In the world of golf, as a sport, backswing and its related mechanics have always been a point of discussion among players, coaches, and anyone interested in the sport and its intricacies. When we talk about pro golfers, we find many examples of players with fast-paced backswings. Traditionally, many golfers prefer a fast-paced backswing when driving the ball off the tee. But in a sport as inclusive as golf, there is room for every playing style, whether traditional or unorthodox.
Speaking of unorthodox styles, a slow backswing has always been a topic of discussion. While a golfer with a slow backswing is a rare sight on the course, there are still many examples of professional players who have found success with a slow-paced backswing.
In this post, we will discuss some professional golfers who have a distinct style of performing their backswing, along with their valid reasons for doing so. Let’s explore this further in the rest of the post.
1. Sung-jae Im
Sung-jae Im, a South Korean professional golfer, is well-known for his slow backswing. It’s so deliberate that watching it on TV could make you think it’s a slow-motion replay of his previous shot. In 2016, he consciously decided to slow down his backswing to improve his ball-striking ability. He improved his backswing by putting in a lot of practice drills and finally achieved the result he desired. He earned his first PGA Tour win in 2020, becoming the youngest golfer ever to do so at the age of 22. He also won a gold medal in men’s golf at the 2022 Asian Games while representing South Korea.
For Im, a slow backswing leads to consistency.
“I started to see more consistency in my tempo and ball flight when I took it away slower, So I just continued to do it.” – Sung-jae Im talks about his backswing in an interview with golfdigest.com
A slow-paced backswing helps a golfer achieve better accuracy because it provides extra control during the shot. Arm extension is also an important element of a slow backswing, and extending the arms as much as possible helps generate sufficient power. Im has certainly incorporated both of these elements into his game, particularly evident in his backswing.
2. Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama, a resident of Japan, is originally from Matsuyama, a city located near Shikoku Island. He made history in 2021 when he became the first Japanese player to win a Masters championship. He reached his career-best ranking in the world golf rankings when he reached number two in 2017.
Matsuyama is known for his distinct stance and slow backswing, which he uses to generate maximum power and control over the clubhead. In addition to his slow backswing, Matsuyama also has a distinct pause at the top of his swing, which stands out when he plays a shot.
A swing with a pause!
“I really don’t know how that pause got into my swing. I guess as far as timing is concerned, I try to be as slow as I can at the top.” – Matsuyama on his natural slow backswing and pause that he does not even take notice of for a long period. (source)
The conscious effort from Matsuyama to slow down the swing as it reaches the top is an interesting strategy on its own. Many golfers try to maintain a decent swing speed so they can drive the ball with as much power as possible, but that’s not the case with Matsuyama. His rationale behind slowing down the backswing was that his takeaway had become faster during his initial days on the PGA Tour. At that time, all he wanted was to hit the ball as far as possible. A faster takeaway led to inconsistent accuracy, so he opted for a slower backswing to counteract it.
“When I first came to the PGA Tour in 2013, everyone was hitting it a long way, so subconsciously my takeaway was getting faster, because I wanted to hit it farther.” – Matsuyama in an interview with Golf Digest.
3. Kenny Perry
Kenny Perry, an American professional golfer, spent more than 40 years in the game before retiring in 2023. Over his golfing career, he won 27 tournaments. In 2019, he achieved his highest ranking of three in his career. Norman Head, a Navy veteran who coached Perry in golf, advised him to maintain a slow, deliberate backswing. Perry followed this advice for many years and enjoyed great success.
Perry’s unique way of swinging the club back.
Perry had an interesting technique of backswing unlike any other golfer. His unique backswing was characterized by two things: his body rotation and head position. Perry was considered a brilliant striker of the ball, and his backswing technique was one of the primary reasons for that.
His overall body posture, whether it was shoulders, foot spacing, or wrist position, all contributed to his improved backswing control. Not every golfer can be replicated for his style of play, but Perry stands out from the crowd.
4. Lydia Ko
Youngest golfer reaching world no. 1.
Lydia Ko, a New Zealand professional golfer, is known for being the youngest ever player to reach No. 1 in the world golf rankings. At 17, she achieved a record that still stands as the best for both men and women in golf.
What can we learn from Ko’s picture perfect backswing?
One more thing Ko is known for is her technicality and slow backswings. When she is playing, Ko has one of the most graceful and smooth backswings that stands out.
Anyone who rushes into a swing and loses rhythm while doing so needs to watch Ko in order to learn how to execute that backswing flawlessly. When swinging a club, it is ideal to maintain a steady pace as this improves accuracy and momentum. Ko’s backswing makes this quite evident. Her arm extension also supplements the backswing effectively. One aspect that makes her swing and follow-through effective is her posture and balance.
5. Wilco Nienaber
At the age of 19, South African golfer Wilco Nienaber made his professional debut in 2019. In addition to ranking among the top 30 players in the world in amateur golf, Nienaber has won multiple amateur golf competitions in South Africa.
Nienaber is known for his incredible distance off the tee. Is his backswing the reason?
Anyone who has followed Nienaber’s professional career so far will have noticed one thing: his ability to drive the ball long distances. Although driving long distances is not uncommon in professional golf, achieving it with a slow backswing is a feat worthy of commendation.
Nienaber’s consistent long drives (over 300 yards) stem from his steady backswing, which he leverages to generate maximum power.
