Golf Backswing Shoulders

The short answer: Nick Price's swing is compact. John Daly's is not.

As you probably figured out, a compact motion features a taut backswing – with the shaft no farther than parallel to the ground at the top – and follow-through. Despite its economical nature, a compact swing packs plenty of power because the body is tightly coiled and the arms in proper position.

A compact swing is ideal because moving parts are kept to a minimum. For instance, the wrists hinge naturally on the backswing and do not break down at the top. Power is stored in the tight angle formed between the shaft and left forearm, and no tricks of timing are required to square the clubface at impact.

Here's a thought to ensure your swing stays compact: When the shoulders stop moving on the backswing, the club should, too. Don't let the arms or wrists keep going once you've completed the shoulder turn.

It doesn't take a long swing to produce long drives. In fact, taking the club back too far is more likely to cost you distance. Unless, of course, you're John Daly.

If your golf swing consists of a right elbow that is down near your side, quiet feet, and a great shoulder turn with passive hands, you will be in great shape to hit solid shots. Even if you make some minor mistakes with other parts of your technique, you should still be capable of respectable ball striking just based on these three points alone. Spend some practice time learning each of these three swing elements and you will be a big step closer to owning a compact golf swing.

What is a Compact Golf Swing?

What is a Compact Golf Swing?

As a golfer who is trying to improve, it can be hard to know where to go with your game. Should you try to get in better shape to add more distance to your shots? Should you leave your swing alone and just focus on improving your short game? Maybe you need new clubs to get the most out of your ability? While fitness, short game, and equipment can all play a role in improving your performance, there is one way you can change your game that should have an immediate impact on your consistency – making your swing more compact.

A compact golf swing is one that has a limited number of moving parts. Instead of making a long arm swing where each part of your body is seemingly going in a different direction, a compact swing will have you limiting motion down to only what is necessary in order to hit great shots. Striking the ball cleanly time after time is far easier when your swing is compact, so making your game in this direction makes a lot of sense. And this is just a technique for amateurs, either – many professionals use nicely compact swings in order to play great golf on the toughest courses in the world.

Many golfers think that making a c$ompact swing means they will have to sacrifice distance, but that isn't the case at all. In fact, thanks to the improved efficiency in your movements and the improved quality of contact at impact, you might find that you actually hit the ball farther. Even if you do move backward a few yards in terms of distance, however, you will still come out ahead if you are controlling your golf ball around the course. Golf is a game that is all about accuracy and control – no amount of power will make up for poor direction, so control will always be your main objective.

The good news is you shouldn't have to radically change your swing in order to make it more compact. Most likely, you can keep most of the elements of your swing in place, only changing a few pieces as necessary to tighten everything up. The goal here is repeatability – you want your swing to look and perform the same time after time, all day long. If you can make a repeating swing out on the course, better scores should not be far behind.

As with any golf swing change that you make, patience is going to be required. Tightening your swing isn't going to require as much work as it would take to totally rebuild your swinging motion, but you will still need to allow for time to get comfortable with this new technique. During this process, the driving range should be your best friend. Hit balls as often as you can during the start of the process to give your body a chance to quickly get comfortable with your modified technique. Before long, you will start to feel comfortable making a compact swing, and your game will quickly come along.

All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.

Defining a Compact Swing

Defining a Compact Swing

Not all compact golf swings look the same. Even after you go through the process of tightening up your swing, the motion you make will still be unique to you. One of the great things about golf is that there are infinite ways to move the ball toward the target. Your swing will always be your own, and you shouldn't try to directly copy anyone else in order to play better. Adapt your own natural technique to allow for better and better performance while keeping it comfortable and familiar at the same time.

Even considering the individualistic nature of the golf swing, there are some common elements with a compact swing that will be seen across the board. If you wish to make a compact golf swing, look for the the following three pieces to be present in your mechanics.

