Does a shorter backswing help your game?

15 Professionals Contributed |
Many golfers have heard that a shorter backswing can help improve their performance on the course, but the advantages of this technique and how to implement it effectively are not always clear. We asked several golf professionals for their advice on how to achieve a shorter backswing and if it really can help you lower your score.

Shorter is better for most

The keys to the length of the backswing are:

1. Getting the upper body turned as far as you can–the arms need to stop when the body stops.
2. The wrists are fully hinged–about 90′.
3. The trail arm is only bent about 45′.

To get a feeling of the turn controlling the length–turn a club upside down–grip the head end–make a backswing with the lead arm only, making sure to keep that arm fairly straight. When the rotation stops the lead arm stops. Then add the trail arm at the top to see what that looks and feels like.

The problem folks get into is they think they have to get the club parallel to the ground at the top–to do this they pull the club past where it should stop with the trail arm, causing it to bend way too much.
When this happens you lose width in the swing, the arms lose their connection with the body and timing is compromised.
Some folks have a short swing to being with and probably need to work on this to lengthen their swing. As they get older a short swing will get even shorter.

Look at John Rahm and Tony Finau for examples of players with a short swing–both are fully turned in the upper body but their trail arm is not bent much–this creates a TON of width and makes their swings look short.
Here’s a John Rahm swing–look at how the rotation moves the arms and club and how little his trail arm bends at the top.

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The ball never knows how far back you went!

There is no doubt that shorter Backswings can produce a solid ball strike for some people. Todays golfer is winding up so much in search of more distance they become erratic from violence.

Doug Sanders from yesteryear had a great career with a short backswing Tony Finau and John Rahm are todays example of a short but efficient powerful swing without going back to parallel. Speed in a short space can be as effective as speed produced in a longer space. ie. ice hockey players, baseball backswing with no pivot.

Here is a drill for finding out what’s best for you:

  • Go to knee high like a chip.
  • Then waste high with the arms.
  • Then shoulder high, 10 o’clock with club.

See how fast you can produce club speed from each position. One of them will work!


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Widen to Shorten

I rarely use the term “shorten” when it comes to the backswing. Often times this will lead a player into not completing their swing. Most of the great players of all time stressed the importance of completing their swing when under pressure. An incomplete swing usually results in poor rhythm which is the “glue” to a swinging motion. No matter who is swinging, if out of rhythm it’s a guess as to where the ball will go.

Most people who need a “shorter” swing actually have a breakdown in their structure which causes their swing to become too narrow. Although the swing looks “long” the club isn’t going to behave properly.

Usually the culprit is a lack of “extensor action” in the trail arm. The trail arm is one of the biggest keys to a sound backswing. The trail arm is directly responsible for maintaining the width of arc. Simply stated, try to keep your hands as far away from your head as possible. This is best achieved by applying pressure on your lead thumb by the palm of your trail hand. The pressure should be maintained throughout the motion. If someone has a width breakdown this correct action will probably feel as if their trail arm doesn’t fold going back. It actually will fold the right amount but the feel will be much different.

A great drill to feel extensor action is to put on a jacket or sweater without putting the lead arm in the sleeve. The sleeve will just hang limp or inert. Take the sleeve with your trail hand and stretch it until taught. This is extensor action. Notice how the trail arm is keeping the lead arm extended. Now make some slow backswing motions keeping the stretch in that sleeve. Feel this in your swing and you will be on your way!! Now at the top instead of your arms breaking down under the pressure of the swing they will hold rock solid and the momentum of the Clubhead will actually bend and load the shaft. It’s important to swing the club back as far as possible with solid extensor action. The swing will now “appear” shorter but it will be A LOT wider and potentially more powerful!

Rockville Links Club
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Age and Strength Matter with a Shortened Backswing

Everyone wants to bomb it like John Rahm with that short, aggressive backswing. Couple of words of caution before you try and employ that to your swing.

A younger, stronger and aggressive golfer still has the wrist, hand and forearm strength to set and square the club correctly. Timing, power and speed are key in this move.

