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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 JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at [email protected]

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

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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