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How a Longer Backswing Can Lead to Shorter Shots

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Phil Mickelson's long backswing

Pro golfers (like Phil Mickelson, above) often go well past parallel on the their backswings. But for amateur golfers, a longer backswing can be detrimental.

Michael Cohen/Getty Images

Is your golf swing too long? The majority of inexperienced players I see have swings that are too long. Why is that - why do so many golfers have swings that are longer than they need to be?

It boils down to human nature. Human nature says that the longer your backswing, the farther you'll hit the ball. But if this was true, why is it that I can hit a ball 300 yards with a three-quarters swing but I can't hit it 400 yards with a longer swing?

What the Pros Do
When you watch the pros on television, you do see varying lengths of backswings. On one hand, you have a player like Jeff Sluman who has a shorter swing; and then you have a player like John Daly with a longer swing. But even though they look different there are similarities between their backswings:

1. Pros hinge their wrists to their maximum. This means that the angle between the left arm and the golf club at the top of the swing is 90 degrees or less.

The average player tends to be locked up in their wrists because they try to hit the ball too hard. If you try to hit the ball too hard, your wrists will lock up and your left elbow will break, causing the club to go back too far. You have to allow the wrists to stay loose throughout the swing. The looser wrists will give you more power without requiring you to take the club back too far.

2. The shoulder rotation in a pro's swing determines the amount the left arm goes back.

Shorter backswings and the longer ones are both relative to the amount of shoulder rotation each golfer creates. In his prime, John Daly could turn his shoulders back more than 90 degrees. Such superhuman shoulder rotation allows for a backswing to be longer.

'Tight' Means Might
You should have a shoulder rotation of 90 degrees. Some people feel tight and are not capable of turning their shoulders back this far. If you feel tight when you turn back, it's not a bad thing. This tightness is a good thing because it tells you that you have created torque in your swing.

Think of your body like a giant spring. If you wind up a giant spring it gets tight. And when you let it go, it wants to snap back the other way. Most people avoid this tight feeling by over-rotating the hips on the way back. What they don't realize is that when they rotate the hips more than 45 degrees, they lose this torque that is necessary for creating consistency in the swing.

So don't avoid this tight feeling. Only turn back as much as your body will allow.

The next time you go to the driving range keep your lower body stable and turn your shoulders back as much as you can, until you feel tight. This tightness tells you that you have created the necessary torque in your backswing. Also, make sure your wrists are loose enough to allow the club to hinge to at least 90 degrees in your wrists. This will give you maximum power without having to swing back too far.

About the Author
Paul Wilson is a Class A teaching professional at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park, Kan. He has appeared on The Golf Channel and his teaching has been featured in numerous print publications. Paul is the creator of "Swing Machine Golf," which teaches the three elements of the Iron Byron Swing Machine. Visit Pauls' website for more info.

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