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Should you pause at the top of your backswing?

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I’ve been so busy teaching this winter that I haven’t had much time to send a few swing tips your way. As you know, most of my articles stem from the patterns I see over and over on the lesson tee. The day-to-day actions of the people I teach alert me to the fact that certain swing flaws are worthy of mentioning in a public forum.

I recently heard Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee talking about all the great players who have paused at the top of their swing. He named Bob Murphy, Jay Haas, Byron Nelson and a few others. Of course now we have Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama, who do this same thing. As a teacher of wide variety of skill sets, I think there could be a problem with this advice. For every player who has paused at the top of their swing, there are many more who do not.

Notice the (very) slight pause at the top of Tiger Woods’ backswing. 

Often, when I see someone attempting to do the pause move (in an effort generally to complete their backswing), they invariably move the upper body first and ruin the proper sequence. Matsuyama and others have a slight hesitation, but they drive their lower body first and are able to separate the torso from the pelvis to create power in the proper sequence.

There is no pause at the top of Sergio Garcia’s backswing. 

Great players have great sequencing. It’s part of what makes them great. They initiate the downswing from the ground up. This holds true for those who pause slightly, as well as those who do not. But for most golfers, a sequence of starting the lower body toward the target as the arms and club are still going back is a better option simply because they are less inclined to cast or come over it.

For those inclined to be too quick from the top, a practice drill featuring a slight pause might be well worth the effort, but it is generally not a good idea to try to incorporate it into the real swing. It very often has the reverse effect on what is being attempted, because trying to get the torso to stay behind the ball is more difficult while attempting to pause. The urge to move ahead of the ball is stronger when one tries to stop near the top. The golf swing is one continuous dynamic motion, and the more awareness we can create of the correct sequencing, the better off we are.

A good place to start might be on small pitch shots and little half wedges. For myself, I know I can feel this better in slow, small swings at first. Then I’ll work my way down the bag. This drill can be a bit disconcerting at first and it might take a little getting used to, but I have seen it help a lot of my students feel a better sequence.

If you’d like me to analyze your swing, go to my Facebook page or contact me (dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com) about my online swing analysis program.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Merkwin

    Mar 9, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Chamblee and Miller are two VERY different animals, with two very different resumés

  2. Al

    Mar 1, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Yes and no, identically to all other golf instruction. The only reason to subscribe to a golf magazine for 2 years is to read all that of last year is wrong.

  3. theo

    Feb 28, 2015 at 10:59 am

    A couple points I have issue with in the article (not trying to argue – just my take. Sad we have to make that disclaimer on WRX since it’s such a argumentative place).

    Sergio doesn’t have a pause. YET his PROBLEM when the pressure on is inevitably that he doesn’t finish his turn. Such as last week at Riviera when he started spraying his driver while out of sequence. So a pause would be of value to him thereby giving him a completed backswing. If he paused from the top on 17 and 18 he likely would have been playing from the fairway.

    Additionally, pausing at the top TYPICALLY causes the golfer to initiate the downswing from the bottom up. The reason is that from a stalled (paused) position, downswing transitional energy must be generated off of a resistant surface such as the feet on the stable ground. In my experience it’s the players who pause that are best with their ground up downswing. They typically have a Hideki move unless we are talking about a raw beginner.

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 28, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      You’re right Theo; it is sad you have to make that disclaimer but point well taken…As to the suggestions… Sergio’s snap hooks were the result of quitting with his pelvic rotation THROUGH THE BALL, not away. If he had gone back further (“finished his turn”) he would have come even more from the inside and hit even more of a hook. Her comes in to the golf ball on a lower plane than most anyone out there, and with a flatter shaft requiring a concerted effort to rotate HARD through the ball to slow his club down from closing. If I saw some huge high slices Id be inclined to suggest going further back. Under the gun, an aggressive turn through is always a better bet than a longer backswing simply because it misses right if anything. Thx for your comment

  4. Tanner

    Feb 28, 2015 at 7:53 am

    Dennis,

    Good article, besides the pause, my takeaway is the ground up sequence, why is this so difficult? I will try the shorter swings and push off with the right foot. Not sure why my bad swing is better for now. But, in the long haul, it is not. Does it take a year to commit to this transition? Tanner

  5. Dennis Clark

    Feb 27, 2015 at 8:11 am

    sure did…had a chance to play with Murph one time, he could golf his ball…

  6. Teedogg

    Feb 26, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    Murphy never tried to pause it at the top according to him he was trying to feel a full turn and a good left arm extension at the top. He did beat Jack and Arnie 40 years ago this week at the Honda (Gleason) so it worked for him.

