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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

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 Wedge Guy: Short game tempo

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One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.

Why?

If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots

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You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?

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As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.

  

  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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