I hear this all the time,
“I keep over swinging the club”
“I can’t complete my backswing”
This stems from the fallacy that there is a perfect position to be in at the top of the golf swing. Usually, getting the club shaft to be parallel to the ground at the top is cited as the “optimal position”, but this is really just an arbitrary look that doesn’t really give us performance-relevance.
The reality is, there is more than one way to do it – just look at the following examples of pro’s who swing much longer than parallel.
And players on tour who swing the club short of parallel, below.
A general rule would have it that the longer you swing the club, the more potential you have for generating clubhead speed.
This definitely makes sense from a physics perspective – if a clubhead is accelerating over a longer distance, it will be moving faster by the time it reaches impact. This increases our distance, all else being equal. This is why we see long drive champions, like Jason Zuback, Jamie Sadlowski and Joe Miller, with their incredibly long backswings.
However, there are multiple variables we have to consider.
For example, what if (in an attempt to make the backswing longer) a player stretches their muscles in a way which causes them to enter a range of their motion where they are weak, and thus cannot produce as much power? This player might get a longer backswing and actually lose speed (or even risk injury).
Or, what if the player seeking extra backswing length now loses precision in how they apply the clubhead? They might transfer less of that clubhead speed to the ball, and even open up their dispersion.
It makes sense (and is generally the case) that a shorter backswing would provide more control, even if it costs us speed.
Just like when we are hammering a nail, we initially start out with a smaller tapping motion, before adding swing length to increase the hammer speed. However, if we lose control and hit our thumb, we quickly trade off speed for precision by going back to the smaller, more controlled swings.
However, it’s not always the case in golf – I have seen examples of players who take longer swings and become more precise in both the outcome and the ball-strike. It’s rare, but it does happen.
3 Different Types
So, for the most part, we are trading off the potential for more speed with a loss in strike quality and clubface orientation consistency (direction).
When testing players, I have seen 3 different types of results from changing swing length;
PLAYER 1- Loses everything
This player, when changing their swing length, creates the worst of both worlds.
Someone making a longer swing not only loses their ability to find the sweet spot, but they also present the clubface direction in a more inconsistent manner AND their swing speed doesn’t increase (or even decreases) because their body cannot make use of the extra swing length effectively.
The player who shortened their swing not only loses clubhead speed (which makes sense), but they don’t hit the sweet spot more often and/or present the face angle with less consistency.
Both of the above players are now shorter and more crooked.
PLAYER 2 -Gains everything
Ah, the holy grail – this player picks up clubhead speed AND strikes it better.
I have seen this with overly analytical players who are very mechanical and deliberate with their movements. Often, freeing them up to make more of a swish at the ball improves their speed and clubhead presentation.
I’ve even seen it with players who have crazy long swings with no control, and shortening their swing aids their strike AND direction, while having little effect on clubhead speed. Due to the improvement in strike quality, the player is now both more accurate and longer.
PLAYER 3 – The trade-off
This group of golfers have a big decision to make.
Players shortening their swings will often create better strike and direction consistency, but at the loss of some distance. Now, if you increase your greens/fairways hit by 30% and lose 5 yards, it’s a no-brainer decision – this is good for you. However, if you hit your target just 10% more often but lose 30 yards, it’s not worth it statistically.
Players lengthening their swings will often create more speed and more potential for distance, but at a loss of face strike and/or direction quality. If this player picks up 5mph but hits the ball shockingly poor, we likely wouldn’t continue with this approach. However, if a player adds 10+mph of speed, even with poor outcomes, it might be worth pursuing (as we can always re-calibrate the strike and direction later).
One thing that hasn’t been discussed here is “how” we create a shorter or longer swing. This would also have an effect on the positive or negative influence on the results.
For example, you could create a longer swing by
- Creating a bigger shoulder turn
- Completely collapsing the arms
- Moving the lead upper arm more across the chest (horizontal adduction)
- Adding vertical arm movement to the swing
- Creating a bigger hip turn/allowing the lead foot to come off the ground
- Adding more wrist hinge (radial deviation)
- Changing hip/spine extension
amongst other things. Each of the above would have a different effect on the golfer, their sequencing and other impact variables. If I asked 100 golfers to swing the club back farther, they would all use different combinations of 1-7.
What options would be best for a golfer (or worst) would depend on many variables – including what they currently do, physical limitations, equipment etc. This is why it would be best to see an experienced instructor who can guide you to the optimal approach for you based on their experience and what they see in you.
How would you lengthen the swing of this player?
My Own Experience
When I was younger, I used to swing the club so long that I could see the clubhead out of the corner of my eye at the top of the swing.
I tried for years to shorten that swing directly – mainly because I wanted to copy my idol, Tiger Woods. But I, unfortunately, got the worst of both worlds – shorter and more crooked.
After years of hard work, I gave up on caring about my swing length. I placed all of my focus on more performance relevant things – such as strike quality, face and path presentation etc. As a result, not only did I get better outcomes (which is inevitable if you improve impact), but my swing naturally shortened itself over time, as I got stronger and less flexible.
My backswing is now very close to parallel at the top of my swing, although it’s just a happy accident – not something I am consciously trying to achieve.
I think it’s fun to experiment with swing length every now and again, as you may find out something about your own game that surprises you. We can even test different swing lengths to see which ones produce the best outcomes for you.
But overall, I am generally of the philosophy that it shouldn’t be something to be overly concerned with. I also believe that, for the most part, your swing length will veer towards what is right for you and your unique mix of variables without much conscious effort. Just like a beginner understands that they have to tap the nail, and an advanced blacksmith can take a massive whack at it, our bodies are equipped to hone in on what helps us (over time).
There are always exceptions and outliers to the above situation.
What I Don’t Know
This article (disappointingly) is not going to be able to answer the question “how long should my backswing be”, as there are too many variables involved.
However, it should give you food for thought on the topic, and cause to go out and experiment a little.
What I DO Know
If you want to get better at golf, you absolutely 100% have to improve your impact – it’s physics!
This is why my premium programs are dedicated to either improving the impact variables that relate to the outcomes you desire.
For example, if you want to hit the ball more consistent distances and longer overall, then focusing on ground contact and face contact will help you achieve that.