Should You Pause At The Top Of The Backswing? The Pros And Cons

For something that lasts less than a couple of seconds, the volume of information written about the act of swinging a golf club can make your head spin.

There are many different theories that can be found across social media, the internet, television, and the written word.

But the beauty of the game of golf is that every golfer has something very specific to their own golf swing.

It could be how the club is gripped, how the club is set in the takeaway, whether the swing is short or long, and fast or slow.

Whatever it may be, you’ll be pleased to know that even the very best players in the game have their own unique mannerisms or swing characteristics.

There is one interesting element of the swing that causes a debate about whether or not it is beneficial – should you employ a pause at the top of the backswing?

Let’s take the opportunity in this article to explore:

  • The Benefits Of A Pause At The Top Of The Backswing
  • Improving Swing Mechanics With A Pause At The Top Of The Backswing
  • The Downside Of Pausing At The Top Of The Backswing
  • Should You Pause At The Top Of The Backswing: Summary

Let’s get into it!

man wearing blue polo and white cap swings golf club

The Benefits of a Pause at the Top of the Backswing

One player who has demonstrated a very deliberate pause at the top of his backswing is Hideki Matsuyama.

Matsuyama is arguably Japan’s most successful male golfer – further enhanced by becoming the first Japanese male golfer to win a major claiming victory at the 2021 Masters.

So if a major champion is pausing, is it something we should be looking to emulate in our swings?

It should be noted at this point that Hideki Matsuyama isn’t the only star player who employs a pause at the top of his backswing.

Cameron Young who finished 2nd at the Open in 2022 and Will Zalatoris are two stars of the game who also have a pause at the top of their backswings.

So what would be the benefit of this?

The first thing to consider is what type of tempo you have in your golf swing.

  • You can be very unhurried and smooth in your golf swing like a Fred Couples or Ernie Els.
  • You can have a quick tempo and a short swing like current world number 1 Jon Rahm.
man wearing orange vest and blue hat swings golf club on golf course

The players with a smoother tempo could find it easier to incorporate a pause at the top of the backswing which leads to the advantages of a pause:

  • Smoother transition from backswing to downswing

smoother Transition From Backswing To Downswing

It sounds a little counterintuitive, but the smoother you can start your downswing, the easier it is to build up and deliver power at the most important point – impact.

You can see this, especially with players like Zalatoris and Young, who hit the golf ball serious distances whilst pausing at the top of their backswings.

This leads to the second advantage that can be obtained from building a pause into the backswing.

Proper Sequencing Of The Downswing

If a player’s tempo goes, they can struggle to hit the ball consistently well and with any degree of accuracy.

These problems can stem from being rushed in the transition phase from backswing to downswing and getting the sequence out of sync.

Building that little pause at the top of the backswing can be a trigger to an effective downswing.

golf instructor teaching pause at the top of the backswing

The downswing starts with your weight moving back onto the lead foot.

The sequence continues with the hips unwinding leading to the chest and shoulders rotating back towards the ball and onto the target after impact.

Allowing your body to unwind in the proper sequence will do wonders for:

  • The consistency of your ball striking

There aren’t many golfers out there who don’t strive to improve any of these areas in their golf games.

If pausing at the top of the backswing feels like a difficult thing to do you can look to build a pause into improving your swing mechanics on the practice ground.

Improving swing mechanics with a pause at the top of the backswing

One of the most effective ways to learn better positions in the backswing is to pause at certain points in the swing to check where the club is.

If you watch top tour pros on the practice ground, you will see many of them stopping at certain “checkpoints” in their swings as they build up the feeling of what they are looking to achieve.

man wearing pink polo shirt and white cap swings golf club with blue skies in background

Some players even take this into their pre-shot routines when they are in competition – Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler are great examples where check the club head position in their takeaways.

David Leadbetter, who coached Nick Faldo to his 6 major triumphs, worked on paused positions in the swing to make sure that Faldo had the club in the optimal positions.

