An overly long backswing plagues many golfers, but it's possible for your backswing to come up short of ideal, too.
In this case, we're not talking about the position of the club at the top of the backswing so much as the rotation of your shoulders. In fact, it's possible to come up short of a full shoulder turn and still get the club to parallel or beyond at the top.
If you struggle with distance and haven't found the culprit, grab your driver and stand facing a full-length mirror or reflective window.
Make your normal backswing and stop when you reach the top. Are your shoulders at a 90° angle to the mirror (e.g. the target line)? They should be, provided you're physically able to get them there.
If you didn't hit the 90° mark (or at least come close), and you've got the flexibility to do so, practice making a fuller turn. One good way to do this without actually swinging is to place a club across the shoulders, behind the neck, and hold it there with your hands or forearms. Standing up straight, turn slowly to your right until you reach the 90° mark, then rotate left to the same position. Repeat for several reps at a time to get the feeling of a full shoulder turn.
Keep in mind that no matter how far you rotate, the arms should stop moving at the same time your shoulders do.
If the arms keep going after the shoulders stop, your big muscles will no longer control the swing and you'll be forced to compensate with the arms and hands – a recipe for poor golf shots.
Are You Taking the Club Back Far Enough?
Making a long swing is one of the key ingredients to hitting powerful shots. Every golfer would like to hit the ball farther, and swinging the club back as far as you can – while remaining in control – will help you do just that. Of course, the golf swing is a little more complicated than just making a long swing. If you simply try to make the longest swing possible while ignoring your other fundamentals, you are almost certainly going to be disappointed with the results. Instead, you should work on making a long swing while also checking off a number of other fundamental 'boxes'. For a demonstration of this concept, just look to the best players on the PGA Tour. They make long swings, but they also have the other fundamentals required to lead to great ball striking.
In order to determine if you are taking the club back 'far enough', you have to understand your own personal limitations. Some players will be able to make an extremely long backswing with very little trouble, while other players will barely be able to get the club to the point where it is parallel with the ground. One of the commonly made mistakes among amateur golfers is trying to force the swing to go longer than can be comfortably achieved. Yes, you want to make a long swing, but you don't want that long swing to ruin the rest of your technique. The goal here is to walk the fine line between maintaining your mechanics and still making a long enough swing to generate power.
The ideal length of your swing also depends on the other mechanics that you are using. For example, some players thrive with a long swing that allows them to accumulate power gradually from the top all the way through impact. However, other players are able to achieve great ball striking with a shorter swing that uses an abrupt change of direction to accelerate the club as quickly as possible. There is no 'right or wrong' on this point – it comes down to personal style, preference, and ability. As you work through the process of determining whether or not your backswing is long enough, remember that you don't have to live up to anyone else's standard. As long as you are swinging the club in a way that works for you, and leads to great shots, you should be satisfied.
Remember, distance is not the only goal on the golf course. In fact, it shouldn't even be your top priority. Golf is an accuracy game first and foremost, so you need to be sure that you can control your golf ball properly before you worry about hitting it any farther. When the battle is between distance and accuracy in your swing, it should always be accuracy that comes out on top. It is possible to play great golf as a shorter hitter as long as you are accurate – but it is nearly impossible to play well as a long hitter if you have no idea where the ball is going.
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.
Three Crucial Fundamentals
It is tempting to work on making a longer swing in order to add distance, but doing so could put the rest of your swing in jeopardy. As mentioned above, you only want to make a longer swing if you can manage to keep the rest of your mechanics in place at the same time. If your technique starts to come apart simply because you want to swing back a few extra inches, you will quickly notice a drop in your performance. With that in mind, the following three fundamentals are the critical points to watch for you in your swing. These three should take precedence over the length of your swing, meaning that you shouldn't try to swing longer if any of these three points are going to be adversely affected.
- Balance. This should always be the main focus of your golf swing – without balance, you really have nothing that you can count on to help you make great contact. Therefore, balance should always be first and foremost in your mind while swinging the club, with everything else coming later. What that means for the length of your swing is that you should only swing as far back as you can go while still maintaining excellent balance. This is a point that many amateur golfers get wrong. In an effort to hit the ball as hard as possible, many players swing back as far as they can go – even if that means getting pulled off balance in the process. Don't make this costly mistake. Instead, make it a point to stop your swing as soon as you feel like you might lose balance. If you can force yourself to have the discipline to stop your swing once you begin to lose balance, you will have a great chance to strike the ball cleanly on a regular basis.
