Every golfer, regardless of their level, wants more contact and distance. If you read that first sentence and thought, “No I don’t” then you might want to check your pulse. We all know that it is possible to hit the ball a little further and a little more solid to improve our game.
You can see that there are many different ways to hit a ball well when you look at the swings both of the top golfers and amateurs. Some seem to be able to break every rule, but still get the ball in the right place. That’s one of the beautiful things about golf; it doesn’t really matter what it looks like, just as long as it does the trick.
There are some traits that almost all great golfers have. Their impact positions look almost identical, even though they were created in a somewhat unconventional way. Another thing you’ll see in most, if not all, is creating width in their backswing.
Maybe you’ve heard that before, or maybe this is the first time you’ve ever heard that phrase. Regardless, you instinctively understand the concept, even if you can explain it or don’t currently do it in your swing.
What does it mean to get width in your backswing?
Golfers can create width in their backswing to give them the leverage and consistency they need to hit the ball far and consistently.
What is it exactly? Basically, it’s the distance between your chest and the golf club during the backswing. A “narrow” swing is one where that distance is small. On the other hand, a swing that is “wide” has a larger distance.
Your height or arm length doesn’t matter, though. Sure, a player that’s tall and long will be able to create more depth than one that is short, but you can’t change those characteristics. It is important to create as much depth as possible, not just keep up with others.
Width at Address
At the address position, there’s already some depth that exists. Unless you’re starting your swing by pressing the grip against your sternum, you’ve got something to work with right from the start. The width of your swing becomes more important once it starts. It is up to you to decide if you want to increase or decrease your width.
Width in the Takeaway
You can expect the distance between your chest and the club to change slightly when you take the club back to the takeaway. If it’s getting further away from your body or staying the same, that’s probably a pretty good indication that you’ve got some decent width. But, if that distance is lessening, it’s going to be difficult to hit a quality golf shot.
Ideally, this distance should be at the top end of your backswing. If not, you’re probably leaving yards and accuracy on the shelf.
The Width – Tetherball Analogy
It can be compared to a tetherball rod. If you’ve never played the game, it’s fairly simple. There’s a vertical pole with a rope tied with one end to the top. Then, on the other end of the rope, there’s a ball that’s about the size of a soccer ball.
Two players attempt to grab and throw the ball the opposite direction around the pole, in the hope of wrapping the entire rope in their favor. However, one strategy is to throw the ball hard and allow it to wrap quickly around the pole so that the opponent cannot stop it.
To make the ball fly fast, it is important that the rope is taut. The width of the rope is the tension. There is a distance between the pole and the ball. The ball will fly slower the farther it is from the pole.
The same applies to golf.
Why is it important to get width in your backswing?
The more width you’re able to create in the backswing, the faster and more consistent you’ll be able to swing the golf club. The width allows for leverage and power to hit solid shots and explode through impact.
You’ve probably seen some golfers take the club back to the top of their back swing and something just doesn’t look right. The club and arms almost seem to “hug” their body and fold at the top. It might even look a little “loopy,” swinging inside and outside the target line. Maybe that’s you and you’ve never noticed because you don’t regularly see your own swing.
The club doesn’t have enough speed when the backswing becomes narrow. Golfers with a narrow swing should use their arm strength to hit as far as possible. Of course, every golf swing uses some arm strength, but a wide swing also uses the body’s length, and often times torque, to create distance.
Reduce the impact of Bent Arms on your health
It brings inconsistency into the equation when the arms bend and the backswing narrows.
Think about the tetherball scenario. If you were to throw the ball with a rope that wasn’t tight, what would happen? Although you could get it moving reasonably fast, it would not be as fast as if the rope was tight. What path would the ball take? It’s impossible to know! It’d be so random and unpredictable. The ball would fly until the rope got tight and then it’d snap back in the opposite direction over and over again until it came to a stop.
The same holds true for the golf swing. If your width isn’t maximized, it’s nearly impossible for you, as the golfer, to guide the club down the same path every single time. One time you might hit the ball thin, then next it’s fat, the next you may hit it great. You never know! It all depends on how fortunate you are.
Now, luck is great and sometimes necessary in the sport of golf, but we shouldn’t rely on it. Instead, keep your hands as far from your body as possible during the backswing to allow the ball to travel more consistently along the same path and produce more speed.
How to Get Width in Your Backswing
This leads us to the most important question of all. How can you achieve width? We started to talk about it earlier, but it involves keeping the hands as far away as possible from your body throughout the backswing. To do this, your elbows should be straight at the beginning of the backswing.
Now, it’s important to remember that, when I say “straight” I don’t mean “locked.” Locked arms are hard to transition and not ready for an athletic move like the golf swing.
