by Al Pastor

[Phillies pitcher Cole] Hamels spent much of the first few innings on Wednesday watching Mets right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch at a snail’s pace. Matsuzaka slowed the game to a nearly insufferable tempo, typically taking 25 seconds or more between pitches. It reminded Jimmy Rollins of former big league pitcher Steve Trachsel, who also worked slowly. “It was hard to stay focused,” Carlos Ruiz said. “It was hard to wait that long. I was like, ‘Wow.’ It was a long day.

According to Fangraphs, Dice-K has averaged 25.3 seconds between pitches from 2007-13, making him the second-slowest starting pitcher in baseball behind Josh Beckett, who has averaged 25.5 seconds between pitches in that span. Perhaps Dice-K lulled the Phillies to sleep.” (Todd Zolecki, MLB.com writing about a recent Phillies/Mets barnburner, 8/28):

(p.s. The Phillies overcame the lethargy, winning the game 6-2, the Mets making three errors, perhaps also lulled by their pitcher’s deliberations.)


 And that was the thing that golf did more than anything else: it provided the time and the space, the practiced rhythm and rituals of interaction that allowed relationships to unfold over time – not in a single round or even a weeklong trip, but over years of rounds and decades of trips. Golf helped build memories. And of course I’d experienced this with friends, but some of my greatest memories were of being alone on the golf course.

John Dunn, Loopers, A Caddie’s Twenty-year Golf Odyssey, Crown Publishers, 2013.


Hell is the rhythm of others. When the decision to speed up or slow down is no longer yours, you become another cyclist. Through a kind of rebellious logic, it’s always when your legs are tired that the rhythm speeds up, it’s always when you’re in the process of putting on your gloves that you have to get a move on… You experience, on a small scale, the difficulty of bike racing.

“The Others” in Need for the Bike by Paul Fournel, University of Nebraska Press, 2003


 A good but neglected rule in all matches except team games is PLAY YOUR OWN TEMPO. Don not fall into the trap of unconsciously imitating the rhythm of your opponent. …In golf, ‘my tempo v. yours’ is a valuable gambit. A. should be slow if B. is fast, and vice versa.

“It’s MY Tempo v. YOUR Tempo in Golfmanship by Stephen Potter, McGraw-Hill, 1968.


 You can’t force yourself into a perfect rhythm and flow; it only comes when you stand out of its way and let it appear on its own.

Marathon Man by Bill Rodgers and Matthew Shepatin, St. Martin’s Press, 2013.



Old news now, I realize. What I found so commendable in Jason Dufner’s triumph in this year’s final golf major championship was not his driving, nor his putting, though both were stellar over a long and difficult trail. His composure – that was the thing – his ability to maintain his own sense of rhythm against the stultifying pull of the occasion along with the direct orbital tug of his nearest pursuer.

Jim Furyk appeared to be laboring against a strong personal tide or headwind. In and out of focus he ambled,  pummeled by an unseen undertow, and, possibly, the accumulated psychic weight from years of knowing his swing resembles a man wrestling an octopus. Every golfer feels something similar in tight situations, as does all but the most care-free athlete. Reading the above passages, it seemed an appropriate place to begin with an appreciation of that implacable force that governs sports – so coveted, so easily observed if overlooked, and so easily derailed.

Some seem to glide downstream, indeed, it’s often described as “flow.” Others struggle with each willful, gravity-laden step. Harvey Penick didn’t like rhythm. He preferred to call it timing, “getting your muscles together to produce the maximum speed of the clubhead at impact and the angle of face square on the line to the target.” That seems too clinically narrow, if assuredly accurate, a diagnosis. Is there not also artistry of a fish swimming? Sam Snead described the best golf swings as “oily.”

Bobby Jones admitted he found rhythm in an old standard, “Limehouse Blues.” Back-to-back events were once won on the LPGA Tour by a player locked onto the beat of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head.” This must explain the popularity of ear buds and the runner’s penchant for a suitable soundtrack. Doggedly plugged into the beat, searching for a compatible cadence, they never hear me when I ride past. My gentle “on your left” drifts by occupied and ravaged ears.


“Getting started, keeping going, getting started again — in art and in life, it seems to me this is the essential rhythm not only of achievement but of survival, the ground of convinced action, the basis of self-esteem and the guarantee of credibility in your lives, credibility to yourselves as well as to others.”

Seamus Heaney, commencement address at The University of North Carolina, May 12, 1996.