Older, stiffer golfers get so short in their backswings that they then try to attack with hands only for speed leading to very inconsistent strikes. I tell all students that I don’t think your backswing will ever get too long. Short, quick and unbalanced is what I see with short backswings. If you can make it work fine but be careful about being too short. Good luck and find the swing that matches you with the help of a PGA Professional!!

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Improving your backswing improves 1/3 of your total ball striking skill foundation! 

The length of swing arc on the backswing is considered a preference. There is no such thing as a fundamental standard of backswing length. If a backswing is shorter and possesses a good turn, it can provide power and efficiency. Some examples of shorter backswings with good turns are: John Rahm, JB Holmes, Allen Doyle (past Champions Tour multiple winner) and  Steve Stricker.

A poor turn, and a long backswing would be highly inefficient and problematic. This is a common flaw of amateur golfers who are excessively wristy to a fault and break down at the elbow joint. This is what I refer to as a “loose backswing“ and loose backswings create loose golf shots. This can be easily rectified by performing some of my neuromuscular, patterning drills and exercises. By using our Handy speed/strength trainer, you cannot only improve your backswing, but your flexibility and Clubhead speed at the same time. Because you cannot see your backswing and rely on habit, the backswing can be very difficult to change. Attempting to change a backswing while hitting balls on a driving range can be extremely frustrating, costly and time-consuming.
Good swings and shots start with a good set up for the given shot, a good backswing for the given shot, and a good forward swing for the given shot. With this in mind, improving your backswing improves 1/3 of your total ball striking skill foundation!

Kirk Jones, president/CEO, Golf fundamentals, Inc.
Author of the Professional Golf Teachers Association of America Teaching manual and “Golf Fundamentals” series
Golf Channel Academy of Jacksonville with Kirk Jones
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Swing the Whole Club

Swinging only the clubhead may result in a long but narrow back swing. Swinging the whole club – clubhead, shaft and handle moving together creates a shorter but wider back swing.

Swing the Club!
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Shorter Backswing

This is probably a popular question right now because of the success Jon Rahm is having right now.

The biggest advantage I see with a shorter backswing is you can usually gain more control. I know Rahm is a big hitter, but he is more of an outlier, not the norm. Most of your big hitters get the club parallel to ground at the top of the backswing, or close to it. Rahm barely gets his left arm parallel to the ground. Generally the longer the clubhead has to travel through the air, the more time it has to pickup speed.

If you are looking to shorten your swing you will probably need some drills to do so.

I would suggest starting with hip to hip swings. The club does not get much higher than hip high. Once you feel comfortable with that then start making L to L swings. Your lead arm will get parallel to the ground on the backswing and shaft will be 90 degrees to lead arm, which creates the letter L. Create the Letter L on your follow through also.

From there start working on what feels like a 3/4 swing. Make sure you understand the difference between how your full swing feels and a 3/4 version of it. In the beginning you do not need to be hitting balls. Get in front of a mirror so you can see the positions, and then start putting a feel to those positions.

Flagler Golf Academy
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It depends

I do recommend a shorter swing to a lot of students while practicing! Due to a lack of Rotation and lat shortness, when a player lifts their arms the spine can reverse, they can lose posture, shoulder plane can flatten , etc, etc . So learning how to stay connected and how to get power from the ground while rotating is good for everyone’s game in my opinion! Trying to get good at a swing that relies mostly on timing takes a lot of swings and for joints that aren’t aligned anyway causes a lot of wear and tear on the body !

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Shorter backswing for more consistency

There is no doubt that longer swings and excess movement in the backswing can lead to diminishing returns. Here is a simple swing thought to help get your backswing in a better position at the top.
Simply put, stop your arms and clubhead when your shoulders stop moving.
Try hitting balls from a “static” or stopped position at the top of the backswing.

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Is Shorter Better

The question is, “Why?” What does one hope to gain with a shorter backswing? I’m not sure that the answer falls in the “short” versus “long” idea. When one shortens, or lengthens the backswing, my primary concern is, “What does that do to their timing?” We can make an analogy to casting a fly rod, or throwing a ball. There is a natural completion of the loading motion that cues the instincts to begin the forward motion. Golf is no different. The most repeatable tempo and timing occurs when one uses that natural load/release feel, regardless of “short” or “long”. Casting a fly line is a great way to improve that sense.

