The Golf Backswing – A How To Guide

In this article we’re going to break down and explain the backswing. Golfers can frequently get caught up in a black hole of technique, with many golfers looking to perfect their backswing in the hopes it will turn them into a ball-striking machine like Justin Rose. Here we will break down the backswing into some simple movements and explain what is actually important for your golfing performance.

Golf backswing video tutorial

The aim of a great golf backswing

A great backswing achieves two aims:

  1. Positions the golf club in a good position to hit the ball straight.
  2. Stores energy and creates distance away from the golf ball to generate club head speed into impact.

That is it – a great backswing is no more than the two objectives above. In this article we’ll look at these two components – accuracy and distance separately, before we combine them together at the end. The instruction that follows assumes you have a solid golf stance and golf grip, if you haven’t, please start by reading these two related articles, as your backswing is highly dependent on your set up.

Building a golf backswing for accuracy

It is important to remember that the golf ball only cares about impact, you could do a dance at the top of your backswing, as long as you create an ideal impact the golf ball will fly straight. That being said, where your golf club is positioned at the top of your backswing does dictate how easy it is to return the club to a great impact position.

A textbook impact position for accurate shots requires a square swing path and a square club face through impact. A great backswing pre-sets the club in a position to achieve this.

Golf backswing plane affects your swing path through impact

The backswing plane is an imaginary line on which the golf club tracks during the backswing. During the take away phase the club head should track the line drawn below.

golf backswing take away swing plane

It then begins to raise up to the position we see half way back. As it reaches the top of the swing we are aiming to see our right shoulder in between our forearms (see swing sequence below).

Golf backswing sequence – Down the line

golf backswing sequence down the line

This textbook idea of golf swing plane really means that if we turn our body towards the target during our downswing, we will deliver the golf club on a square path though impact.

As we will see in the advanced section of this article, the set of backswing positions pictured above aren’t a must for becoming a great golfer. Instead, view it as a guide or template. If you can get close to these positions, you’ll find it easier to return the club into a great impact position.

Golf backswing sequence – Face on

golf backswing sequence face on

Club face angle during the backswing

The second component for creating a backswing for accuracy is setting the club face in a neutral position before we return to impact. This is predominantly controlled by 1) Your golf grip 2) How your arms move and 3) left wrist position. The image sequence below shows how the club face moves through your backswing.

golf backswing tips. This shows the backswing sequence.

This sequence fools many golfers, as it looks like the club face rotates open. Many slicers fall victim to this idea. Instead, throughout a textbook backswing your left wrist stays in the same position as it was at set up – the club face keeps a constant relationship to the left forearm.

Your wrists do need to hinge (discussed below), but if you rewound from the top of backswing position (bottom right image) to the takeaway (top right image) you will notice the left wrist angle (flexion/extension), and the relationship between the club face and arms are almost identical.

A little extra note if you struggle with this – Using your shoulders and arms

The correct way to achieve this movement is to allow your forearms to rotate as you take the club away in your backswing. Look how to right elbow flexes and the right palm rotates during the pictures above. There is also a little shoulder rotation, but we all tend to do this naturally.

Putting the backswing together

So how do we create a backswing with a square club face and neutral swing plane? My personal preference is to get this all set and done by the time you are half-way into your backswing. In this position your wrists can be fully hinged and all you need to do is turn a little further to complete your backswing.

Golf backswing drill

The drill above allows you to slowly move back into a great half-way back position. Notice how the hands are covering the chest and the club shaft is just under your right shoulder. These are two great check points to check you are ‘on plane’ half way back. To tweak your club face so that it is more open or closed, just alter your left wrist position. If you struggle with a slice or a hook play around with your left wrist position at this point – you can alter your ball flight very quickly.

Feel free to use an umbrella or alignment stick as a guide, as shown in the video. Or, aim to complete this drill in front of a mirror or window. Slowly turn back, check your position, then correct as necessary. From here use a little body turn to create a great top of backswing position.

Building a powerful golf backswing

Part two of a great backswing is creating the potential for high club head speed at impact. At a basic level we can think of the club head being at 0 mph at the top of the backswing, and our aim is to get it moving as quickly as possible by the time it reaches impact.

There are many factors we can use to improve our chances of achieving a high club head speed. This isn’t a must-do list, but I will put the factors here for interest. Note – if you follow the points outline so far in this article, you will have very few issues with achieving a powerful backswing.

Wrist hinge in our backswing

Levers are really powerful. Using some mechanical advantage we can take an input speed (how quickly our hands are moving) and greatly increase the output speed (how quickly the club head is travelling).

In our backswing we are looking to create some stored energy between our club head and our body, we do this by hinging our wrists. As discussed in part one, I personally find that if you can have your wrists fully hinged and club set by halfway back, it makes the transition into the downswing a bit simpler.

Golf backswing wrist hinge. This sequence of images shows how to hinge your wrists through your backswing.

No need to kill yourself with creating maximum wrist hinge, as we will see in the downswing, it is not how much you create in your backswing, but how well you keep it into your downswing that is the key. If you struggle with creating wrist hinge please check your golf grip – a common cause is a ‘weak’ left hand grip.