  • Right elbow down near your side. This might be the key ingredient when it comes to making a tight golf swing. As you move the club up toward the top of the backswing, your right elbow should stay down and tight to your side. Long golf swings allow that elbow to move up and away from the body, which can create a variety of problems. Simply by keeping your right elbow down, you will automatically tighten your swing, and your technique will immediately improve. However, if you are used to swinging with a high right elbow, this adjustment will take some time before it feels comfortable. Keeping your right elbow down changes the shape of your backswing, so delivering the club to the back of the ball will feel different. Not to worry – after just a few practice sessions you should start to feel comfortable with this position.
  • Quiet feet. Another calling card of a compact golf swing is quiet feet throughout the motion. It is tempting to allow your feet to get involved in the golf swing by moving up onto your toes either in the backswing or downswing, but that movement is only creating another unnecessary step in your technique. Simplicity is the goal here, so work hard on keeping your feet flat on the ground as you move back and through the shot. Of course, as the club moves up into the follow through, your right heel will need to come off the ground so your body can continue turning toward the target. There is nothing wrong with that movement, but that should be the only movement from your feet during the swing. Having quiet feet will allow the rest of your body to stay quiet during the swing, which will give you a greater chance of striking solid shots.
  • Shoulders, not hands. When it comes to actually moving the club around your body, it should be your shoulders that are doing the bulk of the work. Many amateur golfers have a habit of moving the club with their hands, and that is always a bad idea. If you swing the club using your hands and forearms instead of your shoulders, there is a good chance your swing will be too long – and the compact golf swing will remain a dream instead of a reality. During your backswing, focus on using the rotation of your shoulders to put the club into position while your hands just hang on for the ride. At first, this technique will feel a little bit odd, but stick with it for a few practice sessions. Once you get comfortable, your shoulder turn will feel powerful and controlled at the top of the swing.

If your golf swing consists of a right elbow that is down near your side, quiet feet, and a great shoulder turn with passive hands, you will be in great shape to hit solid shots. Even if you make some minor mistakes with other parts of your technique, you should still be capable of respectable ball striking just based on these three points alone. Spend some practice time learning each of these three swing elements and you will be a big step closer to owning a compact golf swing.

What You Stand to Gain

What You Stand to Gain

One of the many problems that the average golfer faces is running off in too many different directions trying to lower their scores. There are tons of golf instruction books and videos on the market today, and it is easy to get caught up in the process of trying one after the next. While there is nothing wrong with trying to improve your game, you should also have a clear game plan in mind for how you are going to take your game to the next level. If you simply try every new swing method that comes along, you will never find the right path toward long-term, sustained success.

With that in mind, it is important that you have a clear understanding of what you stand to gain should you decide to work on a compact golf swing. Following are three specific benefits that you may enjoy once you have tightened up your mechanics properly.

  • Tighter dispersion. You will never hit all of your golf shots on line – that is just a fact of the game. Even the best players in the world miss their target line on a regular basis. Instead of shooting for perfection, the goal is to be as consistently near your target line as possible. That's where the concept of tight dispersion comes into play. You want to improve your misses, meaning that they will land closer to the target than before. Good golfers don't hit great shots all the time, but they rarely hit terrible shots. You might be surprised at just how well you can play by hitting 18 holes' worth of decent golf shots. Thanks to a more-compact golf swing, you should see a reduction in your bad misses, and therefore a reduction in your average score.
  • Added backspin. A compact swing should lead to better contact with the ball, and better contact will almost always mean additional backspin. It is important to be able to put a good amount of backspin on your shots because that spin can help you hold the ball close to the hole. For example, if you are playing a short approach shot to a hole that is located on the front of the green, you will want to use backspin to get the ball to stop shortly after it lands. Without enough backspin, the ball would bounce and roll to the center or back of the green – well away from the flag. As you tighten up your golf swing, don't be surprised if you start to feel your contact improve at impact, which will then lead to additional backspin stopping your ball quicker on the putting surface.
  • Consistency. Another compelling reason to work on a compact golf swing is the consistency that is possible using this kind of technique. Long golf swings are notoriously inconsistent as they require a lot of timing to execute correctly. It is certainly possible to hit good shots with a long and loose swing, but it will be very difficult to hit those good shots for 18 consecutive holes. Also, long swings tend to break down under pressure. Every golfer would love to more consistent from the first hole to the last, and owning a compact golf swing should get you well on your way to that goal.

You may find that you gain even more benefits from tightening up your golf swing than just the three points above, but those are a good place to start. As you make changes on the driving range to reduce the amount of movement in your swing, be sure to watch your ball flight carefully to note any changes that begin to occur. It is important to note how your results are changing because you will need that information once you go back out on the course for your next round. Your patterns and tendencies will likely have changed when you return to the course after altering your technique, so watch for those new shot shapes as soon as they appear. The transition back to the course will be much smoother if you already know what kind of shots to expect from your compact swing.

