One of the most powerful and athletic looking positions is at the top of the swing, right before the downswing begins. There’s enormous potential and energy all coiled up, ready to explode into a beautiful golf shot.
That is, if a player reaches the top of the swing in the correct position. If you struggle to hit the ball far, solid, or both, then chances are good that the top of your swing lacks the stability and power required to hit a great golf shot.
In this article, I’m going to walk through what a golf swing ought to look like at the top of the backswing, some common mistakes that amateurs make, and how to fix them.
If you put a little work in to this part of your golf swing, you’ll soon notice that the rest of your swing comes more naturally.
Proper Positions At The Top Of The Swing
First, it’s important to accurately explain all the parts that make the top of a golf swing work. There are four main components that need to be addressed
- length of backswing
- club/shaft direction
- hand position
- arm position
Let’s take a look:
The Correct Backswing Length
The backswing length is something that comes in to play at the top of the swing. When we talk about the top of the swing, we’re really talking about the moment right before the downswing begins.
It’s the very end of the backswing where the club and hands are above a player’s head. So, when should a backswing stop?
The answer to that question is not always universal; it might be different for different players. John Daly and Jon Rahm have very different looks at the top of their swing, but they both get the job done.
That being said, there is a general rule that most people can subscribe to that will work. That rule, the backswing ought to stop when the shaft of the club is parallel to the ground.
The reason for this, is that it tends to be the perfect moment where you can both create enough club head speed while still maintaining your balance. Once you start losing speed or balance, you’ve gone too far or too short. The key is to maximize both.
The Proper Club Direction at the Top
Next, it’s important to pay attention to the direction of the club at the top of the golf swing. If your golf club were an arrow, the direction of the club refers to where the arrow head is pointing.
There are really three main options if your club is parallel to the ground at the top,
- left of the target,
- right of the target,
- and directly at the target.
Ideally, you want the golf club to be pointing directly at your target at the top of your golf swing. This allows you to uncoil your swing with the fewest moving parts and keep the swing on plane and on line the entire way.
Correct Hand Position at the Top
The third component of the top of the golf swing is your hand position at the top of your swing. When we talk about the position of your hands, there are a lot of little elements that can muddy the waters and make things super confusing.
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to make it really simple, so that you can focus on the most important elements of the hands.
Basically, in order to give yourself the best chance of hitting the ball straight, you need to make sure the back of your front hand is parallel to your club face. (This assumes that you are using a neutral grip.)
This shows that your club face is straight and will make square impact with the ball at the bottom of your swing. Like I said earlier, a correct position at the top of your swing makes it so much easier for the rest of your swing to work properly.
Since this is difficult to check on your own in the middle of your swing, make sure you take a “down-the-line” video that can be paused at the top of your swing. That’s where you’ll notice if your club face is square.
Arm Position at the Top
Finally, your arm position is the final important element of the top of your golf swing. Each arm has a correct position, but they are nearly opposite in how they are described.
The front arm (left arm for a right-handed player), ought to stay relatively straight. You’ve probably heard teachers and playing partners mention this before; keep your arm straight.
That’s true, but sometimes deceiving. The arm ought to be straight, but not locked. A little bend in the arm isn’t a bad thing. It starts to get bad when you bend it so much that it creates an addition hinge, or movement, in your golf swing that isn’t providing any power.
Unlike your front arm, your back arm (right arm for a right-handed player) ought to be bent at the top of your swing. Not only should it be bent, but it should also be kept close to your side. You can check this fairly easily by looking at where the elbow points. If it points straight down towards the ground, your arm is in the correct position.
Common Mistakes at the Top of the Swing
There are a lot of common mistakes that amateur golfers make when it comes to these four top of the swing elements. In this section, we’ll look at the main five.
1. Backswing Too Long
The first common mistake is that a player takes a backswing that is too long. This is often the error because most amateurs want to hit the ball farther. A longer backswing will definitely help hit the ball farther, but only if solid contact is made.
Unfortunately, when we have a longer backswing that goes past parallel, it makes it significantly more difficult to make solid contact. It throws off your balance and timing, making it not worth the risk. So, resist the temptation of swinging longer to hit the ball longer.