“One thing I always think of when I try to go after it is just make sure I keep the backswing nice and steady, and finish the backswing, and then go at it as hard as I can… try and hit it long on the backswing.” – Nienaber’s assessment of his long-driving ability. (Source: golf.com)
6. Cameron Young
Cameron Young turned pro in 2019 at the age of 22. He climbed to a career-best ranking of 13th in 2023. Born and raised in New York, USA, Young’s style of play is marked by two key elements, similar to those of other players mentioned: a slow backswing and impressive distance. He achieves this by generating significant force on the downswing and maintaining a powerful arc throughout the motion.
Young’s “pause” gives him the power to drive long distances.
Young is able to power his downswing through a pause to his backswing. The pause is the main highlight of his game. His father, who was also a golf coach, assisted him in incorporating the pause to backswing, which required a lot of drills and practice to perfect. Young’s swing is similar to a slingshot in that you have to pull back the rubber band and pause slightly before releasing it. Young has this slingshot-like effect on his backswing, where he builds up the force and then pauses at the top to store it for his downswing. Using this method, he is able to achieve the required power and accuracy.
7. Sung Kang
Sung Kang is a South Korean golfer who won on the PGA Tour (AT&T Byron Nelson tournament) in 2019, twelve years after his pro debut. Apart from that, he has several tour wins on the Korean and Asian tours.
Kang’s controlled backswing is unique.
Kang’s control over his backswing is what makes him a golfer worth watching. Although he has a smooth backswing, it is his downswing that can be termed “aggressive,” as he is able to hit the long yards even with that slow backswing of his. The full-body rotation that Kang implements on his downswing is something that a new viewer watching him for the first time wouldn’t expect, but that is what helps him to generate immense clubhead speed. His backswing, which he keeps slow, is also where one can see his body rotation, which he uses as a “trigger” for that rapid downswing. Anyone who is working on body rotation for both backswing and downswing can certainly take learnings from Kang.
8. Collin Morikawa
In 2021, within two years of his debut, American golfer Collin Morikawa reached the top 2 rankings in pro golf. In the same year, he made his debut in two major championships, winning both and becoming the first player to achieve this feat. Morikawa is technically a very astute golfer with an orthodox style of play.
For Morikawa rhythm is everything.
The most standout thing in Morikawa’s driving style is his slow backswing, a technique that he also advises new golfers to adopt. Many players, especially when they are beginners, speed up the backswing, particularly at the start of it. This makes it difficult for them to find the correct rhythm and tempo. In an interview with meandmygolf.com, Morikawa emphasized the importance of maintaining a good rhythm with the backswing. He pointed out that to get your position right, it is important to keep the backswing slow until the midpoint of your backswing. In other words, he instructs anyone who is learning the sport to avoid rushing their backswing and focus more on executing it properly.
9. Zach Johnson
“To have optimal club speed, concentrate on a slow backswing so that the transition to the downswing is smooth.” – Zach Johnson
That’s the advice Johnson has for anyone who is learning to perfect the skill of backswing. In his opinion, for a long drive, what’s important is not strength but the actual speed of the club before it hits the ball. The best way to achieve it is by perfecting your time and steadying the backswing. Once you’ve nailed the backswing, you’ll naturally have the power and speed for your downswing.
Johnson is one of the slowest among the top!
Zach Johnson is well known for his accuracy and slow clubhead speed. In fact if we go by the stats, he ranks among the top when it comes to having one of the slowest average clubhead speeds. His average speed over the years has been around 107-110 mph.
Johnson became a golf professional at the age of 22 in 1998. To date, he has 12 PGA tour event wins to his name along with 2 major championships. He reached his best ranking in the official world rankings of 6 in 2014.
10. Gary Woodland
American professional Golfer Gary Woodland turned pro in 2007 and got his PGA Tour card in 2009. One of the major highlights of Woodland’s career is him winning the 2019’s US Open Championship, as it was his first major title win. Brooks Koepka was the runner up in the 2019 US Championship and he was also defending the title.
For Woodland, a slow backswing equals more energy (into the ball).
Woodland has a slow backswing, which he uses as a strategy when he wants to cover considerable ground. He also widens his feet further apart for balance while hitting the ball.
“When I want all that energy into the golf ball, I don’t want to waste any of it going back. I kind of wind up, going back a little bit slower until I get to the top. And then I fire as hard as I can and hit it a little bit farther.” – said Woodland on his backswing technique in an interview with dickssportinggoods.com
Woodland has a deliberate, slow backswing that he focuses on as it enables him to generate more power to transfer it to the ball and the wider foot placement creates a strong foundation for driving it a long distance. Like other golfers we’ve discussed, Woodland relies on his backswing to build up energy, which he then unleashes by transferring it to the ball. In the end, it all boils down to precise execution which depends on practice and overall preparation. Woodland is a good example when it comes to executing the backswing, as he performs it with utmost control, visible to everyone.
From observing all instances of pro golfers and the unique approaches they have adopted in demonstrating their skills, we can draw two conclusions:
Firstly, there is no single solution that fits everyone in a sport like golf. As mentioned in the introductory part of this post, golf attracts and is played by players of all ages, with a wide range of skill levels. For sports of this nature, there will be unique approaches to executing various elements, such as the backswing, stance, or putting. People will also have their own ideas and perspectives on any particular aspect of the sport, and these will all be different.
The second conclusion is that the technique that best suits you is the right one for you, even if many others, including experts, might not see it that way. If it’s actually helping you progress and improve in the sport, then continue working on it. Whether it’s traditional or not is irrelevant; what matters is its effectiveness.
Sports like golf are all about timing, not only on the field but also in the time you spend practicing your technique off the field.
New Zealand Government, Office of the Governor-General, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons