A man of extremes, golfer John Daly is famous for his extreme length off the tee, his extreme lifestyle off the course, and his extremely long backswing. While his best days seem to be in the past, Daly has left an indelible mark on the game.
Daly emerged from obscurity to win the PGA Championship in 1991, amazing delirious crowds with his “grip it and rip it” style and down-home charm. He claimed a second major title in 1995, winning the Open Championship at the home of golf, the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland.
While he's had more downs than ups in recent years, Daly remains a popular figure among golf fans, who love to watch him swing the driver with reckless abandon.
Unconventional move: A shaft that's parallel to the ground at the top of the backswing is considered ideal; Daly not only crosses parallel, his shaft sometimes becomes vertical to the ground as it wraps around his body.
Photo 1: Unlike our model, Daly demonstrates remarkable flexibility by reaching this position with his left arm straight. In fact, other than his pronounced wrist cock and upright plane, Daly's positions are practically textbook. His shoulders are turned at 90° to the target line, his hips are at 45°, he's well-balanced and his weight has shifted to the right side.
Why it's a problem for amateurs: Emulating the length of Daly's backswing requires hinging the wrists far more than any teacher would recommend. Even if you achieved proper balance, weight distribution and rotation, you'd find it very difficult to return the clubface squarely to the ball at impact.
For amateurs, a backswing this long is considered “disconnected,” or the opposite of “compact.” Accuracy suffers, of course, and – unlike Daly – you'd probably hit the ball shorter rather than longer.
How Daly gets away with it: Like most pros with unusual swings, Daly compensates with tremendous athleticism. Specifically, his balance, flexibility and rhythm allow Daly to keep his hands, arms, shoulders, torso and lower body working in unison as he transitions from backswing to downswing, then into the ball. Judging by his picture-perfect finish, you'd never guess Daly's backswing was so long.
Whereas most amateurs would be inclined to start the downswing by unhinging the wrists to catch up with the arms, Daly's lower body leads the way.
The cure: If your backswing is too long, make sure you aren't bending the left elbow excessively or letting the wrists buckle at the top. Also, your arms should stop turning when your shoulders do. Here are a few more ways to shorten the backswing:
- Stand slightly wider to restrict your hip turn.
- Keep your left heel (for a right-hander) on the ground throughout the backswing.
- Practice a low, slow, one-piece takeaway, dragging the club back with the arms and shoulders in unison.
John Daly Extra Long Backswing
Even if you don't follow professional golf closely, you certainly are familiar with the name John Daly. Daly has been known throughout his career for his incredible power, as well as for his interesting personality – one that is unique among the professional golf crowd. The winner of two major championships in his career, Daly has made a lasting mark on the game that is going to carry on well after his career has been completed.
If there is one thing that is recognizable about John Daly above all else, it is his extra long backswing. Daly wraps the club around his back like few other players in the game – in fact, it would be pretty safe to say that he has the longest backswing in all of professional golf. Of course, that backswing can be credited in part with his impressive power, both from the tee and out of the fairway. Even as he has moved into his 40's and 50's, Daly has maintained the ability to blast the ball with power that is not commonly seen on the course. While there is certainly more to golf than simply hitting long drives, having power available when needed is a great advantage, and Daly has used that advantage to his benefit nicely throughout his career.
As you might expect, it isn't particularly easy to hit the golf ball when employing the kind of long swing that Daly has made famous. Sure, he has been able to use it to great effect, but amateur golfers attempting to follow his lead are likely to find themselves rather disappointed in the end. John Daly has incredibly eye-hand coordination, which he uses to match up the club face to the back of the ball time after time. Without high-level coordination on your side, you may find that it is difficult – or even impossible – to strike the ball cleanly with such a long swing. The potential of added distance is enough to convince many golfers to try a longer backswing, but unfortunately, most of those golfers are not going to have success with that strategy.
However, if you are committed to trying a longer backswing in order to add distance to your game, there are some steps you can take in order to increase your odds at success. In this article, we are going to look at some of the things you can do in order to make it more likely that you will hit solid shots while using a long backswing. Of course, there are no guarantees that these tips are going to lead to your success, as it will be up to you to put in the hard work necessary to make progress with your game. Golf is one of the most difficult games in the world, and that fact isn't changing anytime soon. Only those who put in the hard work and time necessary to make improvements will find themselves shooting good scores on a regular basis. In this case, if you are going to work on adding length to your backswing as a method of gaining distance, you are going to have to work hard on the range to successfully make the change.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Conventional in Many Ways
Most people would think of John Daly's golf swing as unique because of the incredibly long backswing that he uses. However, in most ways, Daly actually has a very conventional, textbook approach to the swing. If you watch a video of Daly in action, take your eyes away from the length of the swing and simply watch everything else that is going on. You will quickly notice that, other than the long backswing, there isn't much that separates Daly from any other player on the PGA Tour. His lower body works nicely throughout the swing, his head stays stable, he makes an excellent shoulder turn, and more. In other words, Daly's swing isn't 'crazy' or 'wild' at all. Sure, the club moves a long way back, but that is the only thing that really sets his technique apart. Otherwise, this is a sound golf swing and it shouldn't be surprising that it has led to so much success at the game's highest level.
If you are going to try to employ a long backswing in your own game, it is essential that you have the rest of your fundamentals in order. Without good fundamentals to build upon in your swing, it will be nearly impossible to strike the ball solidly. Specifically, pay attention to the points below in your swing before you ever work on moving the club farther around your back.
- Balance above all else. There is simply no way that you will be able to hit the ball cleanly with a long swing if you do not have great balance. The balance that Daly has within his swing is incredible to watch, and you should be striving for something along the same lines. How do you know when you have achieved great balance? The follow through position is a great place to start. If you are able to hold your finish as you watch the ball fly toward the target, you will know that you have done a good job with your balance. On the other hand, if you feel like you are leaning significantly to one side or the other while in the finish, it is a good bet that something has gone wrong during the swing. Work hard on your balance during your practice sessions so you will be free to make a long swing without getting off track.
- Stay down in your lower body stance. This is a point that goes together with balance in order to create a solid platform on which you can swing. As you swing back, it is important that you stay down in your stance with your knees slightly flexed. It is tempting to stand up out of the shot on the way back, especially as you go back farther and farther into the swing. Don't let that happen. John Daly does an excellent job of staying down in his stance throughout the motion, and you should be trying hard to do the same.
- Stable head position. This point was mentioned briefly above, but it needs to be highlighted because of just how important it is to the swing as a whole. When your head stays in a stable position throughout the swinging motion, you will have a much easier time hitting the ball solidly at impact. Remember, you need to be able to see what you are trying to hit, and you will have a hard time getting a good look at the ball if your head is moving all around during the swing. Even as you use a big shoulder turn and a long arm swing to generate great power, you still need your head to be the 'calm in the middle of the storm'.
You will be amazed to find what you can accomplish when you simply keep your head still, stay on balance, and stay down in your stance with the lower body. Golf is challenging because of how complicated the swing can become, so boiling it down to its basic components is always a good idea. Even if you decide to use an extra long backswing in the style of John Daly, you still may be able to strike consistent, solid shots if you are able to stick to the fundamentals on the list above.
It's All About Tempo
One of the things that John Daly doesn't get enough credit for is the excellent tempo that is present in his swing. When people think about powerful golfers like Daly, they tend to think that those players are simply swinging as hard as they can, every single time. In reality, that's not how it works. While Daly is obviously swinging hard, he is also very much under control within the swing, and he is focused on using a smooth and steady tempo. Unlike the average amateur golfer, it never looks like John Daly is rushing or hurrying through his swing – rather, the swing seems to have its own timing, and that timing is not broken from shot to shot.
Most likely, you currently are not swinging with this same kind of steady tempo in your own game. Rushing is extremely common in the world of amateur golf, as it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you have to hurry through the backswing in order to deliver as much power to the ball as possible. In reality, the opposite is true. You want to take your time in the backswing so that you can develop power before impact arrives. If you rush, you are only robbing yourself of valuable time that could have been used to swing the club faster through the hitting area. It might not make sense on the surface that a slower backswing can lead to greater swing speed in the end, but that is how it works for most players.
If you are going to work on adding a longer backswing to your technique, it is even more important that you stick with a slow and even tempo. A long backswing takes time to complete, and you will never get all the way through it if you are in too much of a hurry to start back down again. This is really the most difficult part of using a long backswing – having the patience to allow it to develop fully before changing directions. You might be able to do so with relative ease on the driving range, but the golf course is another story entirely. Most players feel some degree of pressure on the course, and those nervous feelings cause the swing to get quick and short. If you are going to use a long backswing to good effect during your rounds, you will have to be disciplined enough to wait out the backswing before transitioning down toward the ball.
While it isn't necessarily going to be easy to build a long backswing, there is good news on this point – your long backswing should help you to develop a better tempo around the rest of the course. John Daly never gets as much credit as he deserves for his impressive short game, as people always get hung up on his driving prowess. However, Daly does in fact have an excellent short game, as you must to claim two major championship titles. It is very likely that part of the reason he is able to play well on and around the greens is due to the fact that his rhythm transfers over from the long game. All golf shots require good rhythm, and Daly has plenty of that to go around. As you work on your own game, remember the importance of tempo and dedicate at least part of each practice session to working on this piece of the puzzle.
