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Backswing 101: Tips to get the club on plane in the backswing

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While Flightscope offers my students a host of swing data, one of the most common statements that I hear is: “I don’t know how to consistently get to the top of my backswing.”

The old saying, “The ball does not care about anything except for impact” might be true, but the backswing does set the stage for our move into the ball. The cleaner and more efficient the backswing, the easier and more reactionary the downswing can be.

If you’re struggling with your backswing, I suggest that you try the following practice drills, which includes the tracing of visual checkpoints and synchronizing the movements of the body, arms and club. Passing through these checkpoints is known as swinging the club back “on plane.” To identify what’s on plane, we will keep the club pointing at or parallel to the target line throughout the backswing.

The Start Up

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In the photos above, I have attached a training aid to the end of the grip, which effectively extends the shaft of the club into my stomach. To start my backswing, I focus on keeping the club head pointing at the target line from address until the hands are approximately opposite my right thigh. The grip remains in contact with my stomach, thus assuring consistent radius and synchronization during start up. This is achieved by turning the core, while eliminating independent hand action.

The Halfway Back Position

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Continue turning as you guide the club shaft through the parallel-to-the-target-line position, and then point the grip at the target line when you’re halfway back. I call this giving the club direction. The shaft can either lay down in a horizontal position, which is commonly known as flat (pointing too far outside the target line), or move too vertically, known as steep (the grip end pointing too much towards your toes). It is up to you to give the club proper direction and point the grip end at the target line.

Getting It to the Top

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From an on-plane, halfway-back position continue turning your shoulders to complete your backswing, with the club shaft pointing at an extension of the target line (if you are swinging a driver and you are flexible enough, the club shaft will once again be parallel to the target line). The club and arms should stop moving backward when your shoulders stop turning. That is your check point for a synchronized top of swing. From here all you have to do is reverse the engines and keep pivoting all of the way through to a balanced finish.

Here is some good news. Use these checkpoints as guidelines, but they DO NOT have to be perfect. More than a few playing professionals only hit some of these locations. If you have discovered a consistent way to get to the top of your swing through trial and error or athletic prowess, by all means stick with it. Use these reference points to clean up any unwanted or extra movements.

If your backswing has been a cloud of confusion, then the closer you get to being on plane and synchronized, the better and more reliable your swing will become. Work these check points in front of a mirror or a reflection. A little practice time away from the ball will greatly speed up your coordination of the movements and make for more productive sessions when you get to the range.

Enjoy some peace of mind and find the right blend for your swing.

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Michael Howes is a G.S.E.B. authorized instructor of "The Golfing Machine" - Director of Instruction "Carter Plantation Golf Course" Springfield, La. - Director of Instruction "Rob Noel Golf Academy at Carter Plantation. - Golf Channel Academy Instructor - SPi Instructor of the SeeMore Putter Institute - Featured Writer GolfWRX Teaching philosophy: "We will work together on adding the all-important elements of power and consistency to your game while maintaining the individualism and art of your swing." Work on your swing from anywhere in the world - NO software needed. www.howesgolf.com www.youtube.com/cedarstreetgolf

44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. sze

    Jun 12, 2014 at 5:32 am

    follow your first tip for my driver, for two rounds in three days, I hit every fairway , 20 to 30 yards more. thank you

  2. Ian harris

    Jun 10, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    I would disagree with your description of on plane. An on plane backswing would have the shaft parallel to it’s angle at address halfway back not pointing at the target line.

  3. cody

    Jun 9, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    how do you set the angle on the stick to put in the ground? I am 6’2″ what do I use as a reference point.

    • Michael Howes

      Jun 10, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      Cody – The angle of the stick will match the angle of the shaft for whatever club you are using at the time. The stick will be at a more upright angle for a wedge and a flatter angle for a 5 iron. Just work on pointing at or parallel to the target line with all clubs and that is your main check point.

  4. Dave

    Jun 8, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Another question about the on plane back swing: I had an instructor that had the clubhead outside of my hands (and face angle the same as my spine angle, which prompted me first response) when the shaft was parallel to the ground. What would the purpose of this be? I hit it good from that position for what it’s worth.

