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Should you make your backswing shorter or longer?

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Your backswing length needs to produce enough speed to create the necessary distance, but also provide consistency for the most accurate shots possible. Sometimes golfers need more distance and other times they need more accuracy, and finding the happy medium isn’t always easy.

Obviously there is NO perfect backswing length for every golfer; if there was I would have told you by now! You certainly don’t want your backswing to be short and choppy, nor do you want to be long and loose. So how do you know what length is best for you?

In this article, I’ve demonstrated a short, medium and long backswing on Trackman so we can see what the data says about the three positions in regard to my swing.

Note: Individual golfers may find different results, so use these numbers as a guideline rather than a rule. 

The Short Backswing

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.49.07 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.49.17 AM

  1. Some of the best short-backswing players on Tour that you should watch on YouTube are John Cook, Liselotte Neumann and Jeff Sluman.
  2. With the driver, it’s easy to get too quick in your transition with a short backswing; thus, you must “wait” for it at the top.
  3. You must keep the right arm wide at the top for maximum swing width because when swinging this short you need to maximize your sources of power.
  4. Players with this type of swing need to have aggressive lower body transitions to “whip” the club through impact. Slow hip players need more swing length for necessary power.
  5. Make sure you stay “behind the ball” during your transition to help you hit up on the ball. If you move into the ball too much from here, you’ll chop down on it through impact.
  6. The club appears “laid off,” but in relation to a line drawn through the shoulder turn it is perpendicular — a perfect position.

The Normal Backswing

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.50.11 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.50.22 AM

  1. Some of the best normal-backswing players on Tour you can view on YouTube are Greg Norman, Steve Elkington and Jason Day.
  2. A club in the “normal” position has reached about parallel to the ground and you can see that the shoulders have turned around 90 degrees.
  3. As the upper body turns, you must make sure that your foundation is solid or “receiving” the turn. Your weight should stay on the inside of your right foot at the top.
  4. The left shoulder will be a touch behind the ball in this position, allowing a fuller turn to the top. More distance should result.
  5. Based on the flexibility of the golfer, you might see a slight softening of the left arm at the top. There is a difference between soft and loose at the top — soft is good, loose is not.
  6. Be mindful of your clubface position at the top. Your left wrist position and how you grip the club will control whether the club face is open, square or closed at the top.

The Long Backswing

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.50.35 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.50.45 AM

  1. Some of the best long-backswing players on Tour you should watch on YouTube are John Daly, Phil Mickelson and Tom Watson in his younger years.
  2. A longer backswing position requires a shoulder turn that is past 90 degrees and the lower body action accommodates that with a free turn to the top.
  3. You might see a left foot that comes off the ground with this player, a straightening right knee to the top and/or weight that moves slightly to the outside of the right foot.
  4. Be careful not to allow your arms to “droop” at this point in the swing. The right arm is still as wide as you can make it within reason.
  5. If you sway off the ball to any great degree with this longer swing, you will find it very hard to get back “to” the golf ball through impact.
  6. When the swing is this long, the club tends to move slightly across the line at the top due to the right arm leaving the body.
  7. Longer swings make it a touch easier to come over the top due to the more upright arm position.

Conclusion

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  1. Look at the dispersion circles and you will see that the shorter backswing produced the tightest pattern.
  2. Except for one ball each, the normal and the long swing had about the same pattern, but the CARRY distances were quite different.
  3. The only issue I had with the longer swing was the inefficiency of contact due to it not being my normal motion, but the results weren’t too bad.

Clubhead Speeds

Short: 99.8 mph
Normal: 103.8 mph
Long: 107.7 mph

Ball Speeds

Short: 148.9 yards
Normal: 154.9 yards
Long: 157 yards

Carry

Short: 231.5 yards
Normal: 248.6 yards
Long: 256.8 yards

Total

Short: 261.3 yards
Normal: 273.2 yards
Long: 279.2 yards
*Trackman roll numbers replicate the conditions of PGA Tour fairways. 

Side

Short: 6.3 yards
Normal: 16.4 yards
Long: 20.1 yards

It’s up to you to choose a shorter swing that finds more fairways or a longer swing than can add more distance. I’d suggest you find YOUR middle swing of the three and you will have good distance and quality accuracy in the end.

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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

39 Comments

39 Comments

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  2. Jeff

    Jan 15, 2015 at 12:25 am

    Your pictures are incorrect it seems. In the normal swing your shots are between 260-280. Carry 267 Total 287. However in your conclusion you say the normal shots are around 248. Check your pictures again as it seems for you a normal swing is much much better than the others. Just looking out…

  3. Tom Stickney

    Jan 14, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    Great thoughts bob.

  4. Bob

    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:26 am

    When you pound a nail with a hammer, you take the hammer back only so far. Farther than that, you subconsciously lose the feel for being sure the hammer will strike the nail accurately, or at all. It’s the same with a golf club. There’s a point in the backswing beyond which you subconsciously lose the connection between the clubface and the golf ball. Then you’re left with trying to find the ball again on the way down. Feeling that point of farthest connection is how you determine the length of your backswing. It’s a slightly different length for every club and every shot, but it’s a consistent feeling. Become sensitive to it and you never go wrong.

