How Far Back on the Backswing? Backswing Length

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    Ross Apr 20, 2016
    This was actually an answer to an email from a student asking about how far to take the club back on the backswing and what happens, but I thought I’d add it also to “The Backswing” section to help clarify.

    Hi Chris

    My thoughts on this could be a book. FYI, there has been quite a bit of discussion already on this in the forum & blog. In a nutshell… think about what “impact” needs to look like, and then work backwards.

    Impact, on a solid, square golf shot only looks one way. Now, there are many variations, that cause different results, but essentially… the shaft will be in line (maximizing the strength) of the front arm, being supported by the back wrist, with a square club face, at just the right point of the swing arc, and all that is being moved by the body’s rotation (the body is unwinding moving that arm/impact shape, around to the left for a right hander). So, how can we arrive into that position reliably, and repeatedly?

    Well, the less we move the better. We setup the shaft and hands like we need impact to be, and then only move Large Muscles, hoping to maintain the integrity of the impact shape… that means, the less hinging, and elbow bending and arm separating, and arm lifting (all the fun things the arms/hands/elbows instinctively like to do, to try to generate a “hit-at-it” action by impact), the easier it will be to return to that impact position we started with.

    Okay, that’s a mouthful, but what did we learn. The more we can return to impact with the shaft correct and the face square, the better!

    Senario: If you setup correctly, use your shoulders to move the arm template back 2’, then rotate through and not change a thing, you get x. A straight shot, that goes some distance. Now, we need more distance, so we go back a little farther with the shoulders controlling the arm template and get x+ … great. What this leads to is, eventually, your swing, as you make your backswing longer and longer (trying to go farther and farther), will start to break down as other body parts try to help… but, they don’t help, they just break down the impact shape we need… and then we hope magically that everything will realign by impact… not going to happen. PLUS, what good does hinging do, if we need a straight line with the front arm at impact?? Actually, it makes you FLIP instead, which changes the club face loft & direction and most likely cause you to miss the sweet spot.

    Sorry, wish it was a simple “do this” and you’d know what to practice, but you have to find where your swing breaks down on the backswing… then learn to maximize that spot just before. If that is 3/4 swing in your mind then play that! It really is about efficiency on the backswing, not length. When in doubt… shorten it until you get solid and straight.

    Oh, btw… if you think about hammering a nail… if you use your wrist, you get x… if you use the wrist to “hold a shape” instead, as the arm controls the hammer you get x+, then if you add the shoulders, to control the arm that controls, the wrist, to move the hammer, you get x++ … you get the idea.

    The most important benefit to learning to use the Larger Muscles is “control” and “repeatability”. This gives much more consistency with direction and centeredness of impact. We want to move the ball with our entire body mass accelerating, not just the mass of the club head flipping… or occasionally like most Pros, the club and the arms moving the ball, but almost never do you see any Pro using the entire body through impact on a full swing (yet…it’s coming). Some have learned to use the entire body rotating through impact for short controlled pitch shots vs. hands.


    larry May 10, 2016
    The topic of back swings and distance reminds me of playing golf with my friend Ed. Ed is 85. Twenty years ago his handicap varied between zero and three. Now its fourteen. We played last week. His back swing goes only a short way past his trailing sock. No drive goes over 180 yards, but in the center of the fairway. He hits lots of fairway woods or hybrids into the greens, almost all a short distance from the pin. His hands are still steady with a putter and never three putts. On the front nine he was even par through the eighth hole. A wayward second shot ended with a double bogey on nine. The back nine is a little tougher and he shoots 41 for a 79. I shoot 92.
    So, i am thinking, which is more important; distance or direction? I think accuracy combined with good course management can give some very good results. My next round may find me taking more club and playing with a shorter back swing.


    Ross May 11, 2016
    Great comment Larry. I’m pretty sure that most golfers have more fun and enjoy their round more when they hit it straight.

    What I really like about what you said (a shorter backswing), reminds me of myself, when I had to take my P.A.T* for the PGA. To pass, I had to shoot no worse than a pair of 75’s. I knew (at that time), if I could just keep my tee shot in play, I’d have no problems. BTW … this is before I discovered “square club face”, which later solved this concern. So, I decided to only use 3 wood (at most) off any tee, to eliminate the chance for a big miss, and also protect my attitude. I wanted to put about a 75-80% effort on the swing. Well, it worked. I ended up hitting 30 out of 36 greens and remember standing on the last hole with 9 extra shots to pass. I almost felt like I was “bunting” all my tee shots to get them as straight as I could vs. hit is as “far” as I could. It was like the tee shot had a specific distance I wanted to hit. If you were on a par 3 and needed your 8 iron distance, you would not try to hit it as far as you could. That is the effort I played with, all day … for control.

    I also like your (more club) idea. If you practice taking more club and learn to swing (completely**) at different paces and different backswing lengths, you can be very successful at golf. Don’t try this on the course util you’re sure of the results from prior practice.

    * The P.A.T. (Playing Ability Test), is one part of becoming a Class A PGA Professional. You have to play (2) rounds of golf in one day, playing with other professionals, and beat a “target score” determined by the difficulty of the course.

    ** It is easy to “chunk” or “block shots” when you take more club, because psychologically, you know you have too much club if you hit it good … so many gofers “quit” or “cut off” the finish. This can cause a “flip”… or the arms/club lag too far behind in a “protective” (I don’t want to hit too far) nature. You MUST complete your rotation! You can shorten the backswing, but have to turn through completely … OR, you can turn completely at a slower pace.

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