Whenever we go to a golf tournament and see a really good player hit the ball, we receive two vivid impressions. The first is how far the ball goes with seemingly so little effort. The second is of a certain measured cadence in the upward and downward movement of the club. Both are accurate impressions.
Now if we happen to be on the practice tee, where we can watch this player hit shot after shot, we will notice two other things. One is that he swings all his clubs at about the same speed; he doesn’t seem to hit the 3 wood any harder than he hits the 7 iron. The second thing we notice, when we let our gaze wander to other players practicing, is that while most of them are deliberate, there are differences in their swinging speeds.
Timing is the answer to the first accomplishment—the long hit with little effort. Rhythm produces the measured cadence in the upward and downward movement of the club. And the differences we notice in swinging speed among other players are differences in tempo.
Nearly all good players will give us impressions of timing and rhythm. The more graceful the player, the more vivid the impression will be. Sam Snead, among the moderns, is the perfect example. Among the giants of the past, Bob Jones’s swing was once called the “poetry of motion,” and the late Macdonald Smith was probably the most effortless swinger who ever played the game. The players of today swing harder at the ball than did their predecessors, with the result that theirs is more of a hitting than a swinging action.
Yet the ball still flies out much farther than it should, for the effort the player seems to be putting into it. This is very marked in the graceful players of smaller stature, such as Gene Littler, 1961 National Open champion, and Dow Finsterwald, former National PGA champion.
The answer to the effort-distance puzzle being timing, just what is timing? For one thing, it is a word that has been used more loosely, perhaps, than any other in golf literature. We have been blandly told that we should work to improve our timing, that our timing is off, that without good timing we cannot hope to play well. But there, having given the word the once-over-lightly treatment, the oracles have left us. They have never adequately explained timing or told us what we should do to improve ours. Our private guess is that they don’t know themselves what it is.
A dictionary will tell you that timing is: “The regulating of the speed of a motion, stroke, or blow, so that it reaches its maximum at the correct moment.” In golf, obviously, this would mean regulating the speed of the club head so as to cause it to reach its maximum as it hits the ball.
The key phrase is “regulating of the speed.” The better the speed is regulated, the better the timing; the poorer the regulation, the poorer the timing. It is here that at least 95 per cent of all golfers have their worst trouble.
They have it because the regulation of the speed depends not on how the club head is manipulated by the hands but on how and when other parts of the swinging system operate: the hips, the shoulders, the arms, the hands. If these move in the right way and in the right order, they will automatically regulate the speed of the club head so that it reaches its maximum as it hits the ball. It is, in effect, a chain reaction of movement, with the club head getting the final effect.