How Long Should Your Golf Backswing Be?

PGA pro Gary Alliss discusses how long your golf backswing should be and offers some simple tips on mistakes to avoid

Jon Rahm and John Daly hitting drives
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Lots of golfers worry about whether their backswing is too short or long, which can end up doing more harm than good. In the video and article below, Golf Monthly Top 50 Coach Gary Alliss discusses the main faults he sees and gives his advice on how to avoid these common pitfalls.

When it comes to the backswing, so many golfers are preoccupied with length. However, there is no one-size fits all solution as everyone has different physical attributes and unique swings. Just look at the two Jo(h)ns as case in point. 

John Daly powered his way to two Majors and forged a reputation as one of the game's best drivers of the ball in the 1990s with a massive overswing that no coach would teach. But it worked for Daly and the mechanics of his motion.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Jon Rahm, whose physical limitations prevent him from getting the club anywhere near parallel - even on his driver backswing. Yet he is one of the elite players of the modern generation and will undoubtedly rack up a laundry list of titles during his career.

Having said that, there are some common faults that can make your backswing seem either very short or very long and without question, they all make it very hard to coordinate the downswing move.

Jon Rahm hitting a tee shot at the 2023 WM Phoenix Open

Jon Rahm has one of the shortest backswings in golf but still generates loads of power

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1. Tension

A backswing that could be considered too short can be caused by tension at address and gripping the club too tightly. This will make it hard for your wrists to hinge effectively and for your arms to move as efficiently. 

As a consequence, it'll be difficult to keep your arms and body in sync on the way down, which will cheat you of both power and control. Instead, try to relax at address, settling into a comfortable position and ridding yourself or unnecessary tension.

2. Elbow collapse

A golfer with a collapsed left elbow at the top of their backswing

A collapsed lead elbow makes it very hard to strike the ball with any sort of consistency

(Image credit: Future)

The opposite can happen when a golfer excessively bends their left elbow (for right-handers) at the top of the backswing. This makes the swing look very long and creates a very weak position. Again, coordination on the way down will be hard to find.

It won't be a quick fix but working on how to get a straight left arm in your golf swing will help you reclaim some of the power and accuracy you've been sacrificing. Don't worry if this shortens your backswing.

3. Excessive heel lift

In similar fashion, some players excessively lift the heel of their front foot to lengthen their backswing. For right-handers, this can make the top of your backswing look like a left-hander's finish position. Again, this is likely to result in a loss of power and consistency. 

That's not to say you can't lift your heel off the ground. After all, it's something plenty of Major champions have done in the past. The important thing is to make sure you're not overdoing it to the detriment of your game.

Ultimately, there is no set backswing length. Instead, the most important thing is to make a good, full turn (whatever that looks like) and shift your weight properly. This will put you in the best position for the downswing sequence and to execute the shot at hand, which is the most important thing.

Gary Alliss
Top 50 Coach

Location: Various (south coast)

Gary began his PGA training at Trevose, where, in 1983, he became head professional. In 2005, he joined The Belfry, where he managed a team of 35 PGA professionals. He's travelled the world several times over, working extensively in Slovakia, Ghana and Israel, and from January 2022 he will be will be taking over his father's position as patron of England and Wales Blind Golf Society.

Teaching philosophy:

Sound fundamentals. Aim and alignment, grip where the hands work together; good posture to promote balance; and set a sound swing plane. The game is about moving the ball forwards. The ball doesn't know who's holding the stick - all it knows and reacts to is impact. Get impact correct consistently and you can play golf quite well.

Greatest teaching influence:

My grandad, Percy. He taught me to play and a great deal of what I learned from him in the 1950s I still tell pupils today. And John Jacobs and Alex Hay, both of whom delivered the message in simple language. They were excellent demonstrators and wonderfully articulate. 

Greatest success story:

A lady (Valerie Stock) came to me fearing she'd never see her husband during their retirement if she didn't learn to play. She booked two lessons per week for three months, but she just couldn't hit a ball. Suddenly she stopped coming. Four  weeks later, and after practising in her garden, she rebooked - and sure enough she could play. Before we could progress, she emigrated. Three years later, Valerie walked into the golf shop and told me she was playing off 19, saying everything I told her just took a long time to process!