Whether it's a drive off the first, a crucial putt at the last, or some other stroke in between, rhythm is an important ingredient to make a shot great—it's like the salt on french fries. Without it, the fries are OK. With it, your mouth waters before the first bite. Ever notice how a drive made with less effort produces a tee shot far better than if you take a rip at the ball? That's because you improved the rhythm of your swing. And though it might be a good idea to take your time when you hit driver, other shots require different rhythm. Take the greenside bunker shot you see me hitting here. This shot requires a little more energy. The buzzword I'm thinking about when I hit bunker shots is brisk. That gets me to swing through the sand a little amped up, so the club doesn't decelerate and leave the ball in the bunker. That's what I mean about swinging with good rhythm. If you want to improve your game from tee to green, scroll down for some other buzzwords to help improve your tempo on various shots.
– With Ron Kaspriske
Grab a golf ball and toss it up, paying attention to the change of direction when it starts to fall back down. Notice how it seems to hover in mid-air for a moment before dropping. If you emulate this feeling of hovering when you change direction from backswing to downswing, you'll add good flow to your tee shots. Now for your buzzword. Before you take the driver back, think of the word patience. There's no rush to complete the backswing or to start swinging down. Look how my left heel has come off the ground like an old-school golfer's swing (below). You can use this as a cue to know when to change direction. Let it come off the ground as you swing back, and replant that heel before you start down. It will make your swing feel more in sync.
Whether it's nerves, adrenaline or the instinct to lift the club, a lot of golfers jerk their irons up and away from the ball as they start the backswing. This causes a lot of issues that have to be corrected on the way back down if you want to hit it solid and straight. Mostly, it's a rhythm killer. Like the patient transition at the top of a driver swing, you want to start your irons back with no appreciable effort. The buzzword here is smooth. The club should quietly trace the turf for a foot or two before you hinge it upward. A great drill to help you get the feel of this smooth takeaway is to address a ball with another ball behind your iron on the target line. Start the swing by rolling the second ball away (below). You can even use this image when you play—especially under pressure.
Shots inside 100 yards are often called finesse shots and require a different kind of rhythm.
A lot of it is determined before you take the club back. Like a shortstop getting ready to field a grounder or a point guard shooting free throws, you should feel nimble when you address these short-game shots. Soften your grip pressure, waggle the club a little, gently shift your weight back and forth between your feet. When you're ready to hit the shot, set the wedge behind the ball and immediately start the motion (below). No need to let all that rhythm you just prepped for transform into a rigid, disjointed swing. The buzzword I like for these shots is light. It reminds me to get all the tension out of my body and make a fluid swing. If you stay light, your touch around the greens will improve.
Although the follow-through in a good putting stroke is twice as fast as the backstroke, most amateurs I see are all over the place with their putting speed. That's why my buzzword for putting is even. Thinking of creating an even-paced stroke back and through will help you make the proper accelerating movement into the ball and control the path. Download a metronome app for your phone. Set its beat interval to the pace of what feels like a good stroke. Then practice to that rhythm (below). Sometimes I think one, two on the backswing, and then boom, boom with the club striking the ball on the second boom. You'll find the metronome implants great rhythm in your stroke. You'll probably still hear the beat in your head when you play.
Jeff Ritter is founder of Make the Turn Performance at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach.