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Why can’t I take my range game to the course?

By David MacKenzie

In the past 10 years I’ve been coaching, I hear this scenario a lot. It’s the same as that common golf question, why can’t I take my range game to the course?

My answer is: “Swing mechanics don’t change, tempo does.”

On the course, your swing mechanics are as they should be. It takes time to build and learn movement patterns and they don’t change during a single round.

However, something very fundamental can change and it’s called tempo.

I have this conversation with elite performance coaches all the time, yet it’s amazing how little it’s discussed among amateurs who are trying to figure out variability in their results.

What is tempo in the golf swing?

Tempo is a measurement of time, not speed (which is a common misconception). It’s the ratio of the time it takes for you to get to the top of your backswing, to the time it takes to get back to the ball. When you are hitting your best shots, your tempo is where it needs to be. Studies that have been done show that this ratio is around 3:1 (the backswing takes three times as long as the downswing) for the long game and 2:1 for the short game and putting. I’d like you to experiment and find this out for yourself. I should note it’s possible for a fast swing, like Rickie Fowler’s and a slower swing like Ernie Els’s, to have the same tempo. Each player has their own rhythm, but tempos are fairly similar.

Why is tempo important?

Without going into the technical side of things (I’ll leave that to the biomechanics folks), the subconscious synchronization of your swing (how the upper and lower body and arms/hands move in relation to each other) is very important in getting you into a position to be able to square the clubface at impact. When the time it takes for you complete your back-swing and downswing is changing, so is your ability to get into a good position at impact. The harmony and rhythm of the swing is lost. The sequence is not the same as it was on the range before the round!

What affects tempo?

Mental and emotional factors will change tempo. When you’re feeling anxious or overly-nervous, your tempo typically quickens. It’s that old “flight or flight response”—you speed up everything when you’re uncomfortable (subconsciously) in the attempt to get out of that situation. You walk quicker, you go through your routine quicker, and you swing faster.

If you want to learn how to control these mental and emotional factors, so you can access your best skills more often under pressure, check out my Ultimate Mental Game Training System.

Instead of trying to restore normal tempo when things go downhill on the course, a lot of players start focusing more and more on their swing mechanics, which destroys fluid motion (your optimal swing is when it’s totally subconscious). Additionally, because the focus becomes more internal, they become more and more disconnected from the target and the intention for the shot.

How do you get control of tempo?

Actually acknowledge that tempo is a big factor in why your scores are variable and why you can’t reproduce those beautiful, rhythmical swings you have on the range.

Learn how to control performance anxiety. Being able to calm your body and mind and play your natural game is key to playing your best under pressure.

Find your tempo. There are a few apps you can use in practice to determine this.

Find a way to revert to a good tempo on the course. Humming, counting, or finding a song that fits your tempo, can work. One of my students says Hey Jude is his tempo song and he plays this in his head before and during shots. Try some songs while you are practicing (with ear phones in) and play them before a round.

Never get overly technical on the course. Your swing mechanics (movement patterns) have not changed, your tempo has.

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 David MacKenzie is an expert on the mental game of golf and resides in Washington, D.C. He currently coaches players of all levels including tour players and elite college golfers.

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