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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

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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