The Issue of Tempo

The Issue of Tempo

As you should already know, tempo is a major factor in the golf swing. Using a good tempo, and then keeping that tempo going throughout the round, is one of the biggest keys to playing good golf. While golf swings will take on all kinds of different shapes, every good golf swing has one thing in common – a beautiful tempo.

That being said, you will run the risk of 'messing' with your tempo when you make your swing more compact. As you shorten the overall length of your swing, it is easy to also speed that swing up. In the end, you may be left with a rushed motion that doesn't allow you enough time to build speed prior to impact. A slow, smooth tempo is most effective for most golfers, so you don't want to get out of that mode just because you are trying to tighten up your mechanics.

So how do you combine the tasks of keeping a good tempo and making a compact swing? It comes down to your transition. The transition from backswing to downswing is really where most people go wrong – they rush this part of the swing in order to get back down to the ball as quickly as possible. Instead, you actually want to take your time during the transition, allowing your body to gradually change directions as you start to turn back to the left. Since the golf ball is sitting still, there is no need to be in a hurry at the top. Remember, you don't have to be swinging the club quickly at the start of your downswing – only at the bottom. Allow your momentum to gather gradually and you will have plenty of time to accelerate the club before you make contact with the ball.

Remember to make your tempo a top priority when you are hitting balls on the driving range. As you get into the rhythm of hitting one ball after the other, it is easy to start to rush through the entire practice session. Don't fall into that trap. Instead, take your time and hit each shot with the same effort and attention that you would give a shot out on the course. Work on slowing down the transition portion of your golf swing on the range and it will become easier to stay in a good tempo when you are out on the course.

A compact swing and a good tempo don't have to be enemies. In fact, they actually get along quite nicely once you understand how the timing of the swing should work. A big shoulder turn is part of a compact swing, and that same shoulder turn will help you maintain a smooth tempo. As long as you allow yourself plenty of time to move through the transition and you don't get in a hurry to hit the shot, you should have no trouble matching up a nice compact swing with a repeatable tempo.

Eliminating the Waste

Eliminating the Waste

When striving for a compact golf swing, wasted motion is something that you want to eliminate. If you are making a move within your golf swing that isn't helping you toward the goal of hitting a solid shot, that move should be taken out of your technique. While that might sound like a simple concept, it is a little bit easier said than done. If you have been playing golf for many years, the moves you make your swing are engrained deeply in your mind, and it will take plenty of hard to work change them. Of course, if you hope to play better golf, you will need to put in that work so your mechanics can be improved.

One of the best ways to eliminate wasted motion from your golf swing is to watch it on video. Recording a video of yourself hitting a few shots should be a quick and easy process with the help of a friend, and it can be big dividends as you work on improving your technique. Take video on the driving range of yourself hitting a few different clubs, and watch the video back later at home when you have time to carefully review your mechanics. As you watch the video, note any movements in your swing that don't seem to be contributing to the goal of hitting the ball toward the target. Over time, work on taking these moving parts out one by one until you are left with a swing that is simple and repeatable.

A good example of an unnecessary movement is a hitch at the top of your swing. Some golfers, when they get to the top of the swing, have a bad habit of moving their hands up slightly before the downswing actually begins. This kind of hitch makes it hard to strike the ball cleanly at the bottom of the swing, and it can also cause problems with your timing. Clean up this mistake by simply dropping your hands down toward the ball as soon as the backswing is complete. It will take some time to remove these kinds of wrinkles from your mechanics, but you will be a far better player in the end.

Cleaning up your golf swing is something that you should work on doing even if you aren't trying to become more compact with your motion. However, if a compact golf swing is what you are striving for, eliminating the wasted moves is an absolute necessity. By taking the club back and through the swing with as few movements as possible, you will basically be lowering the overall number of things that can go wrong in your swing. You don't want your swing to break down during a round because of something that wasn't necessary in your swing in the first place – so get rid of everything you don't need as soon as possible. After going through this process, your swing will be more compact, and more effective as a result.

Building a compact golf swing isn't necessarily going to be easy, but it shouldn't be the hardest thing you have done in the game, either. Take the tips and information contained above and get to work on tightening up your own golf swing during your next visit to the driving range. Remember to spend plenty of time on the range early in the process, and remain patient even if the initial results aren't quite what you had in mind. Golf is a difficult game, but approaching each shot with a compact swing will increase your chances of success.