    • Michael Howes

      Jun 9, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Hello Dave – sounds like you were taking the club quickly to the inside to a degree that you were not able to recover from. It’s “worth” a lot that you hit it well from your new position – the proper blend for your swing.

  5. Rod

    Jun 6, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    Hi Michael, thanks for such a good summary. I was hitting the ball ok but although I was starting the back swing with my arms, I wasn’t bringing the club back parallel to the target line. I was taking the club straight up. I now have stopped the last bit of lateral movement in my back swing and it’s a bit shallower. I can feel my right elbow more connected to my body which must set up my downswing because it also feels a lot shallower. I’m hitting most shots a lot straighter and looking forward to your approach to the downswing.

    • Michael Howes

      Jun 7, 2014 at 8:43 am

      Sounds like you are on the right track Rod – keep working it.

  6. paul

    Jun 5, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    When I first started messing around with golf about 3-4 years ago (lucky to shoot 110), I remember figuring out what this article is teaching with “plane” (ha ha) dumb luck. A friend of mine who knew more then I did said it looked great. Then once I learned that the swing arc is never going to be straight and needs to come from the inside my scores plummeted. Learning golf for me has always been a series of “A ha!” moments and this was the first one with scores that drop a few strokes each “A ha!” Shooting 90 now on 6400 yard courses now.

  7. Matt

    Jun 5, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    No lie I just gained 4mph clubhead speed when I do this correctly…you ‘da man!

  8. Michael Howes

    Jun 4, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    Hello guys. Summer is here, so I have been on the range with enthusiastic junior golfers & am just now getting a chance to check out your feedback & article comments. Thanks for reading & taking the time to provide input. Bear with me & I look forward to discussing my thoughts on the backswing with you. I hope you all have a great summer season!

  9. Mbwa Kali Sana

    Jun 4, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Your fine description should be completed by the indication that the backswing move is initiated (or correlated if you wish )with the weight of the body being brought on the back foot.
    Also some golf Pros (Such as great teacher of the past ,JOE DANTE-THE FOUR MAGIC MOVES OF WINNING GOLF ) teach to hinge the wrists at the very beginning of the backswing ,then turn ..

  10. paul

    Jun 4, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    I only focus on where my club is at the top and my wrist angle in a mirror once in a while. Rest seems to fall into place on its own.

    • Michael Howes

      Jun 4, 2014 at 8:54 pm

      Thx for posting David. While not the intent of this article, keep in mind that direction isn’t just clubface positions. A slice is the relationship between face & path (among other variables…).

      • David

        Jun 5, 2014 at 11:20 am

        I’m certainly not saying that the to up position is wrong. For beginners though it is sometimes hard for them to get back to square from this position. I also think it has to do with how upright or flat your swing is.

  11. David

    Jun 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Halfway back the club face is open if the toe is pointed straight up. Most people will slice from this position and would be better off if the club face is the same as the spine angle.

    • Richard L Cox III

      Jun 4, 2014 at 12:47 pm

      David, by your logic, does the clubface match the spine angle throughout the swing?

      The toe-up position is square at the 9 o’clock position by the same precept that the toe up position is square at the 3 o’clock position.

      • David

        Jun 5, 2014 at 11:18 am

        No, it’s just a checkpoint for fixing a slice. I work with lots of beginners and lots of them would struggle to square up the face when they are in this position coming back. Some may say that’s hooding the club, but I find that an upright swing benefits from this more so than a flatter swing.

    • Nunya

      Jun 4, 2014 at 2:12 pm

      Disagree.
      Toe-up will vary somewhat based on grip strength but this is a great way to check against yanking the club inside.

  12. Scott Shields

    Jun 4, 2014 at 11:58 am

    If you have the time, buy two laser pointers, and attach to the bottom end and grip end of club. And just make sure the laser is always pointing at the line. My coach made me one years back, as part of TGM program. I love it.

    • Michael Howes

      Jun 4, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      Correct Scott – Doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

      • Darren Tan

        Jun 5, 2014 at 9:02 pm

        About the laser, I know why we need to attach to the grip end of the club.
        But what is the bottom end? And why do we need that?
        Thanks!

