The Back Swing In Golf

Published: 27th January 2012
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The golf swing is essentially broken down into two main parts...the back swing and the down swing.

Nowadays, particularly due to Hank Haney's greater visibility due to working with Tiger Woods, the swing plane as a fundamental in the golf swing has received significant attention. However, there is widespread disagreement about what it really means. One analyst or teacher may be referring to the plane of the shoulders in relation to the golf ball, while another refers to the swing plane of the golf club.

The idea of the swing plane dates back to Ben Hogan's book "…Five Fundamentals." In this book is a famous drawing of Hogan with a pane of glass drawn through his shoulders. Hogan indicated that you needed to be sure to swing the golf club under this swing plane.

In the case of Hank Haney, the swing plane refers to the plane of the golf club as it moves through the golf swing. Ideally, Hank says, the club will stay on a swing plane angle that is parallel to the original angle of the club established at address. This will make it easier to return the club to this same angle at impact. By returning the club to this angle at impact, the golfer has a much higher chance of hitting the ball with a square clubface, which allows for more solid and consistent ball striking.

As mentioned, it is our goal to swing the club on the proper swing plane throughout the golf swing. However, it is quite possible to hit the ball long and straight even if you deviate somewhat from this swing plane angle as long as you do the following in your backswing:

The takeaway of the back swing ends when the club is parallel to the ground. As the club reaches parallel to the ground, it should be parallel to the target line.

The initial part of the back swing, i.e., takeaway, starts with the shoulders turning and a modest hinge of the wrists. At this point, the lower body is not yet active.

As the backswing continues, we try to keep the club on a swing plane angle that is parallel to the shaft angle at address. The club swings a little inside and a little up. The shoulders continue turning and the hips resist turning as much. There is no major lateral shift.

At the top of the swing, if your club is short of parallel to the ground, the club should still point off to the left. At this point, the shoulders have turned just about 90 degrees, and the hips about half that much. If you lack flexibility, it is perfectly ok to not have as much of a shoulder turn in your back swing, but it is critical to maintain about a 2 to 1 ratio in the turn of the shoulders compared to the turn of the hips. This helps create the torque that will eventually lead to increased swing speed.

In the back swing, the back leg acts as a brace. The weight is loaded into the back heel, inside the back thigh and in the glute of the back leg. It is preferred that the front foot remain flat on the ground, but the knee of the front leg will move toward the back leg. This results in a more balanced position, and a fully leveraged swing. Many amateurs may shift the weight and turn the shoulders and hips, but they like to lift the front heel off the ground. This causes them to not have proper balance in the swing, and they achieve no leverage, and thus no storage of power.

At the top of the golf swing, the wrist of the lead arm should have a similar angle as the clubface. There should be good extension fo the lead arm, and the spine should be titled slightly away from the target.

When the shoulders are done turning, the backswing is complete. If the club shaft is parallel to the ground, it should be parallel to the target line. If the club goes past parallel, it will cross the line, but that is ok, it is still on plane.

Here again are the keys to a good golf backswing. You allow the shoulders to turn while the lower body resists. Ideally, when we complete our backswing, the shoulders turn about twice as much as the hips. This gives us the torque that will be unwound in the downswing. You absolutely must get your weight shifted to your back foot. However, this will vary with each club. The longer the club, the more weight you want to shift for maximum power. Keep in mind though, shifting the weight does not mean a big lateral move away from the target, which is a critical mistake many amateurs make.

With shorter irons, we want more control, so we will not shift the weight as much. For right handed players, you want to feel the weight on the inside of your right heel, inside your right thigh and in your right buttock as you reach the top of your back swing. Too often, golfers fail to transfer their weight to the back foot, and instead swing with a reverse pivot. Their spine angle tilts toward the target and their weight is still primarily on their front foot. This results in a lack of power.

In order to get a good shoulder turn and weight transfer, try to feel the center of your chest turning over your right foot (if you are a righty), and be sure to try and keep your eyes level during the backswing. Also, you must maintain a flex in the right knee. A straight right leg in the backswing is a sure sign that you have not transferred your weight properly.

As the shoulders turn, the arms lift and there is some forearm rotation and wrist hinge. At the top of your backswing, the clubface should be at the same angle as your left wrist and forearm. There should also be good extension with the arms as well. We want to create width in the backswing, which means we want there to be good distance between your right shoulder and your right hand (if you are a right handed player). Too often, golfers do not create this width. As a result, their swing speed is the same with their driver as it is with their 5 iron. This should never be the case since the driver is longer, and should automatically create greater swing speed from a greater arc. At the top of your backswing, no matter how far back you have swung the club, you should have enough wrist hinge where the angle formed by your left forearm (for a right handed player) and the golf club is 90 degrees. The uncocking of this wrist hinge just before impact is a key to generating more swing speed.

Ideally, at the top of our backswing, we are on the proper swing plane. If the club is parallel to the ground at this point, it should be parallel to the target line. The clubface will then be square as well. If the club is short of parallel, it should be pointed off to the left the target line. If it is past parallel, it should be pointed to the right of the target line. However, one key to remember, once the shoulders stop turning, the backswing should be complete. Many golfers try to get the club to parallel to the ground with their hands, but this results in timing issues and inconsistent ball striking.

And that covers the back swing!


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Scott Cole is a professional golf instructor who also provides online instruction at Your Golf Swing Fix and How To Learn Golf Today.

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