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Backswing position: Function vs. Aesthetics

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Books, DVD’s, TV shows and magazines have discussed for years how the golf swing should look and what types of shots these different “looks” produce.

In a previous article, I talked about the differences between a swing flaw and an idiosyncrasy and how to identify the difference. With that thought in mind, I wanted to show you the three most common backswing positions and what shots they produce so you can see which position is “right” for me.

There are three positions that the left arm can be in at the top of the swing in relation to the right shoulder (the opposite is true for lefties):

  1. Below the right shoulder.
  2. Neutral, or in-line with the right shoulder.
  3. Above the right shoulder.

My question to you: If I wanted to swing from the inside, which backswing “position” below would be the best one for me? Take a look below, make your decision, and read on!

No. 1: Below

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.46.08 PM

No. 2: Neutral

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.43.15 PM

No. 3: Above

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.40.51 PM

Let’s take a second to examine what happens to the Trackman numbers as I make these different swings:

No. 1: Below

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.46.08 PM

This position is a very hard one to get into for most people because it requires a ton of flexibility; however, it produced an inside delivery for me as the numbers show below.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.45.15 PM

The low-left arm position produced a swing path of 4.6 degrees to the right, so this position obviously works for me when it comes to swinging from the inside. The face-to-path was very tight at -2.1, which will cause the ball to move a touch right-to-left with solid contact.

Next, let’s examine the neutral or “on-the-shoulder” position, and you’ll see that it also produced an inside delivery — as was my goal. This position is easier for me to get into based on my flexibility (or lack thereof), and this is the position that most golfers tend to play from.

No. 2: Neutral

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.43.15 PM

As we examine the Trackman numbers, you can see that this position created an inside delivery, but one that was a touch more down the line at 2 degrees to the right. Once again, we see a tiny draw with a small face-to-path relationship.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.41.53 PM

Finally, we’ll take a look at the above-right-shoulder position, one that is very upright and requires a bigger shift of planes on the way down to produce an inside delivery.

No. 3: Above

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.40.51 PM

The numbers show us an inside delivery averaging 4.1 degrees and a small face-to-path relationship, which will help us hit the tiny push draw I’d like to see. The spin axis was -1.5, which means that this ball wasn’t curving, just falling a touch left with centered contact.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 11.39.37 PM

So, what’s the best swing position for me to use so I can swing from the inside?

Any of them.

The key is to let the golfer decide which position works best for them. For me, I tend to naturally gravitate into the “above” position at the top of my backswing, but when I practice and play, I can get myself into a more rounded position — between the below and neutral position, which allows me to swing from the inside more easily.

As a person gets older, it’s harder to move into a contrived position (which for me is a flatter backswing). Therefore, the moral of the story is to let your body tell you what’s best for you and have your teacher adapt to your instincts.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

49 Comments

49 Comments

  1. Mike

    Jan 23, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    I came to a Hardy teacher swinging 6-8 out with an above the shoulder position and he got me swinging below the shoulder within two months. I didn’t get on trackman during that time, but I was so far underneath that I couldn’t take a divot or make contact (tops/thins/shanks). I almost gave it up after wasting thousands with the one plane guy and countless hours.

    I went to Chuck Evans (5SK guy) because I was desparate, figured he’d want me to swing around my body from reading about them being S&T guys, but could help me with the pivot. Within 5 swings Chuck (on his 5th cigarette by then) tells me, “pick it up in the backswing and give me your best Jack Nicklaus impersonation.” Within a few lessons I was taking divots, hitting solid draws (some hooks no doubt), hitting a very high long ball off the tee and my handicap dropped from almost a 9 to a 4. My swing looks uglier today than it did this time last year, but I can put the clubs away for two weeks, come back to them and play good golf without fear of a shank or skulling it.

    Good golf doesn’t have to come from a pretty backswing plane.

  2. Aaron

    Jan 1, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Looking at the flights, looks like the lower the left arm/right elbow, the lower the flight of the ball as well.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 1, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      Aaron– only for me. Others are differevt

  3. Mike

    Dec 31, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Thanks for posting this article about the backswing position. I have a flat backswing, which has allowed me to become very consistent and ingrain a repeatable swing. It works great, but the shortcoming for me is rhythm and timing are critical to squaring the club face. For example, on the follow through if I do not roll my right forearm over my left forearm toward the 1:00 position consistently, I will hit hooks toward 11:00. I checked on video and I’m not coming over the top, my hands rotate faster than my body turns in the follow through, which shuts the club face upon impact. I tried a neutral backswing position and it feels horrible. Wound up hitting it fat a lot and when I caught it flush I wound up hitting hard fades/slices because my hands could not rotate fast enough to square the face. So I went back to my natural position, which is flat and during the downswing I focus a lot on rolling my right forearm over the left toward 1:00, which squares the club face allowing me to hit straight consistently. I wish there was a way I could rely on the bigger muscles to square the club face, not timing. I guess what I’m trying to say is your point about letting your body dictate the backswing position is key. Mostly because it determines the plane the club will be traveling on in the follow through, which determines ball flight and trajectory.

