|I am a firm believer that the backswing should be started by a forward swing, something that allows you to start the swing without getting quick and snatching the club away, which is a problem many amateurs suffer from. A slight forward press with the hands, a little shift in the hips, just something to get the swing started. One of the main purposes for the backswing is the create rhythm and flow in the swing. I see far too many amateurs try to make the backswing a race; they snatch the club back and try to get to the top of the swing as quickly as they can. This does not allow a person to make a full backswing and it certainly doesn’t allow the body to get into the proper position of support for the downswing. I also see a lot of players make a very slow backswing. Now a slow backswing isn't necessarily a bad thing, but too slow of a backswing can cause the transition to become too jerky. I feel it is best to keep the backswing and the downswing close in terms of quickness. This promotes a more rhythmic swing.
Another big issue is that the amateur golfer tends to stay frozen over the ball. You will see this on any golf course at any given time; the person is just frozen over the ball for what seems like an eternity. You are not sure if he fell asleep or if he is too scared to hit the ball. When you freeze over the ball like this, it will cause tension in the swing. You want to waggle the club some, keep movement in the body, then do a forward press, a slight bump forward with the hips, a slight cocking of the head, some sort of trigger that starts the swing. There should always be some amount of movement at address and before you take the club back, this prevents stiffness and allows you to ease into the backswing rather than starting back from a completely stationary position. As I talked about boxing earlier, the same applies here. You always see boxers moving around and bouncing, staying ready. If they were to freeze up they would not be able to react as quickly.
At address you create a triangle with the arms and shoulders. You want to maintain this triangle in the first part of the backswing. I believe that you can do this two different ways. The first way, which I recommend is to focus more on the arms to take the club back. This reduces the amount of shoulder turn and body rotation in the swing, which I believe will benefit the average golfer. The other way is to use the shoulders to move the club back. This creates much more rotation and much more shoulder turn which I feel will not benefit the average golfer who lacks the fundamentals to properly apply such a move.
I feel that there is a misconception about the one-piece takeaway. When you hear “one piece” you assume that everything has an equal part in taking the club back. I believe that this isn’t the right way to achieve a good takeaway. If the right arm is allowed to pull the club back one will likely pull it to the inside. This sets off a chain of bad movements in the swing. The result is a swing that loops from inside to outside, it often looks like a chopping motion down at the ball from the top of the swing. The proper way to take the club back is to push it back with the left arm. This encourages the arms to stay more connected to the body and it promotes a slower more controlled backswing.
Regardless of which swing you choose, your lower body should remain stationary for this phase of the backswing. As you swing back farther, your right elbow will start to bend inwards. You should make sure to keep the right elbow relaxed; you do not want the try and keep the right arm straight. The right elbow's job is to bend and it is a necessary part of the downswing, which we will discuss later.
Picture a clock, when you are at address, the club is at 6 o’clock. As you take the club back you want to maintain the triangle and rotate your forearms slightly. You do not want to maintain the triangle past 9 o’clock. The ideal position would be to 8 o’clock, after that your right arm will start to bend and your weight will start to shift to your right side and the triangle is lost, which is what it’s supposed to do. With the proper grip, at address your left hand should feel a slight angle or cup. You want this feeling to stay constant through out the backswing. If you keep this angle, your arms will rotate naturally in order to have wrist cock; this will put the clubface in the proper position.
A common fault that the amateur golfer has is that they try to maintain the triangle for far too long. The old saying “low and slow” for taking the club back is good in theory, but most golfers apply this method wrong. The golfer will try to keep the club head very low to the ground and maintain the triangle for far too long. As a result their body will shift or sway off of the ball. For the average golfer, it is much more beneficial to end the triangle between 8 and 9 o’clock. A good drill for the first part of the backswing is to push a golf ball back. Set up to a golf ball, then place another golf ball directly behind your club. From here you want to push the ball back, you want to go slow and keep the ball on the back of the club, but you should allow the club to come up naturally. Do not make an attempt to keep pushing the ball back farther and farther, this will make you shift your body off of the ball. The club head should rise above the ball by 7:30
A good drill to make sure your body isn’t moving off of the ball through the backswing and the downswing for that matter, is to use your shadow. Place a golf ball where the head of your shadow is, as you swing back; make sure to keep the head of your shadow on the golf ball. You should keep the head of your shadow in the golf ball through the entire backswing and downswing. You should not make an effort to keep the head still, you have to allow movement, but there should not be an excess of movement. In the backswing, the ball should be towards the left side of your shadow and in the downswing, the ball should move to the right side of your shadow. The only time the head of your shadow should be more then an inch outside the ball is after impact and as you begin the follow through up to the finish. All your weight will go to your left side, your body will straighten out and your head will follow.
Many golfers suffer from too much body shift, their body will shift off of the golf ball and as a result the head will move laterally. The basic myth that people have is that the head is what is moving, this isn’t true, the body is moving and as a result the head moves with it. That is why the old saying “keep your head down” is faulty, your head isn’t what is coming up, your body is. If you keep your weight on the inside of your feet as discussed earlier, and you maintain your knee flex through out the swing, then you should not move off the ball too much.
