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Should you really keep your left arm straight?

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“Keep your left arm straight” is a phrase heard a lot on the golf course. Some golfers swear by it, while some are skeptical of its importance and others simply cannot complete a swing with a straight left arm.

The truth is, while keeping the left arm straight is not absolute imperative, it does help most players hit the ball farther and more solid. That’s because a straight left arm creates width at the top of the swing, which helps golfers create more speed and consistency. 

Below, I’ll teach you how to fix the bent left arm and properly keep your left arm straight.

What I usually see in golfers’ backswings

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 12.41.09 PM

  • The left arm is bent. 
  • The right arm is bent very acutely. 
  • The hands are very close to the head. 
  • There is very little width.

What I’d like to see

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 12.41.26 PM

  • The left arm is straight.
  • The right arm angle is 90 degrees. 
  • The hands are “away” from the head. 
  • The wrists are fully hinged. 
  • The shoulders are fully turned over the top of a controlled lower body.
  • The backswing is parallel, with maximum width at this point.

The things I like to see in a backswing are very difficult to achieve for multiple reasons, the biggest being flexibility. That’s why having a perfectly straight left arm at the top of your backswing is great, but sometimes is unrealistic, and not always necessary.

Heck, Curtis Strange won back-to-back U.S. Open’s with a bent left arm!

Just because you can’t make a full turn with a straight left arm doesn’t mean you cannot create width in your swing, which is why we wanted a straight left arm in the first place. So forget about the left arm!

It’s all about your right arm’s position at the top

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 12.41.37 PM

Whenever the angle formed between the upper and lower arm becomes very acute (as shown on the left), you will lose width and your left arm will bend. This results in a loose feeling at the top of the backswing, and leads to a sloppy transition.

By keeping this angle wide (as shown by the photo on the right), you’ll find that the left arm will react and you will have more width. To achieve this feeling, think about pushing your hands — especially your right hand — out away from your head during the backswing.

If you want a straighter left arm, focus on your right arm at the top and you’ll create the width you desire!

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Tom F. Stickney II, is a specialist in Biomechanics for Golf, Physiology, and 3d Motion Analysis. He has a degree in Exercise and Fitness and has been a Director of Instruction for almost 30 years at resorts and clubs such as- The Four Seasons Punta Mita, BIGHORN Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera, The Promontory Club, and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. His past and present instructional awards include the following: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, Golf Digest Top 50 International Instructor, Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor, Best in State (Florida, Colorado, and California,) Top 20 Teachers Under 40, Best Young Teachers and many more. Tom is a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 25 people in the world. Tom is TPI Certified- Level 1, Golf Level 2, Level 2- Power, and Level 2- Fitness and believes that you cannot reach your maximum potential as a player with out some focus on your physiology. You can reach him at [email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Beth

    Jul 4, 2016 at 9:07 am

    I am a fairly low handicapper trying to improve technique. I do have a slight bend in my left arm. in an effort to straighten it i lost the cock in my wrist and my swing felt much less fluid.

  2. Pingback: Handstand - How to do a Straight Arm Press to handstand tutorial - Must Have Yoga Gear

  3. Dennis Clark

    May 28, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    agreed Tom. Too many golfers worried about “keeping right elbow in” ruin their width.

  4. Mike

    May 28, 2015 at 12:05 am

    Interesting that in the top two sets of pictures, after getting more width with a straight left arm, the golfer’s head (and shoulders) have slid well back off the ball in comparison to the top set with the bent left arm. Are you advocating sliding back as part of a correct swing?

    I use to slid a lot, which I’ve fixed, but I’m also not hitting it as far. Should I go back to my “twister’ move?

    • MHendon

      May 29, 2015 at 12:35 am

      Just my two cents. It doesn’t look to me like he has slid off the ball, his head position is basically the same in both swings. However the straight left arm swing has a much bigger shoulder turn and hip turn. That’s probably what has given you the impression he has slid off the ball. If you want to be a consistent ball striker it’s best not to slide off the ball. The closer your eyes stay to the set up position the easier it is to return the club to the ball square and towards the center of the club. Best tip I ever got was to imagine a poll fixed to the ground is going up through the center of your body all the way to your neck. Because its cylindrical you can turn but you can’t slide. It helps keep you centered over the ball.

  5. Regis

    May 27, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Ok now a question that has been plaguing me for years. In an effort to keep the “left arm straight” I sometimes rotate my left elbow clockwise at address. So the elbow points more down the target line as opposed to my left hip. Also strengthens my left hand grip a bit. When it works it works well. Any thoughts?

  6. Bob

    May 27, 2015 at 10:10 am

    I think if your left arm throughout the backswing is the same shape as it was at address, that’s straight enough.

  7. Paul

    May 26, 2015 at 10:52 am

    no stills of Bubba Watson at the top with a bent arm? J.B. Homes? They seem to hit it far.

  8. Jeez Utz

    May 25, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    I don’t care about the arms during the swing as long as the butt of the grip is on the correct line

  9. Tom Stickney

    May 25, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    Thank you Stephen.

  10. Minh Nguyen

    May 25, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Good article. Same exact thing my instructor preaches to me. He mentioned the “Swing Extender” Training Aid. Not the easiest training device, but it definitely keeps the “right” arm from from bending past 90 degrees.

    http://www.swingextender.com/

  11. Cons

    May 25, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Tom- Could you not make an argument that slight bend (and I mean slight) in the left elbow can lead to added distance in that you have created another ‘lever’ in the swing?

    Personally I stay away from this, but I have heard the argument before.

  12. Stephen Lee

    May 25, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    i went out to local course with my dad yesterday and i saw the picture on the top all day long.

    because his swing width is narrow, his tempo on the backswing was hasty and resulting downswing was well out of tempo. moreover, his bent left arm never fully extended, he didnt have any space to accelerate and extend on downswing resulting weak and very thin shots. I hope what you suggested in this article helps my dad and become a better golfer.

    I have utmost respect for your effort and time put in the work and always appreciate your quality articles Mr. Stickney. Thank you very much.

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Instruction

How a towel can fix your golf swing

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This is a classic drill that has been used for decades. However, the world of marketed training aids has grown so much during that time that this simple practice has been virtually forgotten. Because why teach people how to play golf using everyday items when you can create and sell a product that reinforces the same thing? Nevertheless, I am here to give you helpful advice without running to the nearest Edwin Watts or adding something to your Amazon cart.

For the “scoring clubs,” having a solid connection between the arms and body during the swing, especially through impact, is paramount to creating long-lasting consistency. And keeping that connection throughout the swing helps rotate the shoulders more to generate more power to help you hit it farther. So, how does this drill work, and what will your game benefit from it? Well, let’s get into it.

Setup

You can use this for basic chip shots up to complete swings. I use this with every club in my bag, up to a 9 or 8-iron. It’s natural to create incrementally more separation between the arms and body as you progress up the set. So doing this with a high iron or a wood is not recommended.

While you set up to hit a ball, simply tuck the towel underneath both armpits. The length of the towel will determine how tight it will be across your chest but don’t make it so loose that it gets in the way of your vision. After both sides are tucked, make some focused swings, keeping both arms firmly connected to the body during the backswing and follow through. (Note: It’s normal to lose connection on your lead arm during your finishing pose.) When you’re ready, put a ball in the way of those swings and get to work.

Get a Better Shoulder Turn

Many of us struggle to have proper shoulder rotation in our golf swing, especially during long layoffs. Making a swing that is all arms and no shoulders is a surefire way to have less control with wedges and less distance with full swings. Notice how I can get in a similar-looking position in both 60° wedge photos. However, one is weak and uncontrollable, while the other is strong and connected. One allows me to use my larger muscles to create my swing, and one doesn’t. The follow-through is another critical point where having a good connection, as well as solid shoulder rotation, is a must. This drill is great for those who tend to have a “chicken wing” form in their lead arm, which happens when it becomes separated from the body through impact.

In full swings, getting your shoulders to rotate in your golf swing is a great way to reinforce proper weight distribution. If your swing is all arms, it’s much harder to get your weight to naturally shift to the inside part of your trail foot in the backswing. Sure, you could make the mistake of “sliding” to get weight on your back foot, but that doesn’t fix the issue. You must turn into your trial leg to generate power. Additionally, look at the difference in separation between my hands and my head in the 8-iron examples. The green picture has more separation and has my hands lower. This will help me lessen my angle of attack and make it easier to hit the inside part of the golf ball, rather than the over-the-top move that the other picture produces.

Stay Better Connected in the Backswing

When you don’t keep everything in your upper body working as one, getting to a good spot at the top of your swing is very hard to do. It would take impeccable timing along with great hand-eye coordination to hit quality shots with any sort of regularity if the arms are working separately from the body.

Notice in the red pictures of both my 60-degree wedge and 8-iron how high my hands are and the fact you can clearly see my shoulder through the gap in my arms. That has happened because the right arm, just above my elbow, has become totally disconnected from my body. That separation causes me to lift my hands as well as lose some of the extension in my left arm. This has been corrected in the green pictures by using this drill to reinforce that connection. It will also make you focus on keeping the lead arm close to your body as well. Because the moment either one loses that relationship, the towel falls.

Conclusion

I have been diligent this year in finding a few drills that target some of the issues that plague my golf game; either by simply forgetting fundamental things or by coming to terms with the faults that have bitten me my whole career. I have found that having a few drills to fall back on to reinforce certain feelings helps me find my game a little easier, and the “towel drill” is most definitely one of them.

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Clement: Why your practice swing never sucks

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You hear that one all the time; I wish I could put my practice swing on the ball! We explain the huge importance of what to focus on to allow the ball to be perfectly in the way of your practice swing. Enjoy!

 

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Clement: This is when you should release the driver

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The golf teaching industry is slowly coming around to understand how the human machine is a reaction and adaptation machine that responds to weight and momentum and gravity; so this video will help you understand why we say that the club does the work; i.e. the weight of the club releases your anatomy into the direction of the ball flight.

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