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PGA Tour winner: This is my key feel for a wide, powerful backswing

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April 17, 2024

If they gave out gold medals for the latest wrist set in modern golf, Jake Knapp would take home the gold, says his longtime swing coach John Ortega. Knapp’s wrists don’t fully hinge until the club nears the top of his backswing, which is one reason why his club runs well past parallel.

So just how does the PGA Tour’s hottest rookie generate so much power with so little wrist cock going back?

It starts with an extra-wide takeaway.

Knapp stretches his arms and the clubhead well away from his body during the first few feet of his swing, creating a massive arc to the clubhead that he preserves through the elevation of his arms and hands to the top of the backswing. The longer the arc, the more distance the clubhead has to travel and the more speed he’s able to generate. And Knapp can crank it up! In six starts this season, Knapp ranks fifth on the PGA Tour in clubhead speed (123.6 miles per hour) and seventh in driving distance (310.7 yards)—pretty good for a guy who tips the scales at 190 pounds and stands just short of six feet.

'Feel like you're making a long putting stroke'

“John used to always tell me, feel like you’re making a long putting stroke at the very beginning,” says the 29-year-old Costa Mesa, Calif., native, who started working with Ortega when he was just 8 years old. “Feel like the clubhead stays low to the ground for as long as possible, like you’re pushing it away from your body.”

The analogy of swinging the putter also helps Knapp combat one of his biggest faults, which is taking the clubhead back inside his hands during the initial takeaway. This causes the hands and clubhead to get too far behind him on the backswing, diminishing his width and ability to drive the ball with accuracy. The concept of making a giant putting stroke helps Knapp keep the clubhead in line with his hands or slightly outside of his hands.

“I said let’s just go for a big putting stroke on the backswing,” says Ortega, the director of instruction at Costa Mesa Country Club. “That’s what produces those long arms of his going back the way they are. His right arm is quite a bit off his body, but it helps set up the length of his backswing.”

Ortega, for one, doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with swinging the club well past parallel at the top of the backswing, citing several Hall of Famers known for their driving prowess.

“I always thought if you could go farther back, you could always hit it farther,” Ortega says. “Guys like John Daly and Fred Couples that were long hitters back in the day, even Sam Snead and Ben Hogan when they were younger, they all went past parallel. So long as the structure is there and you can rotate far enough without your arms completely collapsing, it’s going to create more speed.”