The Back Swing, how fast and how far???

By: Bruce Munch

Head Professional, White River Golf Club.

        Of all aspects of the golf swing, none is more misunderstood than the back swing.  Many volumes have been written on the golf swing and each author seems to have their own blueprint for success.

In my years of teaching, I have never had a student who wasn’t trying to hit the ball toward their target.  In most cases, errors in the back swing prevented a proper release of the club in the forward swing.  That being the case, what is the proper speed and location for a correct back swing?

To try to apply a simple answer to this question would be as foolish as to say that every successful golfer uses the same swing.  It is simply not true.  People who talk about only one swing in golf are not incorrect as long as they add; there is only one swing per person.  An individual’s swing will be influenced by many factors including height, weight, body type, athleticism, flexibility, etc.  In order for a golf swing to be successful, it needs only three things, repeatability, target ability and sufficient force. 

          Sam Snead, during his teaching days is reputed to have said, “I have never had a student who took the club away too slowly”.  In contrast, I had a student who had a very fast back swing.  When I asked him why, he said “I have no idea where the club should be on the back swing, so the way I look at it, the sooner that part is done the better”.  A most plausible response. 

          In fact, where the back swing is concerned, there are no absolutes.  “Your back swing”, must be “your" back swing and it must be defined by your physical ability.

          Let’s first address the speed of the back swing.  I don’t agree with Sam Snead, because there have been many great players who possessed very fast back swings.  Among them, Bobby Jones, Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal.  There have also been successful players who have very slow and deliberate back swings, most notably Bob Murphy, on the senior tour who practically falls asleep on the back swing.

          This being the case, how will you find the correct back swing speed for your swing?  Well, you may not have a choice.  Studies have been done that indicate that the speed of the back swing seems to relate to the temperament of the individual.  High-strung people tend to swing the club back faster and more laid-back individuals tend to take the club away more slowly. 

          A golf club on the back swing MUST come to a complete stop before you can begin your forward swing.  To prove this, I will direct you back to a law of Physics that I taught as a High School Teacher.  In this universe, in order for any object to change direction 180 degrees, it must come to a complete stop.  If you don’t believe me, try it in your car and see how unhappy your transmission is.  Since we cannot avoid this, it makes sense that a club that is traveling slowly on the back swing, will be easier to stop to allow change of direction, than a club that is traveling fast.  By taking the club away too fast, it takes too much energy to stop the club before the forward swing.  Why would we want to waste precious energy stopping the club?  Keep in mind, however that if the back swing is too slow, the rhythm of the swing will be lost and it will give you too much time to think about the potential result of your swing, thereby creating tension.  So, lets find a back swing speed that is comfortable.  Try it a little slower or maybe even a little faster and see what works for you.

          Now that we have looked at how fast, lets look at how far.  Alan Doyle, on the senior tour stops well short of parallel while John Daly stops well past parallel.  Both these successful players are the exception, rather than the rule.  Most players today stop the back swing short of parallel to the ground because if you go past parallel you must lift the club head, against the force of gravity, before you can drop the club toward impact.  A short back swing is what we employ to hit a pitch shot.  Typically we pitch the ball when we are too far away to hit an effective chip shot and too close to hit a full swing with our most lofted club.  A shorter back swing is easier to control because the chance to get the club into a bad position is reduced.  Try it on the range the next time you hit balls.  You might find that with a shorter back swing, you hit more consistent shots. 

          How long should your back swing be?  Your back swing should stop at a point where you can still keep the lead arm long (not locked, not bent) and still maintain flex in the right knee.  Any effort to increase the length of the swing will tend to lock the back knee and pull the forward heel off the ground.  Neither of these moves is desirable.

          So, we have talked about the speed of the swing and the length of the swing, now let’s address where the club should point at the top of the back swing.  Regardless of how long or short your back swing, the shaft of the club should point toward your target.  If you were in perfect position, as a right hand golfer the club would be parallel to, but left of the target, by the same distance the club is from the ball position. 

          It stands to reason that if the club is pointing to the target at the top of the back swing it will be possible to release the club to the target.  A club that points left of the target at the top will finish left of the target producing a pull or slice, depending on the position of the face at impact.  Conversely if the club is pointing right of the target at the top of the swing, the swing will tend to be too much inside out which will produce a push or hook, depending on face angle at impact.

          To encourage a more vertical swing (the golf swing should be more like a Ferris wheel than a carousel) the club should be in a position at the top of the back swing so if you dropped it, the club would land on the back of the neck, not the shoulder.  Likewise, on the completion of the swing the club should be behind the neck not over the shoulder.

          Since it is very difficult for you to see where the club is at the top of your back swing, it makes sense to have a video lesson or have your pro check out the speed and location of your back swing.  The improved result will show you that it was money well spent.  Once you have improved your swing, you can win it back from your buddies.



Copyright © 1999 Bruce R. Munch       
All Rights Reserved