Rhythm, Tempo & Timing – What’s The Difference?
Growing up I always heard these three terms applied in my golf lessons. My Dad and home professional both felt like these were key elements of a functional and sound golf swing. But I hear too many golfers toss them around like they were interchangeable. They are not! So, let’s dive into these three very basic fundamentals of a solid and repeating golf swing that will serve you well.
Rhythm – The symphony of the pieces.
I was taught that the rhythm of your swing was the smoothness of the motion, from the time you move the club away from the ball until you finish your follow-through. The goal is to have a series of motions that blend together into one synchronized “swing”. Too many golfers that I see are so deliberate on their backswing, that they move the club almost painfully slow for at least half the backswing . . . maybe all the way to the top, then lurch at the ball with something that looks like a cross between a lunge and a stab. A swing like this is lacking in rhythm.
What you are seeking is a movement of grace and seamlessness. From the initial move of the club away from the ball, you want to feel and look effortless, smooth . . . so that the entire swing is a continuous motion of increasing power and effectiveness. Don’t let your swing become a series of “mini-swings” or movements, but make it a symphony of many pieces working together to produce ONE simple, smooth and functional move through the ball.
Tempo – The pace of the action.
While all good players have a very similar rhythm to their swings, there is no one correct tempo that produces great results. Ben Hogan, Tom Watson and others have played the game with a quick tempo that produced great results. The rhythm and timing of their movements were impeccable, but they did it all at a much quicker pace than many of their peers. Sam Snead and Freddie Couples are at the other end of the spectrum. Those beautiful flowing and seemingly effortless swings are beauty in motion. So, which is better?
You have to play the game with a swing tempo that matches your life tempo. For example, I’m a fast-paced guy. I walk fast, talk fast and have one foot out of the cart before it stops rolling -- so my swing tempo is much quicker than one of my best buddies who I don’t believe has “hurry” in his vocabulary. Alan is methodical, takes his time with everything. And his swing reflects that with its syrup-y pace and tempo. He delivers the clubhead with a lot of power which doesn’t look like it – kind of like Freddy, Sam and Ernie Els.
The point is that you have to swing the club with a tempo that matches how you do everything else in life – or you’ll fight it forever.
Timing – How it all comes together.
While rhythm and tempo describe how the swing looks, timing defines how it works. For any golf swing . . . of any tempo . . . or any rhythm . . . to deliver consistent results, all the pieces and parts have to happen in the proper sequence. This is what’s called timing. It is independent of rhythm and tempo, but reflects how the pieces of the swing come together to work as a well-oiled machine. And timing gets knocked out of kilter by the littlest things, usually self-inflicted.
You see trouble left and subconsciously block the hands a bit through impact to avoid it. You want to turn the ball over a bit, so you over-initiate the rotation of the forearms through impact. You missed the last putt right, so you give it a little “hitch” just before impact.
You get the picture, I think.
Rhythm, Tempo and Timing. These are the basics. Think about how you can make yours better, and share with us, OK?
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Great post Terry!
I would say timing is the most difficult to perfect of the 3. Rhythm you can practice with practice swings, and just working on it. Same with tempo, find that tempo that is comfortable and do it 1000 times. The only way to practice timing is to hit 1000 balls because you have to see the ball flight to measure timing. Every start to the season, timing is the biggest issue for me - rust will throw it off just a little bit. If your club head doesn't square up by a few degrees at impact, you're all over the place even though you put a good swing on it.
Or I'm totally wrong and you guys can rip me apart. Go!
Kurt the Knife says:
c'mon. If I didn't have a hurried, lurching lung-stab of a swing, I'd have no game at all.
Great article Terry. As far as rhythm is concerned, especially for slicers, one of the best tips I've ever heard is in order to initiate the downswing, you need to consciously throw the clubhead away from the ball. Since the club is at the top of the circle, you need to actually push the clubhead back towards your back leg in order to keep your swing matched on both sides and prevent coming over the top.