As you go past the 8 o’clock position, you will feel your legs and hips start to be pulled by your shoulders and arms, you want to resist the turning of your hips, but only slightly. You don’t want to resist enough to cause any strain or stress on the body. You can allow some hip turn, but you want to feel a slight tension in your hips and your abdominal muscles, like you are coiling your body. This is important for the downswing, this is where it is also key to keep the weight on the inside of your feet and your knees flexed, otherwise it will cause you to pull off of the ball.
You should start to shift your weight to your right side around this time, and remember to retain your left wrist angle that we discussed. As you get past 9 o’clock, gravity will slowly stop pulling the club head down and you will naturally start to cock your wrists, your right elbow should start to bend towards your side and you will go to 10 o’clock. From this position, it is where you will really notice a difference in the two swings that I have talked about. If you use more arms, your body won’t rotate as much and you will be more centered over the ball. With a more shoulder-orientated swing, you will be getting close to a 90* turn and you will have already rotated your body tremendously.
Once you are at the 10 o’clock position, if properly executed, your clubface will have rotated as much as it ever will so the rotation of the shoulders has no effect in relation to the clubface rotation for the rest of the backswing. I don’t mean it to sound as though you shouldn’t rotate your shoulders, there should be shoulder rotation in the swing. What I want you to focus on is using your arms to get the club back rather then the shoulders and body, with the proper placement of the right elbow, it will automatically cause you to have a shoulder turn, so I feel that one should not focus on shoulder turn in the swing.
In the modern swing, to get the club to the top position, it is relied heavily upon shoulder turn. They try to get there left shoulder over their right knee and they want to feel like they are really behind the ball and they get to 90* or more. This creates a lot of stress on the back and in my opinion it is a hard swing to repeat time after time for the average golfer. What I want you to do is use more of your arms, feel like you stay more centered over the ball and that your left shoulder only points to the ball rather than getting it over your right foot. This will only give you about a 70* shoulder turn, I find that this is easier on the back and it is an easier swing to learn and to repeat time after time.
There is a common mistake about a reduced shoulder turn swing. Many people feel that a full swing/shoulder turn happens when your left shoulder tucks underneath your chin. The problem is your shoulder turn can very depending on how much arms you use in the swing, if you use a primarily shoulder driven backswing, your left shoulder will not touch your chin until you are 90* or more so if you try to reduce your shoulder turn with this type of swing, you will feel like you are not completing the backswing and you will tend to get quick and pull the ball. What you need to do is use your arms as the primary driver of the backswing, by doing this your left shoulder will come into contact with your chin much sooner. You will end up with a less then 90* turn, but you will still have a full backswing.
Some might say that you will not get enough power from this swing, I disagree. I personally use this swing and I hit the ball as far as most guys on tour. If you have ever seen a baseball player, you will notice that they do not turn their back to the target, like it is suggested in golf to maximize power. They stay relatively square, yet they are able to generate tremendous power. I also believe with this swing you will hit the ball more consistently and more accurately which will result in better distance. This is the only theory part of the book. It is mostly targeted at the average golfer who suffers from too much body shift and an improper use of the hands in the swing. I wanted to give you a different take on the backswing. It may work for you, it may not, I just believe that what most teaching pro’s say is wrong. I don’t believe that a person needs to have a full shoulder turn (90*) to be a good golfer.
Shoulder turn is not that big of an issue as I feel it isn’t a necessary aspect to a good swing, it may provide you with a little extra power, but it also adds more movement in the swing and you also have to be flexible to have a good shoulder turn. The average golfer lacks flexibility and the last thing he or she needs is to make the swing longer and more complicated. If you have the flexibility to get a good shoulder turn while staying relaxed then by all means use it, but we should not try to force ourselves into this position, it isn’t at all necessary and the idea that one should have to have a full shoulder turn to be a good striker of the ball is ridiculous.
I realize that this goes against what most teachers say, but I believe my theory is correct. The more you turn, the more your body will shift away from the ball. This makes timing more important and this makes the golfer work harder to get back down to the ball. I feel that the average golfer will benefit from a reduced shoulder turn, this allows them to stay more in control and I feel that the ability to repeat the swing will be greater. As you go through your round, the body starts to get tired, it will become more and more difficult to make a full shoulder turn and still retain the proper positions in the body. Golf is a game of misses. No one hits the ball perfect every time or even the majority of the time. The key is to minimize the severity of those misses and I feel that reduced shoulder turn will do that and it will bring more consistency to the average golfers swing.
In the backswing and a majority of the downswing, the left arm should remain straight, but it isn’t necessary to keep it dead straight or in other words ridged. This causes too much stiffness in the swing. It is perfectly acceptable to have a slight flex to the left arm, but it is wise to keep this to a minimum. Too much flex will result in a poor position at the top of the swing and it will lead to other errors in the downswing.
