One of the easiest ways to gain more distance on the golf course is to lengthen your backswing.
While other simple setup tweaks such as changing your attack angle or learning how to draw the ball can gain you some extra yards, another way to start out-driving your mates is to extend the length of your swing.
However, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all tip that every golfer should implement because what constitutes a ‘long’ backswing may actually differ from player to player (and I’ll explain why very shortly).
So, then, this begs the question…
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How long should your backswing be in golf?
In golf, your club doesn’t have to reach parallel in your backswing to generate distance. While a longer backswing can give you more clubhead speed, you can create enough power by making a full shoulder and hip turn – regardless of where your club ends up in your backswing.
Let’s compare John Daly and Jon Rahm, for example.
Daly is renowned for his long, fluent swing that generated him incredible distance off the tee during his prime and propelled him to two major victories.
Rahm, just as Daly did, also regularly drives the ball 300+ yards yet has one of the shortest backswings in professional golf – something he attributes to having a club foot on his right side from birth, which limits his ankle mobility.
The Spaniard, who is also a major winner, says if he were to take the club to full parallel in his backswing, he would generate more speed but would not have the stability due to his weakened joint.
What both golfers have in common – and is the secret to their booming distance off the tee – is they both load their weight efficiently into their trail hip, and make a huge shoulder turn in their takeaway.
The length of their backswing, in terms of how far the clubhead moves behind their body, is largely irrelevant.
As amateur golfers, many of us struggle with our flexibility – whether it be due to age or things like elbow and knee injuries – and no matter how hard we try might never get our club to reach full parallel in our backswings.
But what we can learn from Rahm is that as long as we create a full hip and shoulder turn, and use our legs correctly, we can generate sufficient power to hit the ball far enough to shoot even par or better.
In this article, I’ll explain some of the easiest ways to ‘lengthen’ your backswing to make sure you’re getting the absolute most distance out of your golf swing and physical capabilities.
Why is my golf backswing so short?
A short backswing in golf is commonly due to insufficient hip turn, shoulder turn, or wrist hinge. This may be caused by physical restrictions limiting flexibility, or poor technique. These flaws will generally lead to a short backswing and cost you power and distance.
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to distinguish between a short backswing and a swing that simply doesn’t reach parallel at the top.
If I wanted to, I could get the club to a parallel position without barely turning my hips or shoulders at all – I’d simply bend my lead arm every so slightly, excessively hinge my wrists and let my front foot come way off the ground.
While this would lengthen my swing, it would also be horrible technique and let to a myriad of other swing flaws including early extension, flipping of the club, poor compression and just a bad result in general.
When I talk about lengthening your backswing, I really don’t care whether your club reaches parallel or not.
Just look at pros like Americans Matthew Wolff and Jim Furyk. Both reach some crazy positions at the top of the backswing that most certainly aren’t ‘textbook’, but arrive at impact with plenty of power and speed.
The reason is because they make good shoulder and hip turns. This is the key to ‘lengthening’ your backswing and adding more distance to your game.
How do you fix a short backswing in golf?
The key to fixing a short backswing in golf is to increase your hip turn; make a bigger shoulder turn; and hinge your wrists properly in the takeaway. If you can do each of these things, you will add length, power and distance to your game.
In another article I detailed what the entire golf swing should feel like, and explained a great way to visualise what the perfect backswing position should look like is to think of a coiled spring.
To generate power, you wind the spring up until it’s under enough tension, before letting it go and releasing all the natural pent-up energy.
The golf swing is no different: your body, like a spring, needs to coil by making a good hip and shoulder turn in the backswing, hinging your wrists, before releasing the club through the ball.
So, if you suffer from a short backswing, it’s probably because you’re not loading your body correctly.
Below are three ways to improve this and lengthen your backswing.
Increase your hip turn
When you tell amateurs to increase their hip turn, often they’ll shift their weight away from the golf ball in their takeaway – otherwise known as ‘swaying’.
This is the completely wrong way to load your weight into your trail hip and will often result in your head moving too far behind centre, which can lead to fat or thin strikes.
To increase your hip turn, try this drill:
- Place an alignment stick vertically into the ground so that the top portion is level with your trail hip
- Take your set-up position so that there is around a one-inch gap between your trail hip and the alignment stick
- Start your takeaway, using a 7-iron, until you reach the top of your backswing
- If you’re turning correctly into your trail hip, you should arrive at the top of your swing without having made contact with the alignment stick
- If you made contact with the alignment stick at any point in your backswing, it means you’ve swayed off the ball and are turning incorrectly
Fixing your hip term is one of the simplest ways you can lengthen your backswing and add power to your game, without losing control of your club – in fact, you’ll find your ball-striking will actually improve.
If you’re someone who doesn’t have great mobility in your hips and struggle to make a nice, full turn then a simple trick is to allow the heel of your lead foot to come up from the ground slightly.
This is a move that some of the greatest golfers we’ve ever seen – including hall of famers Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Sam Snead, Gary Player and many more – used in their own swings and allowed them to generate tremendous distance despite using balata balls and persimmon woods.