Body turn – the stretch-shortening cycle

The next factor in generating power is how much we turn our body during the backswing. Because we are nerdy, we must be specific on this point. As golf coaches we often say shoulder turn, but this is wrong.

Body turn really refers to how much internal / external hip rotation you have created from set up, and then how much you have rotated your upper body relative to your lower body (thoracic rotation).

Greater hip rotation and thoracic rotation means the muscles around your hips and in your back are lengthened. This means you now have the capacity to contract and quickly shorten your muscles in the downswing as you deliver the golf club back to the golf ball. The more lengthened your big muscles are during your backswing, equals a great potential to create more force over a longer timeframe during your downswing.

Again, don’t try to over-do this in your backswing. It is a hot topic, but research indicates that the separation you create during your downswing is more important than the maximum separation you create during your backswing.

Aim for a feeling of being coiled – you should feel a small stretch in the left side of your back and your right buttock at the top of your backswing. Worry far less about how far back the club is at the top of your backswing, this modern approach is much more focused on the feelings described above and less on if the club reaches parallel to the ground (for most golfers the club should finish short of parallel).

Weight transfer in your golf backswing

Last up we have weight transfer. By the time you reach the top of your backswing it is ideal to have more weight over your back leg. We’ll go into this topic more in the downswing, but this position creates a good, dynamic position to start the downswing.

weight transfer in the backswing
The arrows above aim to show the amount of force going through each foot. Note, around 65% of force should be through your back foot. Also notice both arrows are slightly angled, both feet press slightly outward, rather that straight down into the ground.

There isn’t any need to wildly slide or wind up during your backswing – just have a little more weight going through your right leg (pictures above). The pictures above show that this position can be achieved with minimal changes to our posture. Keeping your set up angles relatively unchanged at the top of the swing makes hitting the centre of the golf club far simpler as we move back towards impact.

Advanced golf backswing tips

On to the advanced stuff. If you are a developing golfer and keen to refine your golf swing, the guide above is ideal. Aim to create a neutral, powerful backswing – it will be a great investment for your golfing career.

If you are an established player, and have a way of swinging already then this next section is for you. As the images below shows, there is no one perfect golf swing, instead each elite player has their own unique movement solution. The difference between elite players becomes less varied as we approach impact, but the ideal backswing has some wiggle room.

golf backswing positions for elite players

What to change in your backswing

With this in mind, here is your approach. Understand what causes your poor ball flight and tweak your backswing to help neutralise this issue.

If you suffer with a hook, due to a closed club face, improve your left wrist position halfway back, and at the top of your swing to get the club face more neutral/open. If you struggle with an out-to-in swing path, aim for a flatter backswing (see Tiger Woods 2008/9 position above).

The backswing allows you to pre-set what the club is going to do next in the downswing and into impact. As long as you understand the swing path and club face that create your bad shots you can build a backswing that suits your style of play and minimises these errors.

Golf backswing – Summary

In this article we’ve seen that a great backswing pre-sets the club in the position to create a great impact position. A great backswing also gives you the potential to create club head speed in the downswing.

Building a great backswing isn’t a one-off job, you’ll find your backswing likes to veer off from time to time. Use the drills and checkpoints outlined in this article to check your swing path and club face stay in check throughout the golfing season.

Also, if you’ve enjoyed this article and would like to receive a free weekly article each Monday, sign up for the Golf Insider weekly post.

Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider

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A PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. I currently spend my time lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and working with elite athletes. In my spare time I build Golf Insider UK.

4 thoughts on “The Golf Backswing – A How To Guide”

  1. Excellent article. Really find this website so useful & it has helped to improve my golf a lot. I was wondering if you were planning on doing a downswing article as well?

    Reply
    • Thanks Will,

      Yes! It sure is coming, currently this English weather is not letting me even film the few clips for it.

      All being well it will be up in December. Please let me know any specific questions you would like covered.

      I hope the golf is going well.

      Will

      Reply
  2. Hi Will
    Enjoyed your article which was well written and accessible. It left me with one questions however: ‘Do we need a backswing at all?’
    Looking at all the top players as they swing, there is always a momentary pause at the top of the swing meaning that you might just as well START at the top rather than go through the whole process of winding up only to reverse the process on the downswing. Why not start like a baseball player with the club in the perfect position to commence the downswing, rather than run the risk of introducing errors with a poor back swing? This would certainly appropriate for high handicappers like me. Is there any reason (for example in the rulebook) why a golfer should not be allowed to start the stroke at the top of the swing?

    Reply
    • Hi Peter,

      Thanks for the feedback and very good question.

      So, you can play great golf with a pause or hold at the top. I even played a county match with a friend, now coaching pro, who played like this for a month or more and was playing to a scratch handicap.

      There are two advantages to having a ‘swing’ rather than a ‘stop’. Firstly, it is ideal for your weight to be shifting forward and the lower body unwinding before the backswing is complete. This creates more power and exerts some useful forces for getting the club in a good downswing position. Second, hitting a less than full shot on the course becomes tough with a pause – I can’t say why, but I have tinkered with it.

      That being said, if you find it very useful, there is no reason not to pursue it further. I hope that helps.

      Kind regards,

      Will

      Reply

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