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How “long arms” at the top of the backswing can help you hit the ball farther

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One of the hardest things to do as we get older is to make a big shoulder turn with extended arms at the top. It’s the swing of a younger golfer! However, every one of us can add width at the top so we can hit it farther, but few know how to actually do so. In this article, I will use MySwing 3D Motion Analysis to help you understand how beneficial long arms are at the top.

As you examine the swing of this particular player, you will notice that the lead arm is “soft” and the hands are close to this player’s head at the top. This is the classic narrow armswing to the top that most older players employ. And as we all know this position leaves yardage in the bag!

Now let’s look at the data so we can see what is actually happening…

At the top you can see that the shoulders have turned 100 degrees which is more than enough, but the arms look jammed and narrow at the top. Why?

The answer lies within the actions of the rear arm, the lead arm is only REACTING to the over-bending of the rear elbow. As you can see at the top the rear elbow is bent 60 degrees. In a perfect world, when the rear elbow is at 90 degrees (a right angle) or more, the lead arm will be mostly straight — depending on how you’re built.

Something to note…in this position the hands are just past the chest and the shoulders have turned almost 90 degrees. However, when this player finished his backswing, he added 30 more degrees of rear elbow bend and only 11 more degrees of shoulder turn! What this means is that for the last quarter of the backswing, all this player did is allow the hands to basically collapse to the top of the backswing. This move is less than efficient and will cause major issues in your downswing sequencing, as well as, your transitional action.

As stated when your trail elbow stays at 90 degrees or wider in route to the top, you will have a much straighter lead arm.

One last thing to note when comparing these two players is that this player two had a shorter backswing length but a BIGGER shoulder turn with WIDER arms at the top, giving this player a short compact motion that resembles Adam Scott — which seems to work for he and Butch!

Therefore, the thing to remember is that if your lead arm is soft at the top and your arms look crowded at the top, then you must fix the over-bending of the rear elbow on the backswing. And if you have wider arms you will have a more solid “package” to become a ballstriking machine!

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. RBImGuy

    Jan 15, 2019 at 6:26 am

    nah, your not understanding the golf swing
    student added 80 yards from proper understanding
    went from am 220 yards to 300 yards.

  2. geohogan

    Dec 30, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    To extend left arm up to an additional 10 inches, simply elevate the left shoulder about an inch toward the left ear at address.
    That one move, described in “The Hogan Manual of Human Performance: GOLF, 1992”
    increases range of motion of the left arm sufficiently over time, to allow Lag.

    As you can imagine, elevating the left shoulder is exactly the opposite advise we received from golf instruction that says to lower left shoulder in takeaway.
    Lowering the left shoulder not only limits range of motion of the left arm in BS, but also forces the pelvic basin to slide away from the target, preventing a proper turn of the torso in the BS.

  3. Don Toth

    Dec 20, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Well done article…thank you for a great explanation!

    Look forward to more articles from you!

  4. scott

    Dec 17, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    Good Article. Thanks. There are always going to be exceptions to the rule but creating width is the best way to create speed. For those that are arguing that Tom is wrong, try swinging a ball at the end of a rope and tell me the the way that you got the most speed. It isn’t going to be constantly folding your arms and extending.

    I have always been more concerning with the lead arm instead of the trailing arm. I will look at that.

  5. Raymond CHASTEL

    Dec 17, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    It is definitely preferable not to have a (too much) bent lead arm in the backswing,though many top players show a slight bend .If you look at the photos of very
    ancient top golfers (HENRY PICARD comes to mind )you see them with lead arms straight as arrows .One simple cure I practice is to push your right hand away fom the body going in the backswing .Much of this fault has to do with the stiffness of the right shoulder ,so work hard on your stretching exercises .
    As said LEE TREVINO “You don’t hit the ball with your backswing “

  6. Speedy

    Dec 16, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    Good tip, Tom. A good grip is essential for achieving this desired position.

  7. chris pottle

    Dec 15, 2018 at 10:09 am

    good imformation. one small correction. It should be Butch and him.

    • Matthew

      Dec 17, 2018 at 11:20 pm

      You’re wrong on your correction.

      • Charlie Rouse

        Dec 27, 2018 at 6:26 pm

        So, you think it would be correct to say, “which seems to work for he”? “Which seems to work for him” is correct. It doesn’t change if more objects are added (in this case, “Butch”). I don’t know why this little bit of grammar is so hard for people to get right.

  8. FinnMan

    Dec 15, 2018 at 9:31 am

    There are lots of players on Tour and especially in long-driving that bend the lead elbow.

    • Mark Odenthal

      Dec 17, 2018 at 4:33 am

      Yes they probably have a good amount of extension w/shoulder turn. This matchup will allow for more time to create width P4-P5 as they don’t need to move as linear.

  9. stevek

    Dec 14, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    Interesting point, Tom. A long arm cantilever at the top will create more hand acceleration in the initial downswing path and a s s uming body torque is constant. However, Miura posits that bringing the hands in towards the body when approaching impact will create “parametric acceleration” for the arms and club with a 4% clubhead speed increase. How do you reconcile that dichotomy? Thanks.

    • Gun Violent

      Dec 15, 2018 at 10:00 am

      You use the proper angle of the dangle

    • Mark Odenthal

      Dec 17, 2018 at 4:38 am

      Definitely faster to maintain trail arm fold into P7. More rotational matchup….how you maintain the fold and what happens after is also a big factor in the speed increases.

  10. geohogan

    Dec 14, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Calvin Pete was straightest driver on the pga tour for ten years and he was unable to straighten his left arm, ever.

    There is no good reason for width in the BS.
    The only time a straight left arm is important is at impact.

    • Gun Violent

      Dec 15, 2018 at 9:57 am

      Yes it certainly is a load of BS

    • Mark Odenthal

      Dec 17, 2018 at 4:30 am

      Yes there is. Width in the trail arm allows the trail shoulder to work externally in transition like DJ without manipulations. Obviously many match ups as you definitely can be narrow and then create width in transition before turning lead shoulder as this article was trying to explain. I actually made a visual demonstration on IG of 6 common flaws that lead to a poor internally rotated throwing pattern P4-P9 that I learned from George.

      • smz

        Dec 17, 2018 at 5:56 pm

        … George who?…. P4-P9 whazzat??

      • geohogan

        Dec 18, 2018 at 3:46 pm

        @mark odenthal,
        It seems to me that to achieve all that your saying, we simply need to supinate our trail hand from the top of the BS and keep the palm facing the sky during the DS

        At impact trail arm bent, elbow at the trail hip is the goal.

        Now if your of the school who try to square the clubface with your hands at impact, there are many manipulations that have to be timed.
        Good luck with that.

      • geohogan

        Dec 18, 2018 at 3:52 pm

        Some of us want to reach impact with our trail arm bent, and elbow close to the trail hip.

        To achieve that , we simply need to supinate our trail hand at top of BS and to keep the palm facing the sky for the DS.

        Schools that teach to square the clubface with the hands, at moment of impact, have many manipulations to time.

  11. Tom stickney sucks

    Dec 14, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    Gee i should keep my left arm straight… Revolutionary thinking ????

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Instruction

Stickney: 8 quick tips for better golf

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One of the biggest myths in the golf swing is that you only “rotate or turn your hips” during the transition. Of course, you must rotate them at some point but as you see Tiger here in the photo above there is a very distinct bump AS the hips begin to rotate. If you only rotate you will tend to stay on your rear foot during the downswing causing over the top transitions and poor quality impact!

Most average players have trouble compressing the golf ball and hitting the ball solidly during impact. In fact, the thin and “clicky” shot is more often hit than not. This shot comes from the absence of longer arms through impact and whenever you “pull up” through the shot you will tend to hit the equator of the golf ball. As you look at this LPGA Tour player in the left frame you will see long arms and more solid impact!

Attention women, you have more flexibility than 10 men and this can be an issue when you play golf. As you can see in these photos the LPGA player on the left has a tighter turn to the top allowing a more explosive downswing! The player on the right has wasted too much motion on the backswing and therefore will have trouble producing speed through impact!

When pitching, it’s easy to forget about using the pivot of the body and only focusing on using the arms. As you can see in the photo above this player is rotating his rear shoulder through the shot keeping the rear wrist in a great condition for solid impact. If you only use your arms here you will tend to “flip” at the ball and use your hands too much making quality impact a fleeting thing.

One of my favorite ways to look at the putting stroke is from the hole back to the player. As you can see, Rory has hit the ball in the left frame and continues into his follow through in the right frame. What you can see is that the putter continues down the line with little twisting and turning of the blade post-impact. As we know the stroke works in an arc and the face will close on its own but it’s not your job to “release” it or try and make it happen on your own. Just let it flow!

To be a good pitcher of the golf ball you must do two things around the green…number one, just bruise the turf coming through impact and have some type of shaft lean forward (SLIGHT). If you possess these two things then you will have a much better chance of hitting good solid shots around the green. If you come into the golf ball too steeply or have the shaft backing up through impact then you will find that you will have impact quality issues.

When it comes to club fitting most golfers have clubs that are fit to them when it pertains to the length and hopefully the lie but with putters 99% of all golfer don’t even consider fitting. Most putters come off the rack around 35 inches with a lie angle of 71 degrees…great if you fit this mold but if you do not your impact will tend to look like this one above. The putter is toe-up with a faulty impact location giving you inconsistent misses. Get your putter fit—length, loft, and lie and you will thank me.

If you want more distance and more consistent impact then you should work on having more “width” at the top. When the lead arm is straighter you will find that these things will happen automatically. If you want the lead arm in a better condition then check out your rear arm…that is the controller! If the rear arm is at 90 degrees or more, you will find the lead arm will be straighter. Try it and you’ll be walking farther down the fairway.

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