  7. Joe Duffer

    Feb 26, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Years ago, Charles Barkley was told that a “Pause” at the top would be a good thing to incorporate into his THEN pretty good game (6 cap). It didn’t work well at all…

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 26, 2015 at 5:46 pm

      That’s a whole other story????. I gave him a lesson maybe 20 years ago and that hitch/yip was not there then. But he wasn’t a 6…

  8. dapadre

    Feb 26, 2015 at 10:36 am

    I think its all about PACE/TEMPO. I read somewhere that a analysis was carried out to see what all good ball strikers had in common, what they found out the 3-1 Tempo. Those that had a quick tempo ( no pause) or those that had a slower tempo, they all had 3-1 (3 counts up, 1 down). Maybe this could be the clue to whether you need a pause or not.

  9. tlmck

    Feb 26, 2015 at 2:49 am

    I have been pausing for 34 years now and always will.

    • Regis

      Feb 26, 2015 at 8:40 pm

      I think you can now start the downswing. You’ve paused long enough. Just kidding.

  10. A

    Feb 25, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    This is also Tiger’s problem. His teenage swing was so great because his focus was on the target, and getting the ball to bend and move exactly how he wanted it to. His current state is focused on positions and hitting the ball (recent interview). It’s why his game has fallen apart.
    .
    The reason he used to hit so many incredible shots out of crazy lies and situations, is because that was when he would hyper-focus on exactly what he wanted the ball to do, and just execute his creativity. Now he’s missing greens from 100 yards in the fairway and skulling wedges because he is committing this exact “death move” – focusing his mind on the ball.

    • Brian

      Feb 26, 2015 at 7:15 am

      why isn’t tiger reading this comment section? He would be back by now. 😉

  11. A

    Feb 25, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    “Pausing” doesn’t have to mean a full stop, freeze. What appears as a pause should actually be a check of being in the most balanced and powerful position to swing through to the target! The backswing achieves nothing but getting you into a position from which you create a powerful through swing.
    .
    As you said, good players have good sequencing. And if they sequence the same all the time, they will excel. Where as for a player that has inconsistent sequencing, when his swing is anything less than full power it falls apart. On partial swings, how do you sequence your through-swing if you are used to a rushed and jerky transition with strain in your full swing?
    .
    A “pause” is indicative of a player that has and regularly finds a balanced and powerful position at the top of the swing, and can find that position on 100%, 90%, 80%, … swings, and still complete the same sequenced swing to the finish. A “no-pause” player is not necessarily in a balanced and powerful position at the top of the swing (ie non-pros), and if that is true it can result in a lot of inconsistency in the through swing at different levels of effort. A lack of balance at the top of the swing is typical of an “aggressive transition” amateur, and eliminating that inconsistency by “pausing” (read: finding a balanced and powerful position from which to start the through swing to the target every time) can be helpful.

  12. simeon

    Feb 25, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    If I don’t pause I tend to take my backswing too far, lift my torso up and cup my lift wrist. Pausing for me is more like a deliberate end point for my backswing. I don’t know though.

  13. jerry

    Feb 25, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    I don’t know if i have a pause, but when i reach the top of my backswing, there is a feeling of no resistance on the club until after my weight begins to transfer and hips begin turn, which is then followed by the sequence of my downswing. if i don’t have this feeling, which i can only describe as almost no resistance at top of backswing (*if i think, and try to pause it just throws everything off), i feel like and have seen videos of myself and it does not allow me to drop club into proper “slot” as i guess it would be described, and then just feels abnormal. I don’t see a literal “pause” at top of my back swing, the best way to describe the feeling i get, and this may be a “pause” of sort, kind of a really really slow transition where i can let the club fall into place while my lower half is already beginning turn, and then continue with downswing. Maybe I’m slightly in between, i am not a teacher…just found this article interesting and maybe get a response on something to tinker with.

