Back in his day, Sam Snead was a proponent of musical rhythm to perfect his swing, admittedly humming "The Blue Danube" waltz on the course. Perhaps it played a role in his amassing the all-time lead in PGA Tour victories.
As any golfer will admit, an immaculate swing doesn’t happen by coincidence. It's predicated on a confluence of tempo, rhythm and timing — or as sweet and effortless as a dance troupe in synchrony.
In developing the Golf BPM app — geared toward a player of any skill who can foster the same even tempo by simply timing their swing to a library of percussive, original beats — Doug Timmons never forgot Snead's theory. A PGA Class A instructor at Encinitas Ranch Golf Course in California since 1998, Timmons also always believed music could be a prodigious teaching tool.
When he was 13 years old, Timmons' mother secured an old record by the first three-time Masters champion, Jimmy Demaret, who created music — again waltz — to time a swing and develop perfect tempo. Then, while coaching varsity high school in 2001 during the iPod craze, Timmons noticed his players practicing with the devices. He thought maybe the music they were hearing was having a subconscious effect on their swings, but soon learned "90 percent of what they told me wasn’t very effective."
At the time, Timmons taught with a metronome.
"A lot of students couldn't identify with the metronome," said Timmons, who founded the Encinitas Ranch Junior Program that grew to more than 500 members. "Putting they could. I’d tell my students, 'Give me your best rhythm.' And they'd look at me like, 'How the hell do I do that?'"
Yet the idea of incorporating music into his lessons kept nagging at him.
Roughly six years ago, Timmons contacted his childhood best friend, Jeremy Callahan, who he met in 1986 at a junior golf summer camp. Callahan had worked at IBM in the budding app-building days. The two set forth to explore an app that could help golfers improve their games through music and beats. So they put up their own money and committed to launching the Golf BPM (beats per minute) app.
While constructing the app, Callahan told an astonished Timmons that waltz beats seemed most conducive.
"I said to him, 'What did you say?'" said Timmons. "Well, that's what Sam Snead always said he whistled and hummed to himself. I was like, alright, here we go. We're onto something."
Said Callahan: "The main difficulty we had was that we had two audio files for everything. You have a voice file and a music file, like a song. And those two have to sync perfectly over the Internet. The reason we have two files is because we have a new feature where you can mute the voice of the 1-2-3 count. If you play two files at the same time and you're off a half second, it’s really noticeable."
By the end of 2016, Timmons told Callahan they needed to take a now-or-never approach. After a few restarts, the cross-platform app went to market on iTunes and Google Play a little more than a month ago. Subscriptions run monthly ($5.99), yearly ($59.99) and lifetime ($59.99, but only for a short while).
Featuring music of all genres, each song contains subtly-timed verbal queues so golfers know exactly where to hit their swing marks. Therefore, songs have three prompts: One, to start a swing; two, to start a downswing and; three, to impact the ball. They decided to add a musical tone, as well as have a voiceover that counts: 1, 2, 3. The app user can mute the voice if they choose.
Don't be fooled, a subscriber won't hear the likes of popular artists like Drake, Frank Sinatra, Snoop Dog, The Who, or other commercially-licensed acts due to copyright fees. More important, not all music works for swing tempo and rhythm. Callahan and Timmons have been working on tracks with a multi-platinum drummer. Lucas Nelson, Willie Nelson’s son, has joined on as a musical ambassador.
Part of an app's allure is that it can be taken anywhere. In this case, that means on the range, at home, in the office, the gym and more.
Within the app interface, Timmons and Callahan are working on building out a wellness section called "The Zone." Its focus will be on mind and body drills, such as breathing techniques to eliminate anxiety and meditative exercises.
"This app is more than a training aid," said Callahan.
That said, Timmons comes back to a dancing analogy.
"The repetition part of it is like a choreographed dance," he said. "If you're off with your partner a little bit, you're off. It's not recoverable. Your partner is your golf club."
Your partner is your golf club. Let that sink in.
Maybe that's what Snead had been intimating all along.
Ken Klavon was the online editor and a senior writer at the U.S. Golf Association for 12 years. He has covered golf for 24 years.