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Why slowing down your golf swing can be a recipe for disaster

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The easiest way to understand the difference between tempo and timing in the golf swing is this: tempo is a preference, timing is a principle. Timing is the process of putting together a sequence of motions that will result in good, solid impact. Tempo a personal preference of how to do that.

Some great players have quick swing tempos, while some have slower swings. The commonality is their timing is perfect. They reach impact correctly time and time again. Most top players have something like a 3:1 ratio of backswing to downswing pace. For many, we see perhaps 0.75 seconds from the start of the swing to the top of the swing, and roughly 0.25 seconds from the top of the swing to impact.

Here’s the key: Top golfers who make quicker backswings do not upset their ratio. We all love to watch the slow, languid swings, such as those of Ernie Els or Fred Couples. While enviable, their tempo doesn’t make their swings any more effective than those of Ricky Fowler or Arnold Palmer, who choose to swing the club more quickly.

Watch Ernie Els

Many golfers who come to me for lessons believe they have to “slow their swing down.” This is usually a recipe for disaster. When a conscious effort is made to “slow it down,” the only thing that usually slows down is the backswing. Then, most golfers make a mad dash into impact. That’s why if you are inclined to swing the club “uptempo,” I often say keep that pace and go at it. I rarely see anyone improve their swing by “slowing it down.”

Watch Rickie Fowler

The things that matter in your swing are the club face, the attack angle and the true swing path. Swing tempo is not a fundamental. Again, it’s a personal choice. That’s why I advise many golfers to forget it, and go with what comes naturally. It would be helpful perhaps to work on your sequencing, but not the overall speed of the swing. Swing as hard as you want as long as you can stay in balance.

My Take

John Jacobs once referred to the golf swing as “two turns and a swish.” After years of working with many different levels of golfers, I still love that description. The upper body turns away in the backswing, the arms swing the club and the lower body turns through the ball coming down. It seems overly simplified, but it is a totally accurate assessment of swinging a golf club.

Remember, you slice the ball because of an open face. Slow it down and all you’ll hit is a slow slice.

For more about me and how I teach, visit www.dennisclarkgolf.com or go to my Facebook Page

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

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27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Pingback: Timing Matters: Is a slow backswing more effective? - Golf Slot Machine

  2. Ward Wayne

    Apr 4, 2016 at 5:22 am

    On my first tee shot I am usally out sync and I pull or hook the ball. Then on my next tee shot I always say to myself “slow down” then I push or slice the ball.

    I am always trying to feel the right effort.

  3. Bob Jones

    Apr 3, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Let’s be clear that 3:1 is rhythm and the time it takes to execute that rhythm is tempo. Rhythm is a constant. Tempo is a variable.

  4. William

    Apr 3, 2016 at 1:50 am

    Glad I found this article. I just picked up a Zepp Golf sensor and I find my tempo to be right around 2:1. I’ll try to slow down my backswing or speed up my downswing to get to 3:1 but I never get any good hits when I do that. I guess I just prefer a slower tempo.

    • Knall

      Apr 4, 2016 at 9:14 am

      2:1 would bei considered “fast”, 4:1 would be considered “slow” even though the ratio says really nothing about Tempo. But a longer (in proportion) backswing makes the Swing look slower.

  5. Dennis Clark

    Apr 1, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    Another thing to consIder guys when discussing face to true path. It only matters with center contact. The golf ball can be struck even SLIGHTLY toward the toe or heel and “gear effect” takes over. I think in the pre Trackman era we didn’t know how much gear played a part when contact was even a little off. Thx for reading guys. Glad it help. Next time I’ll de discussing hand path to shaft plane influence.

    • CCausey11

      Apr 2, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      Can’t wait for that article Dennis – something I’m working on and look forward to your thoughts. Keep up the great articles – Always a pleasure reading real advise vs. swing theory

  6. tony

    Apr 1, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    this article is spot on for me. I tried a low and slow take away and while I hit some absolutely mamoth drives on occasion, it was killing my timing and creating early extension issues. I sped up my back swing and emphasized my lower body bump (keeping my quick arms transition the same) and have been striking the ball excellent this season. Timing was much improved but I really had to focus on the bump otherwise my right popped out too quick and caused severe early extension.

    Great article!

    PS. I think Monty also has some resources about syncing up your swing by moving things faster that traditionally go slow (not moving things slower that should go fast). Worth a search in the Academy if you’re so inclined.

  7. Duboscd

    Apr 1, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    But if slowing down your tempo improves sequencing and timing, that isn’t a bad thing, correct?

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 1, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      not a bad thing at all…whatever works; Functional as we say

  8. Shane

    Apr 1, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Can anyone locate a burn ward for ol’ Skippy up there?

  9. KJ

    Mar 31, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    I measured the four semi-finalists at the WGC Match Play with a frame counter. All four were 3:1 ratio. Dennis nailed it on this one.

  10. Corey Pavin

    Mar 31, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    Careful you don’t want to hit that ball too far now

  11. Dennis clark

    Mar 31, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Yea I’m glad Nick didn’t try to “slow it down”

  12. Dennis Clark

    Mar 31, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    No. you missed my point…you don’t need a “Nice, tuned tempo”…you can play well with a quick one as I said. Just don’t change it 🙂

  13. skip

    Mar 31, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    “Remember, you slice the ball because of an open face…” No you don’t. You slice the ball because your swing path is traveling to the left of where your face is directed at impact. You can still slice the ball with a face that is “closed” (relative to the target line).

    • Dennis Clark

      Mar 31, 2016 at 1:18 pm

      Do you have a lot of closed faced slicers among your students?

      • devilsadvocate

        Mar 31, 2016 at 10:39 pm

        Its OK you don’t have to respond to them Dennis… Keep up the good work pro

      • John kuczeski

        Apr 1, 2016 at 2:42 pm

        Crickets….LOL….Thanks Dennis!

    • Bob

      Apr 1, 2016 at 2:06 pm

      Skip, Yes you do slice the the ball because of an “open face” Open relative to the path of the club. Forget target line, doesn’t mean anything

      • Dennis Clark

        Apr 1, 2016 at 6:58 pm

        Right Bob… target line irrelevant! Open relative to true path. IF…golf ball is struck in center. All bets are off when we hit the heel.

      • Dennis Clark

        Apr 1, 2016 at 7:01 pm

        Yep

    • Common Sense

      Apr 1, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      That face you described is still open. The path is all that matters, not this relative “target”. Face open to swing path, slice, every time. Face closed to swing path, hook, every time.

      • Dennis Clark

        Apr 1, 2016 at 7:00 pm

        Correct Common…Target line irrelevant UNLESS it the same as path. Thx

  14. Sira

    Mar 31, 2016 at 8:21 am

    So Dennis, do you reckon that a phone app that provides sound clues for tempo such as Tour Tempo would work in encouraging a user to swing in a nice, tuned tempo?

    • Brian

      Apr 1, 2016 at 4:29 pm

      Would love to hear your response on this one Dennis! Great article!

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Instruction

A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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Instruction

6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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