- Solid hand position. The club should be solid and stable at the top of your golf swing. Unfortunately, some golfers allow the club to be loose at the top as they try to extend the backswing a little bit further. Extending your backswing by letting your wrists and hands be loose at the top isn't actually going to get you any extra distance, but it can cause you to be inconsistent with your swing path. Once the club gets set around halfway through the backswing, hold it in that set position and use your shoulder rotation to get the club all the way up to the top. It is the turning of your shoulders that really determines how long your backswing will be, rather than the movement of your hands.
- Rhythm. Your golf swing should stay in rhythm all the way through from start to finish. While every golfer will have his or her own unique tempo, it is crucial that you stick with the tempo that feels right to you. When you artificially try to make your swing longer than it is naturally, you will run the risk of fouling up your natural rhythm. If you are going to hit the ball accurately at your targets time after time, rhythm is an essential piece of the puzzle. You can go ahead and work on making your swing longer if necessary, but make sure that your rhythm is not damaged along the way.
You should not allow your efforts to hit the ball farther with a longer swing interfere with any of the three points above. Balance, hand position at the top, and rhythm all play important roles in your swing, and each is more important than a few extra inches of backswing length at the top of the swing. As long as you keep these points in mind as top priorities while working on your technique, you should be able to safely work on the length of your swing without doing any other damage to your mechanics.
Check the Tape
It is hard to see the position of the club or the upper half of your body at the top of the swing. After all, you should be looking down at the ball, so there is almost no way to see what is going on with your hands, arms, shoulders, and club. With that in mind, one of the best things you can do for your game is to record your swing on video. A quick video recording of your technique will do you good in a lot of ways – including giving you a chance to clearly view the length of your backswing. The video tape doesn't lie in golf, so recording even just one or two swings should provide all of the info you need.
To record your swing, you are only going to need a driver, a device to record video, a friend, and somewhere to make swings. While you could do a recording at home in your back yard while just making practice swings, the best bet is going to be doing this at the range where you can actually hit some shots. You want to get a clear picture of your real swing when hitting the ball, as your practice swing might look a bit different from the swing you use to hit a shot. If possible, ask a friend to accompany you to the range for the purpose of recording your swing (if your friend is also a golfer, you could return the favor and record their technique).
Using a driver for this recording is the best option because it is the longest swing that you will make – and the club that you will want to hit the farthest. For the recording, ask your friend stand in a position that will allow them to look directly at your face and chest during the swing. In other words, you should be able to look straight up from your stance and see them several feet away. Of course, make sure they are standing well out of harm's way so that they are not struck by either the club or the ball. With your friend in position, hit a few shots while they are recording. If you are using your cell phone to shoot this video, you will be able to review the results as soon as you are done making the swings.
As you are watching the swings back on video, take note of two things – the position of the club shaft during the transition, and the position of your shoulders at the top of the swing. Hopefully, the club will be at least parallel with the ground, if not a little beyond that point. While it is possible to hit powerful shots with a swing that stops short of parallel, most golfers will find additional yardage if they are able to at least hit that parallel mark. As for your shoulders, the goal is to turn back far enough to have your left shoulder pointed down at the golf ball. Again, you may or may not be able to hit this exact mark, but use that as a goal. If you are able to both reach parallel with the club shaft and get your left shoulder to point at the ball, you will be set up nicely for a powerful downswing.
Now that you have seen your swing on video, you should have a perfectly clear picture as to the length of your swing. If you are happy with the length of swing that you are making, you can forget about this point and move on to looking for other ways to improve your game. However, if you think your swing is a bit short of where it could get to comfortably, you can use the information below to work on making a longer overall swinging action.
Adding Length to the Swing
There are ways that you can lengthen your swing without damaging the overall quality of your move. As was highlighted in detail earlier, you don't want to damage another part of your swing just to make a longer move. However, if you can successfully make a longer swing while still keeping your basic mechanics in place, that kind of improvement should lead to longer shots. You don't have to lengthen your swing dramatically to see results, either – even a modestly longer swing could add a few yards of carry to each of your clubs.