    • Tom Stickney

      Dec 31, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      Mike– check out mike Adams and ea tishler’s stuff as well

  4. Jim

    Dec 31, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Tom,

    Which of these backswing positions is best for someone that gets the club coming too much from the inside? Too many hooks,pushes, fats, thins and flips???

    thanks Jim

    • Tom Stickney

      Dec 31, 2014 at 9:51 pm

      Jim. All of them can cause this. It’s not a plane issue. It’s a pivot issue in your case. Need to cover the ball more.

  5. Mike

    Dec 31, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    I agree that every golfer has tendencies but I would contend that most golfers whose left arm position is above have a very hard time hitting anything but a slice or at best a fade. This type of player more often than not just lifts the club with his arms and then comes over the top. Getting the player to turn his shoulders instead of lifting his arms and getting the butt of the club at the heels ( or close) will allow him to come from the inside. Furyk is such an extreme example and he is a master at letting the club drop dramatically in the first part of his downswing. Its a great article in that it really shows clearly the three positions at the top but as an instructor I will be spinning my wheels with the average golfer if I let their arms be in the “above” position and tell them they can hit it from the inside. Slice slice slice

    • Tom Stickney

      Dec 31, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Mike. All depends on the players’ physiology and tendencies.

  6. JHI

    Dec 31, 2014 at 2:45 am

    Best article yet.

  7. Frank

    Dec 30, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    first and foremost great article.

    However, it seems to me there is a movement going on in the golf industry to make the analysis of the swing more friendly.

    I understand that being flat like kuchar or upright like furyk is ok cuz the importance is in striking the ball, but if my local pro didnt try to correct me or get me more neutral in the backswing, id want my money back.

    There is only 1 furyk and 1 kuchar on tour. If its ok to have those ugly swings, then taking lessons from a teaching pro will be a thing of the past.

    • Tom Stickney

      Dec 31, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      Frank– there are always modifications to be made in each lessin for sure.

      • Frank

        Jan 3, 2015 at 10:26 am

        Ok, but in terms of beginners of first time players, which take away do you recommend? Hard to imagine being inside or outside.

        Thanks for your response and a great 2015.

        • Tom Stickney

          Jan 3, 2015 at 10:42 am

          Frank. Suggest the normal position at first. Grow from there

  8. MiBlogDeGolf

    Dec 30, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Any difference about distance?

    • Tom Stickney

      Dec 31, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      Mi- A touch more for the one that works for your physiology.

  9. MiBlogDeGolf

    Dec 30, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Any difference about distances?

  10. Milton

    Dec 30, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    In my humble opinion, after studying the greats for over 50 years, the backswing plane really makes no difference. The downswing arm plane I think is most import for good ball striking. The downswing shaft plane also but not as much as the arm plane. I think most people worry too much about plane instead of worrying about what allows you to make flush contact, which is the most important thing in golf.

    • Tom Stickney

      Dec 30, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      Milton. Backswing only sets up downswing…agree

    • Justin

      Jan 5, 2015 at 12:38 am

      I agree. For me, I find that so long as the shaft bisects my trail bicept at the halfway down point, I’m golden.

    • Mike

      Jan 23, 2015 at 4:41 pm

      Amen!

      When struggling I just kept telling myself (focus on the positions, not contact). You have to learn to make solid contact.

  11. Russel Johnson

    Dec 30, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Another homerun Tom… That is one of the most talked about things that I learn upon arriving at a Jim McLean Golf School as a full time instructor. Let the student dictate that position and we control how they arrive there. Great job! Happy New Year and a even better 2015 to you and your family.
    Rus J

  12. Zra

    Dec 30, 2014 at 8:45 am

    Great conclusion, a good swing is a swing that works for you.
    I am neutral but its because thats how i was taught by my pro.

    Too below and i tend to hit it thin, too above i will come in too step and a fat shot almost a guarantee.

  13. slimeone

    Dec 30, 2014 at 3:19 am

    Firstly – fantastic article! I have been contemplating these concepts a lot lately. I spend a lot of time at the range using the mirrors behind the bays. After working on a more upright swing plane for a while I found that I couldn’t get enough rotation in the backswing because the further I tried to turn I would actually start pushing my weight on to the front foot and bending my head forwards (quasi-reverse pivot). I remember Mike Austin berating a student about this in an obscure video (and also dropping an under-the-breath diss on Ben Hogan!). Anyway since I started to flatten my swing plane and adjust my distance from the ball accordingly I am getting far more rotation, distance and much better ball contact.