I'm not sure what all this means in relation to the golf swing. I try to think about full backswing and balanced finish and not about tempo. I tend to think that our rhythm tempo and or timing, all these things are innate. Your tempo is your tempo, can anyone really change their own tempo? I don't know. To me tempo tends to get messed up mainly when there's too many swing thoughts. Wait, what is tempo again? See how confusing this is for me?
@DaRupp: one shouldn't require too much timing to square the club. If that's the case then your address position is not good. Squaring is simply about returning the club and arms to the address position. You should strive to have a swing that squares the club so long as you turn your body/hit through with enough force and conviction. IMO
@Beef: your body position at impact isn't anything close to your address position...except for the clubhead. Because it's happening so fast and if I'm out of practice, my hands could be a little off, keeping the club open or closed, I may not be turning my body fast enough or too fast, also changing the clubface angle. It could be a lot of different things, getting them to come back and work together is the timing that just takes practice to regain. That's what I was trying to say.
Timing is the part i need to work on. A lot of times i get to quick and snap it left. Or get lazy and dont release fully pushing one off. I know i have good rhythm aand tempo i hear it all the time, my swing looks pretty, its just getting the end result that i struggle with.
After the round I had the other day, I need to work on all three. Actually, I believe my tempo was a bit quicker than usual. That's sure to throw off my timing. I think.
joe jones says:
I remember V J Singh saying he slowed his swing down by simply saying different words to create the tempo he wanted. He used to use a simple waltz count of 1-2-3 going back and 1-2-3 coming down. He changed it to seventeen-eighteen-nineteen and got the results he wanted. I have tried it and has helped me slow down my swing quite a bit. It also helps create a pause at the top which was lacking.
I have spent years having pupils to say Lar-ry on the backswing and Mize on the forward swing. Nick Faldo likes Ern-ie Els or try Kev-in Na. I swing fast with my caddy yard chop,so my Lar-ry is said faster than most golfers, Try this tip,I think you will like it!
Chapter 7 of Jack Nicklaus' classic "Golf My Way" is entitled:
Tempo + Rhythm = Timing
I have noticed that all that can be cured by a slight pause at the top of the backswing. I just tried it on my last round having picked it up from watching one of the fellas in our group. Am still having issues with it with the driver, but everything else works really well. If I slow down a bit in transition with the driver, I think it'll work thru the whole bag. Good Luck!
Clear, non-golf definitions may help. In music, specifically with drummers, rhythm is best used to describe the type of beat: swing, rock-a-billy, waltz, bossa-nova, etc. Tempo is specifically how fast or how slow the rhythm is; A slow waltz might languish in the rafters of a senior home while a blistering waltz would explode from the limbs of a smokey-basement-cafe fusion power trio. Timing would be how a drummer would coordinate with the other instruments, build to a crescendo, or lay out during a soft vocal interlude. An interesting fact is that a really good jazz drummer, will not play right on the beat (what one might call "perfect timing," like a machine, but slightly ahead providing a lively lilt or lean).
Since golf success in competition is defined by score alone, you'll get all kinds of swings: with a wide variety of rhythms and tempos. Timing is probably the one thing that successful golfers share. Yes, they can get thrown off from time to time, under the pressure of swirling anxiety and attention, but you wouldn't be there if you couldn't make efficient contact with predictable results. And I guess that your physique (length and flexibility in particular) can determine much with regards to tempo (as in a pendulum where length alone determines the tempo, not mass). We can still determine much about our swing. If you picture yourself at address, you have set the width of your stance and the tilt of your spine, the bend in your knees, and the angles of your toes, the placement of your hands on the club, and the club itself. After all, you're not falling over, not yet. You're also about to begin to rotate away from the ball and lift the club into the air.
It seems plausible that in the future a golf swing will become popular where the golfer falls over after contact and performs a roll to the right on the tee box. But in the meantime, staying on your feet to watch the ball flight is all the rage. Rhythm is the collected moves beginning with weight shift where you become the dancer in order to move we must fall one way or the other, and while the dance of golf which leads to the best scores are not always pretty, they are in the end... individual, and adapted to the lay of the land, our strength and vitality, emotion, confidence, the task at hand, and the ball, which so fatefully, must be played as it lies.
Kurt the Knife says:
What do ya call a guy who hangs around with musicians?
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