2 (which offered an update with short game). He also has created various training aids, the most popular being his series of tones that golfers can use to help hone their tempos.
I recently spoke with John, and he’s a very interesting guy. At the core of my conversation was the following question.
Why have I never heard of you, and why aren’t your findings more important in the golf world?
John has anecdotes from so many golfers around the world who have dramatically improved their games by training with his tones. He has developed 4 separate swing tempo speeds, which correspond to the frames per second from his video analysis. Ranging from slowest to the fastest, they are: 27/9, 24/8, 21/7, and 18/6.
The first number indicates the length of the backswing, with the second being the downswing. Almost every single PGA Tour player falls into one of these specific ratios.
There are thousands of golfers (and plenty of prominent pros) who have trained with him directly, or read his books, and used his products to improve their games. The one thing John has found amongst most recreational golfers is that their swings are just too slow, mostly with their backswings. The prevailing wisdom had always been that a slower rhythm would offer a golfer more control, even though there was never really evidence to support it.
John has proved the exact opposite. When he is able to speed up players’ swings, and keep their swing tempo in the right ratio, amazing things usually start to happen.
Why aren’t these tempos being taught more often then by pros?
John wouldn’t outright say that the golfing establishment has shunned his findings, but they certainly haven’t warmed up to them completely either. Personally, I thought this was outrageous that someone had not only figured out the proper rhythm of how to swing a golf club, had concrete results, and yet this isn’t being used by most teaching pros or players.
A lot of it has to do with the fact that John is an outsider to the golfing world. He isn’t a certified PGA Pro, or even a teacher.
At this point I was taking everything he said with a grain of salt. Maybe he’s just full of it I thought, and similar to the rest of the self-proclaimed golfing gurus out there.
I continued to do more research on the topic, and came across a scientific study on swing tempo.
I play golf with a former physics professor at Yale. His name is Dr. Bob Grober.
Bob, as you would imagine is an extremely smart guy. He also happens to be a phenomenal golfer. Bob played collegiate golf at Vanderbilt, and when he realized that he wasn’t going to turn professional he devoted himself to physics.
Over the years, he has done some very interesting work combining his love of golf with physics. Lucky for me (and a HUGE coincidence), Bob was the one who published this paper on swing tempo in 2012 after conducting experiments at the Yale lab and with various teachers and their students across the country. It is the only scientific research that has been done on a golfer’s swing tempo to date.
It’s entitled “Towards a Biomechanical Understanding of Tempo in the Golf Swing,” and if you are interested you can read the full version here. I’ll have to warn you, it features some heavy math, but it’s fascinating.
Dr. Grober studied the tempos of three groups: touring professionals, teaching professionals/low-handicap amateurs, and the rest of the lot (aka the average golfer).
Long story short, Bob proved exactly what John Novosel first found out almost 10 years prior. The touring pros had an average ratio of 3:1, and were within a tight range of each other, meaning that their swings were very repeatable.
Not surprisingly, the last group of average players exhibited far greater differences in their ratios. They were all over the place.
He concluded that the best golfers at their core have a remarkably uniform biomechanical clock. John Novosel’s findings were validated.
I emailed back and forth with Bob, and was hoping for him to offer some extra insight into what he found, but he warned that I should not “wander into this vortex just yet.” In other words, keep it simple!
There was no ticker tape parade when Bob published his paper, and the golfing world did not lay out the red carpet for either of these men and their findings.
While this was happening someone else was thinking about swing tempo as well, but in a different way.
Jim Hackenberg and The Orange Whip
Jim Hackenberg received classic training on the golf swing in his earlier years as a teacher. After being an apprentice for several years he achieved Class A status by the PGA.
He began to notice several things that held back the average player, but struggled to find a fix that could help all of them. Jim couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, but he knew the issue was rooted in the rhythm of their swings.
A few years later a friend of his qualified to play on the PGA Tour, and asked Jim if he would caddy for him. Jim saw this as a way to study the best players in the world, and use his findings to become a better teacher.
It didn’t take long for him to figure out what unified the best players on the Tour after being surrounded by them on a daily basis. It was their swing tempo.
After observing all of these effortless, rhythmic swings, Jim began to envision the players swinging with a ball and chain. The ball would follow the golfer in a perfect pattern throughout their swing without losing its position. He started to realize that he had everything backwards. It wasn’t the players’ positions that were most important in the golf swing, it was the rhythm and balance that allowed them to strike the ball consistently.