        • RobN

          Jun 6, 2014 at 10:04 am

          One on the bottom end, down by the head and pointing to the ground at address, will allow you to be sure you are taking the club back along the target line. As the club moves up the backswing, the laser on the grip end will then come in to play and point at the target line.

          • Darren Tan

            Jun 8, 2014 at 10:06 pm

            I see.
            Thanks RobN for the explanation.

  13. DaveMac

    Jun 4, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Thanks for the article. Golf swing tuition has been obsessed with the belief if you get the backswing right then the downswing will be right as well, unfortunately this is not the case. I think it is important to stress that the halfway back shaft plane is not the same as the halfway down shaft plane which needs to be flatter ( more in line with the right arm) .

    While it might be tempting to see the swing in this way, matching the 1/2 way back position on the downswing will cause an over the plane strike which requires high hands at impact resulting in weak strikes.

    • Michael Howes

      Jun 4, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      The golf swing is a chain of good moves. Not always “Perfect” positions, but more importantly proper dynamics. I agree there is no magic move. One of those dynamics is the flattening of the shaft during the downswing.

      • Hennybogan

        Jun 4, 2014 at 8:45 pm

        Flattening the clubhead/shaft during the transition is a staple in elite ball strikers the last 70 years. So why is it now taught by some instructors to steepen the clubhead/shaft? I’m i missing something here? Can’t find one tour player who does this.

    • Winmac

      Jun 6, 2014 at 12:43 am

      I think for me personally, it works. Whenever you got the backswing right, you can’t go wrong on the downswing. Maybe some directional issues or a little draw / fade but never will it caused the basic problems of fat / thin shots.

  14. IH8

    Jun 4, 2014 at 9:50 am

    This is one of the best instructional articles I’ve ever read on this site. You know what, it’s just one of the best period. Concise and straight to the point, with effective use of visual aids. A lot of the articles on this site tend to get a little over the top and become difficult to absorb and take with you. This article should become the template for articles on wrx!

  15. Owen

    Jun 4, 2014 at 9:38 am

    You should publish a similar post on downswing to impact, and then impact to follow through. Good stuff!

  16. JJ

    Jun 4, 2014 at 9:32 am

    I think the first portion of the takeaway is the hardest to repeat. Michael, what’s a good technique or method to get to the halfway back position using your core and not your hands?

    • Richard L Cox III

      Jun 4, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      JJ,

      Try to imagine a full bucket of water in-between your hands. Practice making the action back to 9 o’clock without spilling any imaginary water. You’ll notice that the pit of your right arm stays skyward and your right arm stays fairly straight and extended. From that point you should be able to elevate your arms almost straight up into a proper backswing position.

      • Hieronymus

        Jun 4, 2014 at 2:02 pm

        “Try to imagine a full bucket of water in-between your hands.
        Straight out of the Little Red Book….
        Harvey was the man.

    • Michael Howes

      Jun 4, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      JJ – try the variation of the drill suggested in the article. Choke down on the club until your hands are on the steel & the grip end is stuck in your stomach. Rehearse turning back until the hands are opposite your right thigh & keep the grip in contact with your navel. You can also choke down to the steel and let the grip rest against the outside left hip. Either way, rehearse the takeaway keeping contact between grip and body until hands over right thigh – then continue turning & point the grip end at target line 9:00 position.

      • Chip Hunt

        Jun 6, 2014 at 10:59 am

        My teacher just took my alignment stick and shoved it down into the hole at the butt end of my golf grip. It works just fine for the drill.

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Instruction

Stickney: Sit on it (for a better backswing)

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As we know golf, is a very tough sport and one that involves many moving pieces. Whenever something overreacts or moves too much on the way back, you end up playing catch-up on the way down. One of my favorite things to watch is how the head moves or doesn’t move on the backswing. Sure, you can have some movement, but you can’t have too much or you put yourself behind the eight ball.

I have charted the head position of a tour player at address and we can see that this is a very normal set up position. It is one that looks positioned to do great things.

However, en route to the top, you can see that this player has put himself into a position where his rear knee straightened too rapidly off the start of his backswing. When this occurs the pelvis “runs out from under” the upper body on the backswing the hips will react and begin to slant downward. (You can see a -10 degree tilt versus 3 degrees the opposite way at address for you number people.)

