The backswing can be one of those things that is difficult to change, understand, and sense. When you’re swinging, you can’t see what’s going on behind your head at the top of your backswing, so you have to rely on feel to make sure you’re in the right position.
You can have every intention of stopping your swing at a certain point, but once you get into the moment, chances are good that it’ll be different because of your swing’s momentum, adrenaline, or just thinking about other things.
The top of the backswing is one of those moments that’s a little more important than other positions. If you can get to the right position at the top of your backswing, then chances are significantly better that you’ll hit a good shot. A big part of the backswing is length.
Backswing length can be both a good thing and a bad thing. There are professionals on tour who have a really long backswing, meaning the club travels past parallel at the top, and are successful.
There are pros who have a short backswing, meaning the club stops before the parallel position at the top, and there are pros who stop at parallel. All can, and are, successful at hitting great golf shots.
Basically, there is not universal answer to how long a backswing ought to be. Some players can handle a longer backswing, while others can’t.
That being said, in general, most amateur golfers over-swing in their backswing, especially with their driver. This means they let their backswing get longer than they can handle. So, shortening of the backswing is needed to improve their overall game.
What it means to Shorten Your Backswing
Shortening your backswing means that you reduce the distance your hands, arms, wrists, and club travel before transitioning to the downswing. You might be changing from:
- a long backswing to a normal backswing
- a normal backswing to a short backswing
- or a short backswing to and even shorter backswing
All are options that you might consider for a variety of reasons.
You’ve probably heard golf professionals and instructors talk about shortening the backswing. There are a couple possible reasons you’d want to do that, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
Why would you want a Short Backswing in Golf?
There are five main reasons you would want to shorten your backswing;
Let’s take a look at each of those, what they mean, and why you’d want to shorten your backswing.
First, you may want to shorten your backswing if you struggle with golf shot control. What I mean by this is that you often want to hit a specific type of shot, normally a draw, but fail to execute it. This could be because your backswing is too long and the club head lags too far behind.
A lot of amateur golfers who slice the ball could really benefit from a shorten swing because it allows the club head to catch up to the rest of the body.
The length of a backswing can have a lot of impact on how the club face comes in to contact with the golf ball.
If your backswing is too long, then there’s more time for the club face and path to drift away from ideal, resulting in a shot you didn’t want. The reason for this is that it throws off your timing.
Next, shortening your backswing will improve your timing. What I mean by timing is that your muscles will, hopefully, work in sync better if you shorten your backswing a little bit.
A lot of times when the backswing gets too long, a golfer will have some of their muscles (usually their lower body) transitioning into the downswing before the other set of muscles (usually the upper body) finishes the backswing.
Having these two groups of muscles working against each other can lead to a lot of different golf shot problems, one of them being consistency.
So, the third reason to shorten your backswing is if you struggle with consistency.
Like I said above, since your upper and lower body are working against each other, you’ll often hit a lot of shots thin or fat. This is because your lower body weight is either too far ahead or behind your upper body weight, resulting in poor impact at the bottom of the golf swing.
The next reason you may want to shorten your backswing is to improve your overall shot accuracy.
The truth is, the length of your backswing has a huge impact on the distance of the shot (though it’s not the only factor).
The longer you try to hit the ball, the higher the chance of hitting the ball off-line. So, if you miss a lot of fairways and greens, you may consider shortening your backswing in order to improve your accuracy.
Most amateur golfers want to hit the ball far. It’s fun to hit a long shot, but you’ll improve your scores more by hitting more accurate shots and giving up a little distance.
Finally, a shorter backswing will also give you better balance.
Balance is one of those things in the golf swing that happens when all other things go right. So, to improve your balance means that you’ve kept your swing under control and made a fundamentally sound swing, which ought to be the goal.
There are very few golfers on tour who consistently hit great shots when they are off-balanced (with the exception of Bubba Watson, but he’s an anomaly).
How to Shorten Your Backswing
Shortening your backswing is, admittedly, easier said than done. Like I said in the opening, the backswing is one of those things you can’t see and, therefore, you have to go a little bit by feel.
Here’s the deal, most amateur golfers think they are stopping their backswing a lot earlier than they actually are.