Moses Lake Golf Club
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Shorter Backswing

So why are we doing this? Is a golfers backswing looking a bit like John Daly and now we what to look like John Rahm? Most golfers look like John Daly because they are over flexing there Elbows so they look long on the backswing, but we also notice there hands to close to the SHOULDERs. So try this 2 things, 1st after you take your set-up lay the shaft on your back shoulder. Then you TURN, Lift and Push your hands away from your head. 2nd place an alignment rod under your back Armpit as you make your backswing it should help with your plane but shorten up backswing a bit.

Fox Hollow Golf Club
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Shorten The Backswing For Control

You may be losing control of your shot, left and right, too high and too low, because your backswing is too long. Here’s a tip. Relax your grip pressure and your shoulders. Take the golf club back slowly and stop in a shorter, three-quarter position at the top. Make sure that you have turned your shoulders, turned your hips and have loaded your weight on your right side, going back. Also, keep you are left arm straight. Remember: Don’t let the club go past parallel. Don’t let your left arm bend. Don’t improperly shift your weight! These are the things that cause errant shot dispersion. Keep your backswing under control and you’ll play better golf, with more precision! Enjoy!

The Country Club of Virginia
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Full turn!!

Too many golfers use the shaft position at top to determine the length of a backswing. The position the shaft gets to in backswing is determined by pivot (lower body), rotation (upper body) and arm extension and shoulder flexibility. Many players whose proper backswing leaves the shaft ‘short’ of parallel often make a fundamental mistake to move the shaft farther therefore hurting their ball-striking. Often they collapse elbows, ‘flip’ wrists, lose braced back leg, or get arms/shaft totally off plane. Jon Rahm is great example of player who makes a full 90 degree shoulder turn but doesn’t allow any breakdowns so the club doesn’t travel very far. He still generates power and makes very solid contact!

Arsenal Island Golf Course
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Listen to Your Anatomy

Have you ever wondered, “How long should my golf swing actually be”?
Let us help you swing “within yourself”.
Stand straight up, place your lead arm straight in front of you, and totally extend your lead arm, parallel to the ground. Next, move your lead arm across your chest, keeping the arm pressed against your chest. Now, take your golf posture. Finally, rotate like you are taking a golf swing, back to the target. Now, put your trail hand where your lead hand is now located.
I’ll be your swing is a lot shorter. Most of our students really reach high with their hands. This pulls them out of their posture and does not help them get into good positions.
It pulls them out of their posture, and they struggle to get back to a good impact position.
Most of our students hit better shots, with more distance, swinging within themselves.
Good luck, and don’t forget to download the Swing Essentials Golf App for a free lesson!

PGA Golf Pro
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Time is not on your side

Aging alone will shorten one’s backswing; shortening one’s swing should be undertaken only if your are trying to repair a swing fault. Creating consistency in your short irons could be another reason. If shortening happens because you are trying to create more rotation and less lateral motion in your backswing, trying to flatten a left wrist at the top, attempting to firm up an excessively bent left arm, eliminating a reverse pivot which is usually accompanied by the club exceeding parallel- just to cite a few examples; then a positive by-product would be the swing getting shorter. If swing improvement shortens the swing that’s a good thing. Just shortening the swing can be a slippery slope. Unfortunately Father Time will normally take its toll; no need to rush the process. Fred Elliott 2006 Professional of the Year

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TLDR: A quick summary of what our Backswing professionals have to say on the topic “Does a shorter backswing help your game?”

  1. Control: It’s easier to control, which can lead to more accurate shots.
  2. Effort: It requires less physical exertion, which can help golfers avoid fatigue and injury.
  3. Contact: It can help you make better contact with the ball, which can lead to more consistent shots.
  4. Tempo: It can improve tempo and rhythm, which can lead to more fluid and powerful swings.
  5. Balance: It can help with staying more balanced throughout the swing, which can lead to more consistent results.

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether a shorter backswing is better, for many golfers, it can be a valuable tool for improving their game.

The Professionals in this Roundup

The Backswing Fix

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