This went against almost everything he was ever taught.
Jim eventually would incorporate these beliefs into The Orange Whip. Touring pros and weekend warriors have benefitted from using this product because it helped them feel the right tempo rather than someone trying to explain it to them. By solving the tempo part of their swing, many of the technical issues that plagued these golfers fell into place naturally.
So why isn’t tempo more important?
All three of these men figured out something important. They realized that the conventional wisdom about the golf swing that had existed for decades was not entirely true, and that one of the most fundamental concepts was being ignored.
All of these stories have been out there for years now. However, if you do a Google search you’ll get the same articles about swing tempo that have been around forever.
They’re all very generic, and lacking in any concrete information.
To be honest, I’m very surprised. You would think that many teachers would make tempo one of the first things that they evaluate with a student before they try and make any sweeping changes to their swing. We have the information to prove its effectiveness, and the tools to track it now (I’ll get to that later).
I felt like I was the only one connecting the dots!
I decided to speak with some other people about why this might be happening.
John Garrity was the co-author of both Tour Tempo books. He has been a veteran of Sports Illustrated for more than 30 years, and has been covering golf for most of his professional life.
He was nice enough to speak with me on the phone, and I gained some interesting information from him.
John had been courted by many teaching professionals to co-write instructional books over the years. Sports psychologists, swing pros, and all other kinds of people would routinely get in touch with him to see if he was interested in collaborating with them. Every time he would turn them down because he felt it was more of the same swing tips that had been regurgitated for years.
When John Novosel first contacted him about the Tour Tempo books he told me that he just assumed he was another guy who claimed he had the golf swing figured out. Since they both lived in Kansas City he agreed to take a lunch meeting with Novosel.
After 15 minutes of seeing his research he knew that he wanted to collaborate with him because it was something different that no one had explored before.
The main question I wanted to ask John Garrity was why the 3:1 ratio was not more commonly known in the golfing world. The book was an amazing success when it first came out, and instantly became the best-selling sports book that year on Amazon. If players were so successful using the tones, then why isn’t every single golfer listening to them on the driving range right now?
John believes that the findings were taken seriously at the professional level. Several famous teachers approached him while he was covering PGA events, and they congratulated him on the work that he and Novosel had done.
While he can’t prove his theory completely, he believes that many pros had begun to speed up their swings by using the tones. Players who registered at a 27/9 ratio were now moving down to a 24/8. Those who were previously at a 24/8 had moved down to the 21/7. Novosel and his team were able to prove this by analyzing their swings using television footage, and they felt that it could not be a coincidence.
Now players such as Rickie Fowler and Matteo Manassero are registering at lighting speeds of 18/6. Garrity believes that once the players figured out they could speed up their swings while maintaining the proper swing tempo, they started to add considerable distance while maintaining control.
John did believe that the ratio was starting to resurface again. In the last two months he heard Hank Haney, Michael Breed, and several other instructors mention it on the Golf Channel. Video of Tiger Woods’ swing popped up at the Greenbrier tournament this summer, and Peter Kostis concluded that his tempo was the main culprit of his errant swings.
Novosel and Garrity had been writing about this for years. They tracked Tiger’s swing tempo since he was with Butch Harmon, and believe that once he became obsessed with conquering the technical points of his swing, things started to go haywire with his ratios. John Garrity found it a little humorous that people were just starting to notice it themselves.
Personally, I believe that the golfing establishment has not embraced John Novosel’s findings because he is an outsider. If David Leadbetter or Hank Haney had figured this out, you would see more teachers trying to perfect their student’s tempos using the tones.
John told me that the work he did with Tour Tempo is one of his proudest achievements as a writer (and he has a lot to be proud of). He has seen with his own eyes how many golfers have improved their tempos using their tones.
It’s the classic chicken or the egg argument, but he believes that if you solve your swing tempo first, all of the other problems of the golf swing seem to fall into place.
My Next Steps
After gathering all of this information I was interested to dig a little deeper. I agreed with everything that John Novosel, Jim Hackenberg and John Garrity were saying, because I always felt swing tempo is a fundamental. But I had to see it for myself.
I decided to talk to more instructors, and do some experiments of my own.
Andrew Rice is not like most instructors. He is on a quest to figure out what is essential to the golf swing, versus what is just a matter of style. He does a lot of fascinating experiments, and you should check out his website when you get a chance.
Andrew felt that swing tempo and rhythm are mostly ignored these days because players think it’s not a sexy topic, and that it is an old-school philosophy.
