I have been playing golf for five years, and I feel that I am at a crossroads. For the first three years I feel I steadily improved. Though, the past two years I have hit a plateau; my scores have not improved at all. I have been told that I need to work on slowing down my rhythm. I practice twice and play once or twice on the weekends. With all this time and effort devoted to golf, I feel I should be playing better. How can I improve my rhythm so I can take my game to the next level?
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Rhythm is often talked about, but greatly misunderstood. Most golfers I observe trying to slow their rhythm are actually slowing down their swing speed. There is a difference between the speed you are swinging and the rhythm you are swinging. Rhythm should be thought of as a way of making all the body parts work together for a repeatable swing. The rhythm of your swing is not just how fast you are swinging.
Many golfers have told me that they want to swing with a slow rhythm like Ernie Els. Yes, Els' swing is very fluid and appears that he is swinging slow, but he is not swinging slow. The speed of his driver is moving in excess of 115 mph. This is not a slow swing.
It might appear that his club is moving slow because his swing is efficient and repeatable, but every part of his body is working in harmony to hit the ball as far as he can. It is in essence a very rhythmic golf swing. When the body and arms are working together in harmony it gives the impression that his swing is effortless, but with the club actually moving extremely fast and powerfully through the golf ball. You can't hit a driver 290 yards or a 9-iron 155 yards, with a slow swing speed.
When I see golfers practicing "slowing down my rhythm," I say they are actually throwing off their rhythm and timing. When most golfers try to slow down rhythm, they are slowing down their hands and arms. This contributes to bad habits, like getting your weight stuck on your right foot (right-handers) or turning your shoulders to soon on the forward swing. Thus you will be coming "over the top" (swinging outside the ball) and casting the club (releasing the club too early). This contributes to a loss of club speed, power, solid contact and accuracy.
Bob Toski, who is one of the greatest communicators and teachers of the golf swing, once said, "Feel the force, don't force the feel." What Toski means is, just swing the club, your natural rhythm will come out. Don't try to force your mind and body to swing at a slower speed.
So, I wouldn't say to slow down your rhythm. I would say find a consistent, repeatable rhythm that will hold up under a little pressure. Swinging the club fast is a talent; don't try to hold back your talent of swinging with speed. Trying to swing faster is why Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, David Duval, Justin Leonard and everybody else on the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour is working out to get stronger. They want to swing the club as fast as they can.
I have a drill to help you with your golf game. To improve your rhythm, "hum." When you go to practice, every time you swing the club, hum (huummmmm). This will help you with finding your rhythm. Try to have a consistent hum through the entire swing.
At first, you might catch yourself humming really loudly as you swing or you might even stop your humming as you hit through the ball. If your "hum" is becoming really loud as you hit the ball (almost like a Monica Seles "grunt"), this means you might be trying to hit the ball too hard. If your hum is stopping as you hit the ball, this might be a clue that tension is creeping into your swing a little too much at impact. Or another way of saying it is - "You are hitting at the ball, instead of through the ball."
But, the worst "hum" of all, would be if your "hum" drops off just before impact. This is showing that you are decelerating your swing as you get closer to impact. What kinds of shots could this golfer expect to see on the golf course? Probably the kind that don't travel very far because the swing speed is slowing down through impact. They are most likely hitting the turf behind the ball, and without a doubt, they are leaving the clubface open and slicing the ball pretty badly.
I know it might sound goofy and you might be embarrassed to try hummimg when other people are around, but it works. If it doesn't work the first time don't give it up. With the "hum" drill you are using two of your three learning skills at one time. You are using your auditory (hearing) skills and you are using you kinesthetic (feeling) skills. Those two skills working in conjunction will help you get to the next level.
Everybody who wants to get better should work with an instructor/coach. There isn't a professional player who doesn't work with someone else. If these golfers, who are the best in the world, need help, every golfer needs help. Good luck and keep in touch.
PGA Professional Marc Solomon is the director of Golf Made Simple (www.Golfmadesimple.com). He has been named as a "Top 10 Instructor under 40 in America" and is regarded as the "Top Instructor in North Florida."