Amateur golfers often have bent arms at the address position. If your arms are bent at address, you’re probably too close to the ball. A good way to make sure you’re the right distance from the ball is to relax your arms and just let them hang freely down from your shoulders as you grip the club. That level of “straightness” in your arms is what you want to maintain, at least for the first half of your backswing.
Now, anyone who tells you to keep your arms straight throughout your golf swing probably has good intentions, but the reality is, you can’t and shouldn’t maintain that the entire time. That’s another thing I see quite often; golfers swinging in a really uncomfortable way because someone somewhere told them to keep their arm (or arms) straight at the top of their backswing. It may work in theory but not in reality.
Your back swing will begin to bend in the second half. The lead arm should remain straight. A little bend coming into the lead arm isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s necessary. But even with the bend you can still create width to your club.
Correct Shoulder Turn = Width
To create width, another thing you need to pay attention to is your shoulder turn. The more you’re able to turn your shoulders back in the backswing, the more you’ll be able keep your arms back and away from your body. This can be greatly assisted by having flexible shoulders. I have found that most golfers have stiff shoulders, which affects their ability to create width in their backswing.
Another thing to remember is that your wrists will be swollen in the second half. That’s ok too. You still need the hinge to bring the club closer towards your body.
Drills to Increase Width in Your Backswing
Now, that information is all great, but if you can’t actually do it, it’s no help. So, let’s talk about some drills you can practice to get the right feel for creating width in your backswing.
Drill 1: Shoulder turn
This drill is quite simple.
- Grab a club, and place it horizontally across the chest.
- Keep it there and fold your arms over the club to expose your chest.
- You can set up in your address position (minus your arms) and play some imaginary golf swings using everything but your arms.
- When you reach the top of your backswing, notice where the club’s one end points. This is a great measuring tool.
- Whatever that mark may be, you can always go further the next time.
The further it goes, the more you can turn. You can improve your shoulder turn to give your arms the width they need.
Drill 2 – Draw the line
For the next drill:
- You’ll need to place another club on the ground behind the ball, pointing directly down your target line. Make sure it’s sitting a foot or two behind the ball.
- Then, as you hit some shots, slowly take your club back and try to “draw” your club down the club on the ground as long as possible. This will allow your arms to stay long for the first part of the backswing.
You should not sway in any way other than you would normally. You want to keep the club head as close as possible to the ground as possible, which forces you not to sway.
Drill 3 – Headcover Drill
Your driver or 3W cover does more than protect clubs. They can also be useful in many drills on your driving range. This drill will help you improve your width next time.
- Put your head cover underneath your right armpit (assuming you’re a right-handed golfer).
- Swing at half speed using a mid-iron and practice swings.
The goal is to load up quickly on the backswing and then drop your headcover at the beginning of the downswing.
You can also hit a golf ball with this drill as you get better at it. When it’s timed properly, this will ensure you have plenty of width throughout the swing and should lead to better ball contact.
Chris Ryan, YouTube golf guru, has another drill you can use that doesn’t require any training. The video explains that when your swing loses width, it can make it difficult to maintain consistent contact with the ball.
I encourage you to keep an eye on your waistline so that you don’t get in the way of this. This videoDo the drill he mentioned at the end. This drill will help you keep your elbows in the same place as they were at beginning of the backswing. Here’s how…
- You don’t need a golf ball so grab a short or mid-length iron at the range.
- Before hitting any shots, try to feel like you’re pushing the grip down the ground at the start of your backswing. As he said in the video, the grip will go down when the club goes up. This will help with the middle of your backswing when you load up and hinge you wrists.
- Next, squeeze your elbows together so that your elbows stay together at the top. This will help you keep your elbows connected and allow you to maintain plenty of width when you begin your downswing.
Drill 5 – Check Your Position
For this last drill, we’ll have you check the position of your hands at the top of your backswing to make sure you have enough width and are in the correct place.
- Set up a golf club as you would normally to find the ideal position for your backswing position.
- Now, without moving any other than your arms and hands lift the club up and place it on you back shoulder. The club’s butt should point down towards the ball, while the head should be pointed straight up at the sky. The grip should touch your shoulder.
- Now, take your normal turn but move your body only. With your hands and club resting on your back, you should be able to perform a backswing.
- From there, simply “push” your hands up and away from your shoulder.
- Take them away until you’ve created as much width as you can between you and the club.
If it feels natural, then you have a good position at the top your backswing. If it feels different from what you would normally, you should work on your backswing to make it look like this.
That’s it! I’m confident that if you’re able to turn your body and shoulders, keep both arms straight for the first half of the backswing, allow the back arm (right arm for most golfers) to bend in the second half, but keep the front arm relatively straight, you’ll be improving your scores in no time. Do all that, and you’ll pretty quickly experience more consistency and distance.