This causes the head to move out in front of where it was at address. This is not a bad position for the irons but for a driver we have a pending issue. If you don’t make a compensation from here then the player will have an angle of attack that is too much downward through impact with their driver.

As the player moves into his transition, the hips have leveled as the rear shoulder lowers the club into delivery but the head and pelvis are still too far out in front of the ball. The only thing you can do from here is fire the lead side upwards and hope that your head falls back into the correct position. If so, you will have the correct angle of attack, if not, you will chop down on the ball causing your launch conditions to be faulty.

And as we see here that this is precisely what this player did at the very last minute…not the easiest way to swing the club but it is functional IF you make the right correction. So, now that you understand how simple things like the action of the lower body can cause your head to move and your angle of attack to become faulty, what is the secret to controlling your lower body?


Just “sit” on the rear knee flex slightly longer during the backswing as you see here. This will slow down the tilting of the pelvis on backswing and thus your head will stay more in position en route to the top.

Personally, I teach both flexion and extension of the rear knee to the top, depending on what the player is wanting to do, so it really does not matter. However, what does matter is the rate at which it begins to straighten for those of you who do allow it to lengthen. I try to make most of my students hold the most of their address flex until the club moves between belt and chest high, any sooner and you risk the faulty pivot we saw above.

Therefore, take it from me and “sit on it” slightly longer for more quiet head motions as well as a more balanced backswing—your angle of attack will thank you!

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Davies: Training the trail elbow in the golf swing

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Alistair Davies shares with you how to get the correct trail arm and elbow action in the downswing. He shares some great drills that can be done at the range or at home to help lower your scores.Get the correct training for the trail arm here today!

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The important lessons you can learn from Peter Senior’s golf swing

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He may not be a household name in the United States, but Australia’s Peter Senior has a swing for the ages. At 60 years old, Senior has 34 worldwide professional wins including the 2015 Australian Masters beating a competitive field with several top-ranked players in the world. Turning professional in 1978, his career has spanned over 40 years.

Senior’s game and swing have stood the test of time, and the longevity of his career should be recognized. Senior formerly worked with Australian instructor Gary Edwin, and the structure to this swing taught to Senior paved the way for a future of consistent, high-quality professional golf.

Having a great golf swing isn’t the only key to becoming a great golfer, one must learn to play the game. However, you can learn a lot from Senior’s swing.

The origin to Senior’s swing lies in his set-up. Senior sets up in what I call his “hitting angles” or a position that mirrors impact.

From this position, Senior is able to simply keep these angles he established at address throughout the swing. This is why the set-up is so critical. The further he deviates from these “hitting angles”, the more he will have to find that impact position with his body in the backswing and downswing. In other words, more movement. The goal of his backswing will be to maintain these original starting angles.

From the picture, Senior has maintained his original body shape that he established at address. From this position, it will be much easier and repeatable to return the club to impact.

Note how his impact position now mirrors his original address position. All his original angles were maintained with a slight bump of the body towards the target. From impact, he can simply fold up his arms as his right side of his body rotates around his left side, keeping the clubface square to the body.

This standing tall finish position with the head following the torso is much easier on the back. His body has come forward and around beautifully, covering the ball for a proper strike.

The beauty of Senior’s swing lies in its simplicity. The changes Senior made to his swing can apply to anyone. Let’s look at two simple drills to make your swing more efficient and powerful.

“To a large extent, my backswing is a product of my set-up position” – Tiger Woods, Golf Digest 2020

To get into these impact angles simply practice pushing into an impact bag with the head and shaft of the club. Make sure your trail arm is tucked, lowering the trail shoulder as you pressure the bag.

To get the feeling of the proper coil from this set-up position, grab an impact bag and hold the bag in front of you.

From here, swing the bag around you with your arms keeping the top of the bag level. You will feel the trail side of your body move back and the lead side move out, coiling around your spine angle.

The trail glute will also move back and around with this drill, a key move the great Ben Hogan used to pivot his body. To develop an efficient swing and a long, injury-free career, take note of Peter Senior’s key moves.

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