Without question, two of the most important factors that affect the golf swing are balance and tempo. If you don't have balance, then you won't have consistency. And if you lack a consistent tempo, you can kiss control goodbye.
In my own practice, I take the development of consistent tempo and rhythm as seriously as I do actual swing mechanics. One drill I use to get a feel for better balance and tempo is to make swings with a club lying across my toes. While most golfers find this to be a helpful tool to correct aim, I use the clubs for strictly timing purposes and it really helps. Here's why.
First, without a ball and with a club on the ground near my toes pointing parallel to the target, I can get a sense of what direction I need to swing the club without getting distracted by the lie or the golf ball itself. Second, having a club along my toes helps me get a better feel for keeping my balance. As I take back the club, I concentrate on not taking it too far to the inside or outside of the target line, which can lead to an off-balance position at the top of the swing. If I'm off balance, it's very difficult to get my swing back on plane and usually forces undue compensations that wreak havoc on my control. Although it's physically impossible to swing a club completely straight back and through, it's possible to straighten your swing path through the relatively small part of your swing arc that passes through the impact zone. As I initiate my downswing, the shaft reminds me to turn as opposed to lean or sway either toward the ball or toward my intended target.
The club also keeps me at a comfortable distance from the ball, providing my arms with all the room they need to release and roll through impact. The shaft along my toes keeps my feet in check, too. If your feet move too much during the swing, so does your center of gravity, which in most cases leads to the gamut of poorly struck shots. The shaft also reminds me to keep my feet still and not over-rotate my lower body, especially at the top of my backswing. A stable base is critical to any swing, whether it be with a driver, iron, wedge or putter.
Try this drill the next time you head out to the practice tee. With a club at your toes, use a tee without a ball and practice clipping it while making smooth and balanced swings. Most amateurs fault by trying to hit the ball as opposed to swinging through it. To get the feel for swinging and not hitting, start with a few 3__ã4 practice swings and work your way into full swings. You'll quickly ingrain better balance into your motion as well as a swinging feel for improved tempo.
Sometimes all it takes is a simple practice drill like this one to make the most of your warm-up time before you head to the first tee. When it comes time to play a tournament, the simpler the swing thought, the less you'll be worried about swing mechanics and the more you'll be able to concentrate on shooting lower scores. Good luck!
Jeff Quinney was the 2000 U.S. Amateur Champion. He competed this year on the Nationwide Tour.