If you think you’re stopping at parallel, chances are good that you’re going past parallel. Most people don’t have the bodily awareness to do that on their own. It takes a lot of practice and muscle memory to stop exactly where you want to.
In general, there are two things that cause a backswing to get too long:
- Too much Arm Bend
- Too much Wrist Cock
If you think of the top of the golf swing, your arms can stop at the correct point, but club still travel too far if the wrists bend too much. The reverse is also true, if the wrists bend correctly, but the arms travel way too far, this can also be a backswing that’s too long. The two can also be combined to result in a long swing.
In order to shorten your backswing effectively, you need to have a starting point. And that starts with analyzing your swing on video.
So, let’s start by taking a video of your golf swing (ideally slow-motion), from the face-on position, so you can see where your backswing actually stops.
I think you’ll notice you go farther than you thought. Notice what your tendency is, either too much wrist cock, too much arm bend, or both. Then, set a goal.
Maybe you want to stop at parallel, maybe before parallel. Whatever it is, draw a line on that original video of your golf swing, so you know. Remember, a shorter swing will result in a straighter shot (among other benefits).
As you do this, focus on keeping your front elbow (left elbow for a right-handed player) as straight as possible and push it up and away from your body. If your elbows bend too much, it results in over-swinging the golf club.
Check out Tony Finau’s golf swing for a guy who swings short, but hits the ball far by pushing his front arm up and away from his body through the backswing.
The other thing you’ll want to focus on is limiting your wrist cock at the top. A lot of amateur golfers implement too much wrist cock in order to gain distance, but you can still hit a really quality golf shot with little wrist-bend; see Steve Stricker’s golf swing.
Drills to Shorten Your Backswing
Now that we’ve discussed the what, why, and how of shortening your golf backswing, let’s dig in to some drills you can practice to make it stick.
Start Slow Drill
- Start hitting golf balls really short, like chip-shot short
- Hit some chip shots
- Then pitch shots
- Slowly work your back swing longer and longer
Too often, amateur golfers will start with their long swing, and just try to ease back a little bit. That’s really tough to do accurately, effectively, and consistently. Instead, start really short and slowly get longer with each shot.
You’ll notice a point where your swing feels really short, but the ball still flies a good distance. Ask yourself at each backswing location if you’re content with that distance in order to have that level of accuracy.
Once you move to the golf course, be sure to take a little extra club than you’re used to. There’s nothing wrong with hitting an extra club or two into a green as long as you hit the green consistently.
Wall Swing Drill
The next drill is one that can be done without actually hitting any golf balls.
- Find a place where you can take your golf stance against a wall.
- The outside of your front foot (left foot for a right-handed golfer) should be right up against the wall.
- Then, take some practice backswings.
- If your club head hits the wall at the top of the backswing, then you’ve gone too far.
This will force you to stop short of parallel at the top of your golf swing. Regardless of how far you actually want to take your golf swing, this will help to shorten it because you’ll get used to stopping so early.
Alignment Stick Drill
- Take an alignment stick and shove it through the hole in the butt of your grip.
- If you don’t want to make a hole in your golf grip, then I’d recommend finding an old club you don’t use because it will create a larger hole in the grip.
- Make sure the alignment stick extends out of the butt of your club a couple feet.
- At address, this stick will extend past your front side.
- Take your backswing slowly and stop where you’re hoping to complete your backswing.
- Make sure you can still see the alignment sticking out of your club in your peripheral vision.
You may need to adjust how far the alignment stick goes into the grip, but the goal is to make it the right distance, so that you lose sight of the alignment stick when your backswing has gone too far. Use this as an indicator during some practice golf swings.
So, if you need to shorten your golf swing to improve accuracy, consistency, and control, while also improving your balance and overall timing, try these tips.
Over-swinging the golf club is an epidemic among amateur golfers, don’t let it ruin your game as well. It may seem a little complicated, but don’t let a lack of vision deter you from tackling this swing issue.
There are definitely ways you can see your backswing better (video) and create the correct muscle memory. We all want more accuracy and consistency, so shorten your backswing and see your golf game transformed.