How To Shorten Your Backswing and Add Distance

By Nick Heidelberger

Tony Finau top of backswing

Some of the best golfers in the world have surprisingly short backswings, but big power. Jon Rahm and Tony Finau are two prime examples. Here’s how you can shorten your backswing and pack as much power as ever.

Why Shorten Your Backswing?

The key to playing great golf isn’t making your best shots better, it’s making your worst shots better. 

What does this have to do with the length of your backswing? Well, your backswing sets up the success (or failure) of your shot. If you make a good backswing, your chances of hitting a good shot are immeasurably higher than if things break down during the takeaway. 

By shortening your backswing, you make everything easier. When you don’t swing the club back as far, you have more control and less opportunity for your club face to rotate open or your swing to get off-plane

A shorter backswing doesn’t require as much effort as a long swing, which helps you keep your body and club in the ideal positions. A shorter backswing is also more repeatable, which means more consistency in your game.

Finally, a shorter backswing helps improve your tempo, which again will help your consistency, and come in handy when you need to hit great shots under pressure late in a round.

How To Shorten Your Backswing

The great news about using a shorter backswing is that it’s easy to implement. Here are three easy steps to a shorter, more efficient, more consistent, and more controllable backswing.

Step 1. Keep Your Trail Bicep Connected

When golfers take long backswings, their arms and elbows tend to move all over the place, which does not set the club up for a successful strike. The first step to shortening your backswing is to keep your trail (dominant) bicep connected to your body during your entire backswing. This move limits how far back you can take the club, and keeps you in complete control of your swing.

Step 2. Tuck Your Trail Elbow

The second step is to keep your trail elbow tucked in. Try to feel like your trail elbow is pulling towards your lead elbow, rather than flaring out behind you. If you do a good job keeping your bicep connected, this move should follow suit easily, and will really help you keep your club in a great position and pack a strong punch through impact.

Step 3. Turn Your Shoulders, Then You’re Done

The last step to shortening your backswing is to simply know when your backswing is finished. Go through your takeaway, being sure to implement the two steps listed above, and when your shoulders are finished turning, it’s time to transition into your downswing, rather than continuing the backswing with your arms.

This feeling may take some time to get used to. Begin by practicing slow-motion swings to train your body the feeling of where the top of your new backswing is.

What About Power?

Many golfers assume that if they have a longer backswing, they will hit the ball farther. If you’ve seen Rahm and Finau hit the ball, you know this is not true. Here’s why.

The ideal point in the swing for your fastest club head speed is at impact. However, most amateur – and even many professional – golfers’ fastest moment in the swing actually occurs before impact. That means they’re not getting the most out of their backswing, which is why the efficiency of your swing is more important than the length. A player with a shorter backswing whose fastest speed is through impact is likely to hit the ball farther than one with a longer backswing who wastes the fastest moment too early in the downswing.

To practice optimizing your peak swing speed through the hitting zone, use the “swoosh” drill. Grip a club upside down so your hands are just past the club head and the grip is above the ground by about a foot. Swing the club and listen for the “swoosh” it makes as it travels through the air. Now try to make the loudest “swoosh” at the bottom of the swing, or even just past the impact zone. Once you’ve mastered this feel, turn the club around and practice making regular swings with the fastest moment of the swing through impact.

Optimizing your swing speed through impact will have a much greater impact on your power than the length of your backswing. By utilizing a shorter backswing, you’re likely to hit the ball cleaner and more consistently. When you combine the two, you're likely to find noticable distance gains.

The Long and Short of It

A shorter backswing with peak swing speed through impact is more likely to return a noticeable increase in distance than any decrease. Give it a try and see if you notice better consistency, control, and distance.

About the Author

Nick Heidelberger is the Editor of GolfLink. He has a degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and has been an avid golfer for more than 10 years. In the years prior to joining GolfLink, he worked for the New England Section of the PGA of America.