He has worked with improving player tempos through video analysis, and stated that 9 out of 10 players he sees have backswings that are way too slow. Andrew believes this affects their ability to get the club in the proper position.
The funny thing is that almost all of his students thought they were swinging way too hard!
One exercise he did was to sync up video of Ernie Els’ swing against his student’s. The student assumed that his swing was definitely faster than Ernie’s, because it just looked slow to the naked eye. When he hit the play button, Ernie was done with his swing before this guy’s club reached the top of his backswing.
Another exercise he has gone through is asking a student to draw a straight line on a piece of paper. The first time he asked them to do it in 2 minutes, and the second time he told them to do it in one second. The first line was anything but straight, and the second one was almost perfect. The point he was trying to make is that when you swing too slowly, and out of rhythm, all kinds of mistakes can happen.
When Andrew was successful at smoothing out a player’s swing tempo, he said the results were pretty dramatic. Once they got the feeling of having a quicker swing while maintaining the proper tempo, it was as if a “magic genie” appeared, and they almost never regressed after that point.
This was very encouraging to hear from someone whose opinion I respected, and who had no association with Tour Tempo.
Adam Young is also another great instructor who does things differently than most. Just like Andrew, he is not an old-school guy who believes that a player must hit certain technical positions in order to swing a golf club properly.
Adam has worked with thousands of students, and he found that one similar pattern always emerges. Their tempos are way too slow.
He believes that when you swing too slowly, you are allowing your body “to make a load of strange movements” that are “awkward and contrived because you are no longer swinging the club, but moving it through positions.” He believes it is because most players are by nature overly mechanical, and focused on positions. Additionally, golfers all tell each other to slow their swing down because that has always been the conventional advice that has existed forever.
Adam has seen with his own eyes what a golfer can achieve when they swing in a perfect rhythm, and thinks this is one area of the game where recreational golfers should try and copy what the pros are doing.
My Experiment with swing tempo
A couple of months ago I decided I wanted to track my tempo, and see how much it varies in my swings. So I got in contact with three of the top swing analyzer companies, and they agreed to let me test their products.
They all measure your tempo in a ratio, and most of them actually refer to the 3:1 as your goal. This was actually what prompted me to read John Novosel’s book in the first place. These products are the final piece of the puzzle because now it provides recreational golfers the ability to track their tempo without the labor-intensive process of video analysis.
My tempo was consistently in the 3.4:1 to 3.6:1 range. While it was consistent, it became obvious that my backswing was a little bit too slow for my downswing. Perhaps this is why I make a few bizarre moves when I bring the club back!
I had a really difficult time getting down to 3:1 though. I just couldn’t find a way to speed myself up properly to make it work.
After I got off the phone with John Novosel I decided to purchase his app. I wanted to see if there was any legitimacy to his claims, and see if using his tones would get me closer to 3:1. More importantly, what results would reaching this ratio actually produce?
I started off with the 27/9 tones, which I realized were a bit too slow for me. My ratios were not really changing according to the swing analyzer, and that tempo didn’t feel right. I then moved to 24/8, and this is where the magic happened.
After about 10 minutes I was able to sync my swing up to the beats. Every single swing registered at almost 3:1 on the analyzer, and I was hitting exceptionally solid shots. I even started to hear the beats inside of my head as I was swinging. The results were pretty dramatic.
For the next hour I continued to have some of the most solid contact with the golf ball that I had all year. I could feel the difference in having the quicker, more deliberate backswing. This was certainly no gimmick.
About a week later I was at the range at my course practicing with the tones, and there was golfer a few stalls down from me whom I wanted to perform a test on.
He is in his mid 50s, and has been one of the better amateur players in the whole country for the last 20+ years. I didn’t tell him what I wanted to find out, but I asked if he would let me hook him up to the swing analyzer. He obliged, and took 3 swings.
They were all exactly 3:1
I then tested it out on my father. He is 68 years old, and has only been playing golf for about 7-8 years. He plays to about a 23 handicap, and has become a fairly proficient ball striker, but he still struggles with consistency on the course, and being able to hit the ball far enough. In other words, he’s like millions of other golfers who are searching for the same answers.
He has a technically sound swing, but there was always something that I just couldn’t put my finger on about what he was doing wrong. Like many golfers he had paid money for lessons that seemed to offer no solutions because he couldn’t put into practice what was being said to him. He spends hours on the range working, but the results seem to be the same. I always felt that his issue was rooted in his tempo, but I just couldn’t figure out a way to fix it for him.