As you swing the club back you need to shift your weight to your right leg. I am an advocate of lifting your left heel off of the ground, but only slightly. Some of the best players in the history of the game lifted their left heel. I feel that it helps you shift your weight more naturally and you don’t have to think about the weight shift as much. At the top of your swing, you should be able to briefly lift your entire left foot off of the ground, but you should not be able to stay balanced in this position. If you can lift your left foot off of the ground and not lose your balance then your entire body has shifted too far to the right. You should feel that your body wants to shift back towards the target the second you take your left foot off of the ground. As a result you have to sit your left foot back down other wise you will fall off balance. You want to feel that 90 percent of the weight is on your right side at the top of your swing. Remember to keep flex in the legs and your weight on the inside of the feet.
The biggest purpose of the backswing is to get your body and the club in the proper position for the downswing. The body’s main job in the backswing is to provide support for the swing; through this support you achieve power. Most golfers use the body for power and as a result the support is lost and that is why they are so inconsistent. Remember, power with the body comes from support not the other way around.
There is much more room for variety in the backswing then there is for the downswing. You will see people take the club way out side or way inside or make half of a figure 8, all sorts of goofy things. The best players have always had their own unique way of doing it. With that being said, the best golfers are also extremely talented and have great hand and eye coordination, something that most average golfers lack. It is important that when you reach the top of the backswing, your weight is shifted on to your right side, the club is on plane, the clubface is square and your right elbow is in the proper position.
Your hands should be on top of the right shoulder and the toe of the club should be pointing on the same angle as your left arm, if the toe of the club is pointing straight down, it is too open. If the toe of the club is pointing dead sideways or parallel to the ground, it is too closed. This shouldn’t be an issue if you have the proper grip and swing the club back properly to the 10 o’clock position as discussed earlier. At the top of your swing, you can let your arms go limp; if the shaft of the club hits you top of the shoulder then you know you are in the right position (plane). If it hits you by your neck/collar bone, you are too steep or upright as it’s called; if it goes under your shoulder, more towards your back then you are to flat or laid off. You can also check this position with a mirror in your home, set up to the mirror so it only shows your right side, and then make a swing and stop at the top. From this position you can turn your head and look at where your hands are at, if your hands are below your shoulder, you are too flat. If your hands are above, you are too upright. You can also check to position of the clubface from here.
The right elbow plays a crucial part in the downswing so it is essential that it be in the proper position in the backswing. You can get away with a poor position, many great players have, but to maximize consistency it is necessary to have the right elbow in the proper position. At the top of the swing you want the right elbow to somewhere between pointing straight down to your right hip or on a parallel line as your spine angle. The right elbow should never point away from the body, this is the start of a flying elbow or a “chicken wing” and from this position it is very easy to come over the top. One should not make an attempt to fix the elbow to the side in the backswing; however the elbow should not be completely free and it should remain close to the body. The elbow should be allowed to leave the body, but it shouldn’t fly out wildly. For me personally, I keep my elbow as close to my side as possible without being tense and too restricted, this is a big key in my own swing because it allows a much more repeatable swing, and your miss-hits aren’t as bad.
When Ben Hogan was playing his best golf, the elbow stayed very close to his side in the backswing as well as the downswing. You can view this by getting a copy of "Shells Wide World of Sports" The Snead vs. Hogan match. In this particular round, Hogan hit every fairway and every green; he also kept his elbow very close to his side, just something to think about.
The elbow comes down and into your side on the downswing so the farther away your elbow is on the backswing, the more movement it takes to get it back to your side, also the bigger chance for the elbow to not reach the proper position. The old drill where you put a head cover under your underarm and hold it there through the backswing is perfect. You should be warned here, you should not make an effort to crush the head cover with your underarm. You want the head cover the feel loose in your underarm and the head cover should retain its shape. At the top of the backswing the head cover should feel like it is almost falling out, but never actually falls out. This will put your elbow the proper distance and position in relation to the body. It isn’t completely restricted to the body, but it isn’t free to fly out.
The biggest misconception about this drill is that you should crush the head cover and keep it tightly to your body through the whole swing. This will severely restrict your elbow, as I recommend, the head cover should stay loose in the underarm and it should retain its round shape. Another good drill to do in conjunction with this is to get an old belt and wrap it around your elbows at address. You want it to be tight so it doesn’t slip. This will give you the feeling of your arms being tied together throughout the swing and it prevents the elbows from flying out or in other words the dreaded “chicken wing”. This will help you get the feeling of the right elbow pointing in the proper position. You can use this drill for the backswing and the downswing as well as putting and chipping. A good feeling to have in the backswing is a pinching of the elbows. You should try and feel like there are magnets attached to the inside of your elbows. As you swing the club back, the elbows want to pull towards each other. This will prevent your right elbow from flaring out and it will put it in the proper position at the top of the swing.