Faldo would practice checking the club at the 9 o’clock position in his backswing, then continue before a pause at the top of the backswing and, from there, releasing his body and club to hit the golf ball.

In a television interview with Tiger Woods in 2000, he spoke of a drill that he practiced for hours on end to build up the correct sequencing in his downswing.

His coach at the time, Butch Harmon, started the drill by getting Woods to stop at the top of his backswing.

Woods would hit thousands of balls to get his sequencing correct, all from that paused position at the top of the backswing.

Woods says in the interview that he hated doing the drill, but he understood the benefit of it and how it would improve his game, so he carried on doing it.

Building correct muscle memory and sequencing is so important to a consistent and repeatable golf swing.

close up of man wearing red polo shirt while swinging golf club

These drills were very specific to what each of these golfers was trying to achieve, and how their careers turned out certainly suggests there is merit to practicing with a pause at certain key points in the swing.

But are there any situations where having a pause at the top of the backswing isn’t beneficial? 

The downside of pausing at the top of the backswing

If, by definition, you naturally have a fast tempo and a shorter backswing building a pause can be nigh on impossible to achieve.

But even looking at a player like Hideki Matsuyama, when the pressure is applied, timing the pause at the top of his backswing and synching his downswing can go a little off-kilter.

Trying to pause at the top of the backswing can cause timing issues with the rest of your swing if it’s something you haven’t practiced.

Let’s look at this from a practical point of view.

Do you know exactly where the top of your backswing is?

You can do this if you make a practice swing, stop and turn to look where the club is positioned where you stopped it, but is it in exactly the same position when you swing the club for real?

The problem is if you don’t know exactly where the top of the backswing position is, how do you know where to pause?

golf ball lies on golf pitch with blurred trees in the background

It then becomes difficult to begin the downswing correctly and get the sequencing just right.

If you want to try and engineer a pause in your backswing, you have to understand where the top of the backswing is.

You can create reference points to assist this, like:

  • Get the left shoulder under your chin (if you are a right-handed golfer)
  • Feel like your back is facing the target
  • Good transfer of weight to your trailing leg in the backswing 

Whatever works best for you could be that trigger for a pause.

From there, it’s sequencing the downswing correctly to make an effective strike of the ball.

Another situation that could hamper your ability to have an effective pause at the top of your backswing is if you are playing on a windy day.

If you play golf on a really windy day on an exposed golf course, you know it can play havoc on your timing and rhythm even if you don’t try and pause at the top of your backswing.

It was believed for a long time that a lot of American golfers didn’t play well in the Open Championship because of the windy conditions that were often experienced.

man wearing a white top and grey pants swings golf club on sunny day

This was a far cry from the courses they normally played that were exposed to the elements.

Playing mainly in calm conditions goes a long way to helping make a smooth swing.

Should you pause at the top of the backswing: Summary

Building in a pause at the top of the backswing can provide some clear advantages.

  • Have a smoother transition into the downswing
  • Help create better sequencing in the downswing
  • It can aid in consistent ball striking and more accurate shots

Having a pause at the top of the backswing can also be a great drill to practice the plus points mentioned above.

If you are a player with a quicker rhythm, trying to pause at the top of the backswing might be difficult to achieve and could throw your natural tempo.

If you look at the current world number 1 Jon Rahm, his tempo is quick and his backswing short, but he is still one of the best ball strikers out there.

If you struggle with the transition from backswing to downswing, a pause during a practice session is worth considering.

close up of golf ball sitting on tee with blurred grass in the background

Want to improve your swing? Be sure to check out The 12 Best Golf Swing Exercises To Strengthen Your Swing

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Golf has been a passion of mine for over 30 years. It has brought me many special moments including being able to turn professional. Helping people learn to play this great game was a real highlight especially when they made solid contact with the ball and they saw it fly far and straight! Injury meant I couldn't continue with my professional training but once fully fit I was able to work on and keep my handicap in low single figures representing my golf club in local and regional events. Being able to combine golf with writing is something I truly enjoy. Helping other people learn more about golf or be inspired to take up the game is something very special.

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