I hooked him up to the analyzer, and we found out that his tempo was actually way too quick. He was registering a 7-iron swing at 2.3-2.4:1 at about 73mph. His backswing was way too fast for his downswing, which is actually an anomaly for a golfer of his level.
We worked with the tones for about an hour, and settled on the 24/8 beats as the right goal for him. He didn’t take to it as quickly as me, which was to be expected. However, the data that came out was irrefutable.
In about 30 minutes he was able to slow his backswing down, and get to a 2.7:1 ratio. What was interesting was that his club speed had increased to about 80-81 mph. He was able to add distance to his shots without sacrificing any control. His shots were landing within a consistent range, and I also noticed that he was able to transfer his weight to his lead foot, which is something he always has struggled with.
These were very encouraging results. It showed me that this was the kind of practice that was worth pursuing because it allowed both of us to hear the swing tempo, feel it, and then measure it. I have been working with the tones for almost 2 months now, and I am seeing positive results on the course. All of a sudden my drives aren’t as wayward as they once were, and my iron shots are more solid.
I think one of the main benefits for me personally is actually mental. I am keeping my focus on the tones, and it is removing a lot of the negative technical thoughts about my swing that sometimes pop up on the course.
That’s not to say that I have this issue solved forever though. Your swing tempo is something that comes and goes. Even the best players in the world can lose their tempo from one swing to the next. The key is to finding the right rhythm for your swing, and learning to repeat it.
So how do you fix your tempo?
I don’t think all of this is a coincidence, but there is no such thing as a magical fix for everyone’s swing. If anyone ever tells you there is, then stop listening to them!
However, I strongly believe that there is a huge correlation between being able to repeat the right swing tempo over and over again, and your results as a ball striker. The data is telling a huge story here. Better golfers have mastered their tempos, and they all fall within a very similar range of one another.
Every golfer wants to add distance to their game, and improve their scores. Buying the latest driver for $499 is not going to do it for you, despite what the commercials are telling you. Fixing your swing tempo just might though, and it will cost you much less.
We’re at a very exciting time in golf because technology has enabled us to quantify certain parts of the swing, and I believe unlocking the truth about your swing tempo should be front and center.
There are certain fundamentals that golfers must achieve to hit a ball properly. Improving your tempo might make it easier to perform these fundamentals, or it could be the final piece of the puzzle for you. Either way, it’s a worthy part of the swing to focus your practice time on.
As I stated earlier, golf is all about repetition. Tempo is at the root of being able to repeat a successful swing.
Here is my recommendation:
1) Train With the Orange Whip
Certain golfers are going to struggle with the flexibility and strength that is required to speed up their swings. Some of you reading this might try out the tones, and you’ll feel completely rushed. It might seem impossible at first.
That is why I feel training with the Orange Whip is a great idea for all golfers (and why it’s in the bags of a ton of PGA Tour Players).
The Whip is a strength/flexibility trainer, and a tool to help smooth out your swing tempo. I use it every night for about 5-10 minutes, and I believe it can help train your body to start feeling the right tempo, and strengthen the golfing muscles required to do it. Reading about it isn’t going to do anything, that’s for sure.
The next step will be on the practice range.
Purposeful practice is the key to becoming a better golfer. If you just show up and hit balls, nothing will change.
Worrying about 5 or 6 different technical checkpoints while you are swinging is not going to do the trick either. You will suffer from “paralysis by analysis.”
I believe that using the Tour Tempo tones along with a swing analyzer is the magic combination. To be honest, I don’t think anyone has ever really written about it before, and none of the people I spoke to had considered it either.
Getting feedback after every single swing will allow you to see if you are actually syncing with the tones. Once you see the data prove it, you will be able to cement the feel of it. That’s when you can start taking the training wheels off.
Start making swings without the tones, and keep tracking your results. Then start practicing without anything. If you can keep mixing it up, and alternating between using each of these tools together, separately, and not at all, eventually things are going to click for you.
Do you have to hit 3:1 exactly to have great results? Absolutely not. However, if you can settle on a ratio that works for you, and be able to measure it during your practice sessions that will be feedback you can take out on the course.
I’ve always written that there are no shortcuts to becoming a better golfer. Working hard is certainly important, but working smart is even more important.
I would encourage you to give this a shot, and be patient with the process. If you can establish a repeatable swing tempo you will have solved possibly the most important part of the golf swing.