Hands and Wrists
You are probably thinking that you have to have impressive flexibility if you are going to make a long backswing. While flexibility certainly won't hurt, you may not need as much as you might think in order to swing in a similar fashion to John Daly. If you take a moment to watch a video of John Daly swinging the club, focus your attention on his shoulder turn. What do you notice? Most likely, you will see that his shoulder turn actually isn't any bigger than the average turn on the PGA Tour. Daly is plenty flexible, but not really any more flexible than his competition. So how is he able to make such a long backswing? It all comes down to hand and wrist action.
The average professional golfer will keep his or her hands and wrists stable at the top, limiting the amount that they are allowed to 'give' in order to keep the swing under control. Daly goes about things differently. His hands and wrists are quite free at the top of the swing, leading to a set that is pretty much unmatched in the golf swing. He creates and angle between the shaft of the club and his left arm that is off the charts, and that angle represents all of the power that is stored up and ready to be unleashed. Using his hands in this way adds a variable to the swing that most pros don't want to deal with, but it does come with the bonus of incredible distance potential when used correctly.
One of the biggest keys to allowing your hands and wrists to work freely in the swing is to maintain a light grip pressure throughout your swinging motion. This is another point that feels 'backward' to many golfers. Since you are trying to hit the ball as hard as possible, shouldn't you be holding on tightly to the club? No – not at all. Grip pressure will inversely affect swing speed, meaning adding pressure to your grip is only going to slow down the club head as it moves through the hitting area. Do your best to keep your hands relaxed on the grip (while still maintaining control of the club), and let the speed come naturally as a result of your body rotation.
In addition to keeping your grip pressure light, you also have to hold on to the angle you create at the top if you are going to see any gains in your distance. What happens to most amateur golfers is this – they learn how to create a good angle at the top of the swing, but they never add distance because they waste that angle almost immediately upon starting the downswing. The hands throw the club head up and away from the body, the angle is lost, and the club is drug through the hitting area at a relatively low speed. Instead of wasting your angle at the top, you need to hold on to it for as long as possible leading up to impact. Turn your body to the left while the club head lags behind your downward arm swing. If there is one single 'secret' to creating power in golf, this is it – lag the club behind your hands in the downswing and you will have a ton of potential power to use right at the moment that impact arrives.
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you think that John Daly was able to simply walk out onto the golf course and start blasting 300+ yard drives on a regular basis, you are sorely mistaken. Any golf swing requires regular maintenance in order to master, and one with such a long backswing takes even more work. There is a ton of timing involved with this kind of swing, and the only way to get better and executing a timing-based swing is to hit as many balls as possible. If you are serious about making your game work with an extra long backswing, you will also need to be serious about spending considerable time on the range.
It is easy to feel like you have it 'figured out' when you are hitting balls on the driving range, as it is pretty easy to bring your timing together when there is nothing on the line. Also, by having the opportunity to hit shot after shot on the range, you can work yourself into a groove where you begin to hit beautiful looking shots with your long swing. However, this is, in many ways, a trap. On the course during an actual round, you are never going to have the chance to hit a bunch of shots in a row with the same club. Instead, you are going to be constantly changing clubs throughout the day, and you are going to have to wait in between shots before you can play the next.
So, what can you do about this fact of life on the golf course? The best thing you can do is to replicate the experience that you will have on the golf course on the driving range. In other words, you should be changing clubs between each shot, and you should be taking more time between swings in order to pace yourself as you will have to on the course. Obviously, you aren't going to have your practice sessions last four hours like an entire round of golf, but just by spacing your shots out a little farther you can see improved results. One good way to do this is to back away from the tee line after every swing in order to regroup, change clubs, and pick a new target. If you can go through your process all over again after each shot, you will find that your practice sessions do a better job of preparing you for the challenge ahead on the course.
When warming up before a round, you want to largely stick with this same kind of routine. It is important to remember that a warm up session before a round is different than a practice session. While warming up, you are not trying to change anything about your mechanics or anything else – instead, you are simply trying to get your muscles warm and find your rhythm. This is especially important for players with a long backswing – hit as many balls on the range as needed to find your tempo, and no more. Once you are in a 'groove' with your swing, head to the practice green to roll putts until your tee time arrives.
John Daly is a one-of-a-kind golfer, and there almost certainly is not another one like him coming along anytime soon. With that said, you can attempt to work a longer backswing into your game if you would like to tap into previously unused power. If you do use a longer backswing, remember to focus on the basic fundamentals that will allow you to strike the ball cleanly even with a longer motion. It will take practice, but it is possible to find some extra power in your game thanks to a longer backswing action.