If you would like to work on making a longer swing during your next range session, use the following three tips to guide your practice.
- Open up the right foot. As you stand over the ball at address, turn your right foot out slightly so that your toes are pointed away from the target (by about 10* or 15*). By making this minor adjustment to your stance, you will take some of the pressure off of your right knee during the backswing, making it easier to make a big turn. Often it is the lower body that prevents the upper body from finishing the turn away from the ball, but this tweak will reduce that issue. Now that your right foot is slightly open at address, your right knee will not stop your shoulder turn prematurely, and you should be able to make a full backswing without losing your balance. When you do make this adjustment, be careful not to slide to the right in the backswing as a result. Keep your balance right in the middle of your feet and turn just as you would when using your typical stance.
- Stand farther from the ball. This is a tip that applies specifically to your driver swing. At address, try backing up away from the ball by an inch or two to give yourself more room to swing. Standing farther away will flatten out your swing, and it may make it easier to create a long arc without losing balance. It can be difficult to make a full shoulder turn when standing close to the ball, as your swing plane will have to be rather steep in order to find the ball at the bottom. Experiment on the range with the idea of standing a little farther away while hitting your driver and your swing could wind up getting longer as a result.
- Don't rush. Sometimes, a short swing can be caused by something as simple as rushing through the motion. A good golf swing will take time to develop, and your swing will only live up to your expectations if you give it the time it needs to go from start to finish. It is common to get anxious during the backswing, and many golfers cut their turn short while in a hurry to hit the ball. Do your best to relax before the swing starts and give it plenty of time to turn back away from the ball before starting your transition. When you watch golf on TV, notice how the swings of the professionals never look rushed or hurried – you would be wise to follow their lead.
You might find that one of these points specifically is able to help you make a longer swing, or it might take a combination of two or three of them to get things put together properly. Work on each tip one at a time on the range and observe the results as you go. It shouldn't take very long to notice which tips are helping, and which are not. After just one or two quick range sessions, you will likely know exactly how you wish to alter your swing in order to create a longer arc.
Tighten Up for Control Shots
Some golf shots are not about power. In fact, it could be argued that most golf shots are not about power. Instead, many of the shots you play during a given round are going to be all about control, with the ability to generate power playing no role at all. If you are going to be a player who can consistently produce good scores, you are going to need to understand how to hit the control shots perfectly time and time again.
When playing for control rather than power, you want to keep the golf swing as tight as possible. A long swing is not required, nor helpful, when you only want to place the ball as accurately as you can. A perfect example of this concept is the typical pitch shot. If you are pitching the ball from inside of 50 yards from the target, you don't need much power to hit the ball the necessary distance. However, you do need excellent control to strike it cleanly and stop it quick. With that in mind, the goal on a pitch shot is to make your swing as short as possible while still hitting the ball with a smooth tempo. Rather than taking the club way up over your shoulders before slowing down in the downswing, you should be taking the club halfway back and then swinging through with smooth acceleration. This is a concept that is lost on many amateur golfers. The average player makes a long swinging motion for the majority of their shots, and they are left to attempt to slow the club down right before impact to guard against hitting the ball too far.
Even if you would like to make your swing longer for full shots, you should also work on making your swing tighter for all of your control shots. When pitching or chipping around the greens, or when hitting a low iron shot for an accurate approach, you should learn how to manage the length of your backswing nicely. While you might currently think that blasting long shots is the best part of playing golf, you may quickly fall in love with the process of using a controlled swing to stick the ball right next to the cup. After all, the goal of the game is to get around the course is the fewest number of shots, and controlled shots are the best way to do just that.
The length of your backswing has a lot to do with the eventual length of your shots, so it is smart to work on lengthening your swing if possible – but only if you can do so while protecting the rest of your fundamentals. Use the content above to work on making a longer swing without losing what it is that makes your swing work in the first place. To make sure you know what you are working with currently, and what you need to improve on, try capturing a quick video of your swing early in the process. Once your swing is longer and you have ironed out any needed adjustments to your rhythm and timing, you should be able to produce longer shots with regularity.