  5. other paul

    Jan 13, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Good article Tom. I think you should take some of your own advice from one of your earlier articles (unless you did already…). You said that if people want to swing faster they should take Jaacob Boudens (I think i spelled his name wrong, oops) swing speed program. I am working on it for about two weeks and have gained 11 yards (260->271 average, longest 280->290). Then you would be as fast a swinger as all the other wrxers ????

  6. Tom Stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    Super- thx

  7. Tom Stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    Christian– check out dan pohl from the tour in the 80’s

  8. christian

    Jan 13, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    I hit it further than anybody I know or play with, but I have a really short backswing, much shorter than even the one you demonstrate here. Are there any real long hitters with short backswings? Like on the Long Drive tour?

    • Daniel

      Jan 14, 2015 at 9:36 am

      JB Holmes has a very short backswing and is one of the longest on PGA Tour

    • Josh

      Jan 14, 2015 at 9:50 am

      JP Holmes?

    • Shane

      Mar 12, 2015 at 11:53 am

      Look for YouTube videos of Alvaro Quiros. He’s a prime example of exemplary technique in a tall man who has a very short swing and highly aggressive hip turn. You will also notice the balance and poise throughout his swing which is essential regardless of swing length. Hope this helps 🙂

  9. Supermangolf

    Jan 13, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Loved this article, I have been struggling a lot with the length and tempo of my back swing as it has gotten Very quick and short. Accuracy has been good but the drop in distance has hurt my game more than the added benefit.

    Any drills you can think of to length my swing just a little bit; when I try to consciously do it, I feel like when I push past my current point I spin out and get out of rhythm.

  10. Chip

    Jan 13, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Great article. I find that when my swing gets too long that my shoulders don’t turn anymore than usual. My arms get disconnected and inefficient. Therefore, when I make what I feel like is a 1/2 swing, it is actually a normal length backswing and I don’t lose any ball speed, trajectory gets lower, plus I am more consistent.

  11. tom stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Chris and Ca…yes for most people, but as little as I play I prefer a touch more control

    • Chris

      Jan 13, 2015 at 10:09 pm

      Perfect…thanks for the reply! Great article!

  12. tom stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks marty

  13. tom stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Snow– of course they do

  14. tom stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Not– The Tour Average speed is 113…I think I am doing fine based on the small amount that I play

  15. tom stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    SMRT– If you looked deeper at my article you might understand more than what you gleaned from your initial two minutes…

  16. tom stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Farmer- You’ll have to work hard as you get older so that it does not get too short

  17. tom stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Keith–

    thanks

  18. tom stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Robert– you must do what works best for you for sure!

  19. tom stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Kevin– It is the same

  20. tom stickney

    Jan 13, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    Chris– I would unless the dispersion is too wide

  21. Kevin Park

    Jan 13, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    how come the initial data presented for a normal swing does not match the data in the summary chart?

  22. Robert

    Jan 13, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    It’s also harder to make solid contact more consistently when taking the club further back. So you have to take that into account. I found that taking the club back shorter, but getting a tighter torque in my legs and hips ended up producing the same distance with a tighter dispersion and I hit is solid more consistently. However, one of the reasons this is happening is with this swing there is a slight delofting of the club at impact. So it’s a lower ballflight swing, same distance, more consistency. Works for me.

  23. Keith

    Jan 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Very helpful, thank you!

  24. farmer

    Jan 13, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    I used to have a pretty long backswing. Age and some physical problems have made it a short backswing. If I had always been short, where would I be now?

  25. SMRT

    Jan 13, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    So lengthen your back swing until you start spraying it… Too bad I can’t get the last two minutes of my life back.

  26. not impressed

    Jan 13, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Are those your actual driver figures Tom? Seems to me a big man like yourself who is so knowledgeable about the golf swing would be able to find some more club head speed.

    • snowman

      Jan 13, 2015 at 3:13 pm

      yes Tom, don’t you know everyone on Golfwrx swings the Driver 120mph with an average carry of 350 yards?

  27. MartyMoose

    Jan 13, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Good timing on this. I actually just shortened my backswing. It feels like a 3/4 swing now but I believe it is closer to a full swing as my swing was probably 5/4 before. I’m swinging smoother now, better contact, better trajectory and adding about 5 yards of distance to each iron. Shoulders should dictate backswing length.

  28. Alex

    Jan 13, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Just a small typo in the data provided. The speeds should be listed as MPH, not yards 🙂

    Otherwise, nice article!

  29. Chris Nickel

    Jan 13, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Question…so if you’re getting basically the same dispersion in the normal and long swings…but greater carry in the long one, why wouldn’t you advocate for that??

    • ca1879

      Jan 13, 2015 at 12:10 pm

      My thought exactly. The distance gain was easily worth the slight increase in dispersion.

      • GMR

        Jan 15, 2015 at 3:49 am

        Particularly since you can always club down to tighten the dispersion when you are hitting the ball 20 yards further…

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Instruction

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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