Often times, this is a difficult one to notice too because the club tends to travel farther in the backswing than people think.
2. Club pointing Left or Right
Next, a common mistake is that, at the top of the golf swing, golfers will let the shaft point either left or right of the target. Again, one reason this happens is the desire to add distance, but the same thing happens with this error as with a long backswing; you’ll lose balance and timing.
It creates too many moving parts and is too difficult for most amateur golfers to execute consistently.
3. Back Of Hand Not Lined Up With Face
Third, a lot of amateurs fail to create a positon at the top of the swing where the club face is square to the back of the front hand.
Failure to square up the club face comes from an inability to address the ball straight and maintain proper angles in the swing.
Using the correct wrist action in the golf swing is critical to hitting the ball straight. It’s pretty simple, a face that isn’t square will not hit the ball straight.
4. Front Arm Bent
After that, the next common mistake is that a lot of amateurs will bend the front arm too much. Once again, this comes from a desire to gain more distance. Instead, the result is that a golfer will not be able to create enough club head speed or make solid contact.
A straight front arm is not a natural position, so it’s understandable that this is a common mistake. If you watch or play baseball, the baseball swing doesn’t require this movement. In fact, baseball encourages the opposite, but don’t let that influence your golf swing.
5. Back Elbow Raised:
Finally, the last common mistake, is that golfers will raise the back elbow, creating a “chicken wing” look. Again, this is something that baseball players do, but golfers should not.
Keeping the back elbow close to the body and pointing down isn’t a natural position either. Resist the temptation to lift the back elbow up and away from the body.
Drills to Improve your Swing at the Top
The good news is that these common mistakes can be corrected with a few simple drills. If you work on these four drills, you’ll quickly retrain your muscles to create the correct top of the swing position. Since the top of the golf swing is difficult to see on your own, you’ll benefit a lot from taking video of your golf swing.
Drill 1: Swing Video Face-On For Backswing Length
- First, take a video of your golf swing from the face-on position.
- When you watch the video, pause the video when you get to the top of your swing.
- Draw a line on the ground and over the shaft of your club. Those two lines ought to be parallel, or the grip side pointing slightly more down.
- If your golf swing is too long, the fix is fairly simple. Continue taking videos of your swing, but over-exaggerate a short swing.
You’ll notice that you take the club back a lot longer than you think. If you try to stop your backswing with the club pointing straight up in the air, chances are good that you’ll actually have a backswing that stops at parallel.
Drill 2: Mirror & Swing Video down-the-line for club shaft direction:
- Next, take a down-the-line video. In this video, you can check a number of positions that are helpful.
- Pause the video at the top of the swing.
- Look at the club head. It ought to be difficult to see because your hands block it out.
Or if video is not handy, use a tall, full-length mirror to check your swing.
- Move around your club and hands at the top of your swing, while looking in the mirror, until you find the position where the club is pointing straight down the target line.
- Repeat this over and over again until you commit that position to your muscle memory.
Drill 3: Glove under back armpit to keep back elbow down:
The third drill you can practice will give a little bit more immediate feedback.
- Take a glove or small towel and pinch it under your back (right for a right-handed player) armpit.
- Take a full swing and see if it falls out of your armpit.
- If it falls, that indicates that your back arm lifts too much in your backswing.
Hit balls with the towel/glove under your armpit until you get complete a backswing without it falling.
Drill 4: Slow-Swing, Limit Backswing And Keeps Front Arm Straight:
Finally, the slow-swing drill. This is one of my favorite simple drills for a number of reasons. Basically, it allows you to think about each part of your swing and self-analyze why you do what you do.
- In this case, you’re going to focus on your front arm and keeping it straight.
- You’ll also work on tucking that same shoulder under your chin.
- Stop your swing at halfway in your backswing and hit balls slowly.
This will get you more comfortable with keeping your front arm straight and realize that it doesn’t need to be bent to generate distance.
The Bottom Line
The top of the backswing represents incredible potential. On one hand, getting it right at the top almost ensures good contact. While on the other hand, getting it wrong at the top almost ensure the remainder of the golf swing sequence will be ruined.
If you are able to implement the four components above and use the drills to fix a poor position, then you will see your golf potential realized more and more each time you step on the golf course.