Letting your lead heel lift once you move past parallel in the takeaway allows more range of motion in your hips, which will help increase your turn and naturally lengthen your backswing.
I’ve written a complete guide to hip turn that I recommend you read to learn even more about how to make the correct movement in your golf swing.
Make a bigger shoulder turn
Shoulder turn is the next crucial element to lengthening your backswing, however it’s something a lot of casual players or beginners struggle with.
Many mid-to-high handicappers get anxious when standing over the ball – especially if they haven’t developed a pre-shot routine – and their fear of hitting a poor shot leads them to shortening their shoulder turn.
Instead of turning so that their back faces their target, which can feel somewhat unnatural to many amateurs, they will limit their shoulder turn and simply lift their arms up into their backswing position.
By doing this, you’re not allowing your upper body to coil in the backswing, meaning you’re costing yourself loads of natural power.
To practice the correct amount of shoulder turn, try this drill:
- Set-up normally over the golf ball
- Take an alignment stick and place it across your chest (you don’t need a golf club)
- Start your backswing and keep turning your shoulders until the alignment stick is pointing directly over the ball
- If you have reached this position, you have made a big enough shoulder turn
If done correctly, you’ll feel plenty of tension through your back, left side and even your legs as your body coils and stores its energy.
What you’ll also notice is the larger shoulder turn will allow you to add more length to your backswing, with the club getting closer to a parallel position at the top.
Be careful, however: you don’t want to turn your shoulders past the point where the alignment stick is pointing over the ball as this can create a ‘reverse pivot’, where your left side will begin to crumple towards your target.
This will have a negative effect on your swing and will limit your rotation in the downswing, leading to a myriad of flaws including early extension and also swaying.
Be sure to hinge your wrists
Adding the right amount of wrist hinge can add an extra lever in your backswing that will add length and extra clubhead speed.
As I’ve explained in greater detail in another article, it doesn’t matter whether you prefer to hinge your wrists early (when the club reaches the first parallel in line with the ground) or later as part of a one-piece takeaway.
What’s important is that your wrists have some degree of hinge in them by the time you arrive at the top of your backswing.
You also want to be mindful of grip pressure as an excessively firm hold on the club will make it much harder for your wrists to fold naturally.
A great way to improve your wrist hinge is by practicing some of the drills I outlined in the aforementioned article in conjunction with a training aid.
The Golf Doctor Wrist Hinge Trainer, the Hanger Wrist Training Aid and the Total Golf Wrist And Arm Trainer are all excellent devices that will give you immediate feedback and help you get your wrists into the correct position to add that final bit of length to your backswing.
How do I increase my backswing flexibility in golf?
The best way to increase flexibility in your golf backswing is to do regular stretching exercises, participate in yoga or pilates classes or follow a training schedule created by a professional physiotherapist or personal trainer. The more you stretch your muscles, the more flexible you’ll become and the longer your backswing will be.
I’ve always found yoga to be hugely beneficial for maintaining or improving flexibility, which is essential if you’re playing golf regularly.
While some of the big boys on the PGA Tour, such as Brooks Koepka or Bryson DeChambeau, lift lots of heavy iron in the gym, they also place significant focus on stretching in order to reduce their chances of injury but also maintain the length and mobility in their swings.
The below video by Me and My Golf is a great place to start if you want some golf specific exercises to improve your flexibility, which will help your hips and shoulders turn better in your backswing.
How do I get more distance with a short backswing in golf?
To maximise distance with a short backswing you need to make a full shoulder and hip turn, hinge your wrists at the top and make sure you are striking the ball with enough shaft lean to get solid compression (especially with your irons). Doing these things will produce the most distance with a short backswing.
If you’re unable to significantly lengthen your backswing by doing the steps I outlined earlier – whether due to age, injury, general lack of mobility or lack of time/unwillingness to work on your flexibility – then don’t worry, you can still generate plenty of distance with a short swing.
In terms of what you need to do to get more distance, the equation is the same – maximise your hip and shoulder turn (to whatever your body will allow), work on your wrist hinge and focus on compressing the ball with your irons.
With driver, you can also add extra length off the tee by moving the ball forward in your stance and increasing your angle of attack – both of which I’ve explained in more detail in another article.
Just because you have a short backswing, it doesn’t mean you’re resigned to being a short hitter for life.
Lengthening your backswing can actually hurt, rather than help, your swing if done incorrectly.
Simply swinging with your arms, and letting your elbows and wrists bend behind you at the top, may allow the club to move past parallel – much like John Daly or long-drive guru Jamie Sadlowski (pictured at the top of this article) – but without the proper hip and shoulder movements it’s likely it won’t add any distance to your game.
Worse than that, it will probably make your ball-striking worse.
In order to lengthen your backswing correctly you need to focus on maxing-out your hip and shoulder turn, while focusing on optimising your wrist hinge.
If you can do these things, you will generate extra length in your backswing naturally, without sacrificing control or consistency.