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 26, 2015 at 6:52 pm

      Jerry. I know exactly what you mean. It’s a feeling. I doubt that anything actually stops but the first motion down is a slight push off the rear foot allowing the arms to drop onto the “reentry” plane. Feeling it start a little before the completion of the backswing takes a little getting used to but can create a great sequence particularly if you tend to be an early releaser. Try it you’ll like it

  14. Dennis clark

    Feb 25, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    I get a lot of my very early releases and casters to try and start down a little earlier. Pausing is the death move for them

    • A

      Feb 25, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      It’s a death move only because their focus is on the ball, and not the target. If they pause, their brain has a moment to hesitate, they react and think “oh shoot, I better not miss the ball” and then proceed to try to shove the club at the ball in an effort to not miss it. You’re right, that is a death move!
      .
      Stop them from trying to hit the ball!! Instead: Swing to the target!!

  15. Dave S

    Feb 25, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    I think that pausing at the top only really works for flexible golfers. I’m about the least flexible person ever, so trying to emulate pros’ swings is problematic for me. I say the exaggerated pause at the top of Matsuyama’s swing and gave it a try. It didn’t work. My lack of flexibility caused me to have to either un-torque my lower half to allow the club to pause OR start the downswing with my arms instead of the lower body… neither are good.

  16. Dennis Clark

    Feb 25, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Also have to consider that the lower body starts laterally for upright swings and more rotary for flatter planes. Neither effects the sequencing however.

  17. Wayne

    Feb 25, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Dennis,

    For my swing, the pause at the top enables me to fire the hips before starting the downswing. It has really helped me from “coming over the top”. My natural tendency is not to pause but I’ve found that it promotes the sequence that allows me to drop the club in the slot. Pausing at the top has really improved my game.

    Cheers.

  18. Scott

    Feb 25, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Dennis,
    I agree with your analysis on the stop at the top. I have tried this before in a effort to slow my back swing down as well as develop more feel of where the club head was in the swing. It did not work. With your suggestions and observations, I may give this another shot.

  19. Stretch

    Feb 25, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    A second comment is the way both players drop their heads and create ground force to help launch the ball. Sergio does not extend his lead side as far upwards as Tiger does. Tiger’s shoulder goes above his head through the strike which looks to be why his back and knee are continuing to be an issue.

  20. Stretch

    Feb 25, 2015 at 11:54 am

    In looking at Sergio’s slo mo swing it is interesting to note that the club head being well inside the hands from down the line facilitates enough downward weight loading that helps the lower body start at the same time as the club drops down into the delivery slot. No pause really helps in windy conditions where a pause and a wind gust can create a clanker of a shot.

  21. K Staff

    Feb 25, 2015 at 11:36 am

    By definition a change in direction is considered a “pause,” correct? Certain players’ pause is more discernible than others.

    I don’t think players should strive to “stop” at the top, but rather not “hit” from the top and allow the lower body initiate the downswing sequence. Does that make sense?

  22. TJ Chester

    Feb 25, 2015 at 11:21 am

    CJ Bell…. HUH?? Aside from Miller being a bag of Hot Air, Chamblee and Kostis are the most knowledgeable announcers in golf and provide great insight. What makes you think GolfWRX is ‘the Source of Truth’? Have your own Opinion!!!

  23. Person

    Feb 25, 2015 at 11:21 am

    I pause at the top of my swing just so I can start my hip rotation early and to start my weight transfer from neutral to the ball of my front foot.

  24. Dennis Clark

    Feb 25, 2015 at 10:41 am

    so true CJ

  25. CJ Bell

    Feb 25, 2015 at 9:55 am

    How many real golf instructors and reputable websites like GolfWRX do we need to see including “Chamblee” and “problem” in the same article before the Golf Channel starts realizing how much he is hurting the game? If you want to remain misinformed then by all means keep your volume up during a telecast while Chamblee, Kostis, Faldo, Miller, etc. attempt to break down player mishits into something being a “fraction” (-Faldo) off on the 2D bizhub.

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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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Instruction

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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Instruction

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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