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How a Hall-of-Famer used this two-word swing mantra to perfect his tempo


Scott Halleran

It was only the other day that I learned the story of what Vijay Singh thought about as he swung.

Vijay used to count in his head: "One, two" during his backswing and downswing, to make sure he kept his backswing full and smooth.

It worked at first, but he soon found he started counting those words too fast. So he went looking for a word he couldn't say too quickly.

That word was "seventeen," which he later paired with a one-word tempo and downswing thought: "Hips." So, during each swing of his peak years, that's what Vijay would say to himself:

"Seventeeeeen, hips."

The science about tempo is still pretty early, but as John Novosel's book "Tour Tempo" helped put forward in 2004, a 3-to-1 ratio has emerged and is regarded as the current best practice. Meaning, your backswing needs to be about three times longer than your downswing. It'll get a little longer with longer clubs, but generally speaking, that's the ratio golfers aim for.

Jeremy Callahan is the creator of Golf BPM, an app which sets four different tempos — 126, 144, 156, and 184 BPM — to music, which helps golfers practice at that three-to-one tempo.

"Someone like Annika Sorenstam, who everyone says has an incredibly smooth tempo, has swings at the same ratio as Jon Rahm, who looks like he's swinging with blunt force," he says. "Everybody has their own best tempo, and it'll look different based on the smoothness in movement, but most players maintain the same ratio when they're swinging their best."

Ultimately, whether it's a song, a phrase, or something else, whatever helps get you into that sweet spot is good by me.

For Vijay, it was "seventeen, hips." Last week I asked golfers on X if there's a phrase they say to themselves as they swing. First word backswing, second word downswing.

Here's what they said:

"Peanut butter and jelly"

From our own Hally Leadbetter. She says the "and" is key to make sure she doesn't rush the transition.

"Hawk tuah"

"Retief Goosen"

"Ernie Els"

"Louis Oosthuizen"

What do they put in the water in South Africa?

"Strawberry Shortcake"

"Benedict Cumberbatch"

High-consonant words seem to be popular choices

"Cash Money"


Shorter cues for up-tempo swings

"Severiano Ballesteros"

"Make sure to really pronounce it," says X user @steenbergRupert

"Johnny Miller"


Off the popular kids' television series The Powerpuff Girls, this was Nick Faldo's go-to under pressure.