  14. scientific golfer

    Dec 29, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    I grew up copying my swing after Greg Norman, and as a result my club would often (and still does) point outside the ball part way through the backswing. Greg Norman and Ian Poulter are among the few tour pros iI’ve seen play that way. (I’ve never bothered to look at Kucher to see if he does the same thing). The problem I’ve seen with this flat back swing is I think it put added tension in the arms during the swing. It also tends to promote a downswing path that is steeper than the back swing path. I believe Jim McLean referred to it as a reverse slot swing. There have been tour pros that have played successfully with that type of reverse path (notably Sam Snead), but I still would like to be able to swing back in a more neutral way into a more neutral position. Problem is try as I might I’ve found nothing that helps put me in the desired position when I’m hitting a ball. The only thing that shows a slight improvement when viewed on camera is the feeling and concept of having my thumb(s) point at the sky half way through the back swing (and that looks to only change it by a few degrees at most). Swinging back and having my lead elbow (left) pointed at the ground part way back, lifting my right shoulder toward the sky, and maintaining pressure in the last three fingers of my left hand during the swing all fail to make any difference when viewed on camera during a swing where I hit a ball. On practice swings they all look to make a difference on camera, but a real swing is quite a different story. I gave up on practicing at the range to correct the fault years ago after I spent months trying to get out of that position and failing to do so. I’d still like to get out of that position some day, but I still have no clear idea what the cause of it is, nor what move or change will be able to get me to a more neutral or even upright shaft plane position half way back.

    • Tom Stickney

      Dec 30, 2014 at 10:36 am

      Science– see my YouTube channel playlist on downswing feels. http://www.youtube.com/tomstickneygolf

      • scientific golfer

        Dec 31, 2014 at 9:29 am

        I don’t see a downswing feels video. Is it part of one of the other videos? The issue starts with my faulty back swing, so I don’t see how a downswing feel is going alter the back swing.

  15. Johnny

    Dec 29, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Are you familiar with the pre-set drill by Leadbetter that he used on Faldo when he retooled his swing way back when? For me, that drill determined the most ideal backswing that is best for the golfer’s body.

  16. Nard_S

    Dec 29, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    Good topic. Group think has led a lot of people to try to keep the club ‘on plane’& ‘under the glass’. I’ve always been way more comfortable with more upright position. I think of Watsons’ as my ideal. There is so many ways to skin a cat.

  17. other paul

    Dec 29, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Great article. I am wondering what the difference is between taking the club back like kuchar and taking it back like tiger when most people are taught (my perception) to lay the club off and drop their hands to get the club on plane. If you end up there at some point in the swing, why not just got there in the first place?
    I swing like kuchar but have to make sure i don’t take the club back to low because of an old shoulder injury.

    • Tom Stickney

      Dec 29, 2014 at 6:21 pm

      Other– it’s all a function of one’s flexibility.

      • other paul

        Dec 30, 2014 at 12:23 am

        I agree. I injured my shoulder with my hands over my head and lifting has never been the same.
        I have been trying to nail down qualities of my swing. Could you let me k ow if any of these are not complimentary?

        Qualities that define my golf swing
        -a strong grip
        -a cupped wrist at the top of my back swing
        -a long low take away
        -a flatter plane
        -shaft returns on shaft plane or just a hair under it
        -always a feeling of pushing to keep my hands higher in my back swing
        -fast hips that are open 20*-30* at impact

        Playing lots of Vgolf right now cause its minus 20 lately. Shooting in the mid 70s with this swing. And loving golf and it’s loving me back right now.

        • Tom Stickney

          Dec 30, 2014 at 10:34 am

          Other– they are all good

          • other paul

            Dec 30, 2014 at 3:02 pm

            Oh. That’s good news ???? Thanks

          • Tom Stickney

            Dec 30, 2014 at 3:48 pm

            Yep. Your thoughts are all in line. That’s good

  18. Keith

    Dec 29, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Good talk see you out there…any chance you can write about any benefit/issues with shortening your backswing?

    Thank you

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The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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Clement: Effortless power for senior golfers

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Are you struggling with range of motion? Want more EFFORTLESS POWER? We are truly the experts at this having taught these methods for 25 plus years, while others were teaching resistance, breaking everyone’s backs and screwing up their minds with endless positions to hit and defects to fix. Welcome home to Wisdom in Golf!

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Clement: How to turbo charge your swing

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The shift in golf instruction continues and Wisdom in Golf and GolfWRX are right out there blazing a trail of fantastic content and techniques to get you to feel the most blissful, rhythmic golf shots you can strike! This here is the humdinger that keeps on giving and is now used by a plethora of tour players who are benefitting greatly and moving up the world rankings because of it.

The new trend (ours is about 25 years young) is the antithesis of the “be careful, don’t move too much, don’t make a mistake” approach we have endured for the last 30 years plus. Time to break free of the shackles that hold you back and experience the greatness that is already right there inside that gorgeous human machine you have that is so far from being defective! Enjoy!

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