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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 ([email protected]) 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 [email protected]

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

Fixing the shanks: How to stop shanking the golf ball (GolfWRX Explains)

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May you never be concerned about fixing the shanks! But if you’re begging the golf gods for guidance how to stop shanking the golf ball? Ready to offer up your first-born child for the wisdom how to stop shanking irons? Frantically asking Google how to never shank a golf ball again?

Fear not. We’ll get to drills to stop shanking irons shortly that are guaranteed to ingrain the proper feel and anti-shank action, but first, a brief discussion of what exactly a shank is (other than will-to-live crushing).

More often than not, a shank occurs when a player’s weight gets too far onto the toes, causing a lean forward. Instead of the center of the clubface striking the ball—as you intended at address—the hosel makes contact with your Titleist, and—cover your ears and guard your soul—a shank occurs.

How to stop shanking the golf ball

If you’ve ever experienced the dreaded hosel rocket departing your club at a 90-degree angle, you know how quickly confidence can evaporate and terror can set in.

Fortunately, the shanks are curable and largely preventable ailment. While there are drills to fix your fault you once the malady has taken hold, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

How to stop shanking the golf ball

If you’re trying to understand how to stop shanking the golf ball, you need to understand where the ball makes contact with the club during a shank.

Fixing the shanks

To avoid shanking the golf ball, it’s important to lock in on some keys…

  • Have a proper setup and posture…Athletic posture, arms hang down, neither too bent over nor too upright, weight on the balls of the feet.
  • Keep your grip light and arms tension free…If 10 is a death grip of golf club and 1 is the club falling out of your hand, aim for a grip in the 4-6 range. Make sure your forearms aren’t clenched.
  • Maintain proper balance throughout the swing…50/50 weight to start (front foot/back foot). 60/40 at the top of the backswing. 90/10 at impact.
  • Avoid an excessively out-to-in or in-to-out swing path…Take the club straight back to start, rather than excessively inside (closer to the body) or outside (further away from the body).

The best drill to stop shanking the golf ball

Set up properly (as discussed above), flex your toes upward as you begin your swing and keep your chest high (maintain your spine angle) throughout the swing.

Other than those focal points, keep your brain free of any additional chatter, which only exacerbates shankitis.

(For more advice, be sure to check out what our friends at Me and My Golf have to say below)

Now you know how to stop shanking the golf ball and have the tools to never shank the golf ball again.

Praise the golf gods!

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Cameron Smith’s 3-month Covid-19 training block

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Whilst Covid-19 has presented countless grave health and economic challenges to the world’s population, it has also provided opportunity for many people to focus their attention on projects that they normally wouldn’t have time for.

Turns out PGA Tour players are no different, and in the case of Cameron Smith, we used the enforced break from competitive golf to undertake a very rare, uninterrupted 3 month block of strength training.

Cam plays 25-30 events a year spread across 4 continents and this presents a number of challenges to overcome from a training and programming perspective:

– Varying facilities

– Travel fatigue and jet lag

– Concerns around muscle soreness affecting ability to perform on course

– Physical and mental cost of competing

When combined, these challenges can often render even the most carefully planned training programs redundant. So whilst many golf fans were coming to terms with a prolonged absence of PGA Tour events, I was getting stuck into designing programs that would hopefully elicit the following outcomes for Cam:

– More muscle mass

– More strength

– More power

In a normal season, I’m hesitant to prescribe programs that focus on muscle gain, because the nature of the training volume tends to tighten Cam up (reduce his range of motion), reduce his club-head speed and elicit a lot of muscle soreness…..not an ideal combination for short term performance! But I knew in this case, we could get stuck into some higher volume work because we would have plenty of time to recover from any lost mobility, reduced speed and increased soreness before tournaments started again.

 

Mid March – Program 1 – General Hypertrophy Focus

We decided with the global virus outlook looking dire and the PGA Tour promising to deliver a 30 day notice before resumption of play, we should focus on hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) until the 30 day notice period was delivered. At that point we would switch to a more familiar power based program in preparation for tournaments starting up again.

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 3 sessions per week

– 1 x lower focus (legs, glutes, core)

– 1 x push focus (chest, shoulders, triceps, core)

– 1 x pull focus (back, biceps, core)

– Gradually increasing volume over 4 weeks (more reps and sets to failure)

Training Variables:

Sets: 3 to 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Tempo: 2-0-2 (2 seconds up, no pause, 2 seconds down)

Weight: around 70% of maximum

Rest: 60 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Lower Body Focus (legs, glutes, core):

 

Example Exercises:

 

Mid April – Program 2 – Lower Body Hypertrophy Focus

As Cam was about to finish up his first hypertrophy program, there was a fairly clear indication that there would be no play until mid June at the earliest. Knowing that we had 2 more months of training, we decided to continue with another hypertrophy block. This time increasing the focus on the lower body by breaking down the leg work into 2 seperate sessions and ramping up the training volume.

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 4 sessions per week

– 2 x lower body focus (1 x quad focused workout and 1 x hamstring / glute focused workout)

– 1 x push focus (chest, shoulders, triceps, core)

– 1 x pull focus (back, biceps, core)

– Gradually increasing volume over 4 weeks (more reps and sets)

Training Variables:

Sets: 3 to 4

Reps: 8 to 12

Tempo: 2-0-2 (2 seconds up, no pause, 2 seconds down)

Weight: around 70% of maximum

Rest: 60 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Pull Focus (back, biceps, core):

 

Example Exercises:

Mid May – Program 3 – Power Focus

Once we received confirmation that play would be resuming 11th June at Colonial, we made the call to switch to a power focused program. Moving back to 3 days per week, lowering the volume and increasing the intensity (more weight and more speed in the main lifts).

The idea is to get the body used to moving fast again, reduce muscle soreness to allow better quality golf practice, and supplement the with more mobility work to re-gain any lost range of motion.

We also added some extra grip work because Cam discovered that with the muscle and strength gain, plus lifting increased weight, his grip was failing on key lifts…..not such a bad problem to have!

Program Breakdown:

– 4 weeks

– 3 sessions per week

– 1 x lower body focus (legs, glutes, core, grip)

– 1 x upper body focus (chest, back, biceps, triceps, core, grip)

– 1 x combined focus (legs, glutes, shoulders, core, grip)

– Volume remains constant (same sets and reps), aiming to increase intensity (either weight or speed) over the 4 weeks.

Training Variables:

Sets: 4 to 5

Reps: 3-5 for main exercises, 8-12 for accessory exercises.

Tempo: X-0-1 for main exercises (as fast as possible in up or effort phase, no pause, 1 second down). 2-0-2 for accessory exercises.

Weight: around 85% of maximum for main exercises, around 70% for accessory exercises.

Rest: 90 seconds, but this can vary when pairing exercises together in supersets or mini circuits

 

Example Workout – Combined (legs, glutes, core, shoulders, grip):

 

Example Exercises:

 

If you are interested in receiving some professional guidance for your training, then check out the services on offer from Nick at Golf Fit Pro

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Instruction

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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