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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

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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Golf 101: Why do I chunk it?

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Whether you are a beginner, 10 handicaps, or Rory McIlroy, no one player is immune to the dreaded chunk. How many times have you hit a great drive, breathing down the flag from your favorite yardage and laid the holy sod over one? It’s awful and can be a total rally killer.

So what causes it? It could be several things, for some players, it could be a steep angle of attack, others, early extension and an early bottoming out and sometimes you’ve just had too many Coors Lights and the ground was closer than your eyes told you…been there.

This is Golf 101—let’s make it real simple and find one or two ways that a new golfer can self diagnose and treat themselves on the fly.

THE MAIN CAUSE

With beginners I have noticed there are two main things that cause the dreaded chunk:

  1. Players stand too close to the ball and have no way to get outta the way on the way down. This also really helps to hit Chunk’s skinny cousin: Skull.
  2. No rotation in any form causing a steep angle of attack. You’ve seen this, arms go back, the body stays static, the club comes back down and sticks a foot in the ground.

SO HOW DO I FIX MYSELF?

Without doing all-out brain surgery, here are two simple things you can do on the course (or the range) to get that strike behind the ball and not behind your trail foot.

This is what I was taught when I was a kid and it worked for years.

  1. Make baseball swings: Put the club up and in front of your body and make horizontal swings paying close attention to accelerating on the way through. After a few start to bend at the hips down and down until you are in the address position. This not only gives your body the sensation of turning but reorientates you to exactly where the bottom of your arc is.
  2. Drive a nail into the back of the ball: This was a cure-all for me. Whether I had the shanks, chunks, skulls, etc, focusing on putting the clubhead into the back of that nail seemed to give me a mental picture that just worked. When you are hammering a nail into a wall. you focus on the back of that nail and for the most part, hit it flush 9 outta 10 times. Not sure if its a Jedi mind trick or a real thing, but it has gotten me outta more pickles than I care to admit.

As you get better, the reason for the chunk may change, but regardless of my skill level, these two drills got me out of it faster than anything all while helping encourage better fundamentals. Nothing wrong with that.

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