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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 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: [email protected]

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

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 2)

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Golf is very much a monkey-see-monkey-do sport. If you ever go to the local range, you are sure to see golfers trying to copy the moves of their favorite player. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. While I understand the logic of trying to mimic the “secret move” of the most recent winner on tour, I always balk when the person trying to create their best impression fails to realize the physical differences between them and the best golfing athletes in the world.

Read part 1 here. 

In addition to most golfers not being at the same fitness levels as the best players in the world, they also do not have bodies that are identical to their favorite player. This single statement proves why there is not one golf swing; we all are different sizes and are going to swing the club differently due to these physical differences.

You have to understand your swing

The biggest reason I believe that golfers are better than they think is most golfers I meet do not understand what their swings should look like. Armed with video after video of their golf swing, I will always hear about the one thing that the golfer wishes they could change. However, that one thing is generally the “glue” or athleticism of the athlete on display and is also the thing that allows them to make decent contact with the ball.

We are just coming out of the “video age” of golf instruction, and while I think that recording your golf swing can be extremely helpful, I think that it is important to understand what you are looking for in your swing. As a young coach, I fell victim to trying to create “pretty swings”, but quickly learned that there is not a trophy for prettiest swing.

It comes down to form or function, and I choose function

The greatest gift I have ever received as an instructor was the recommendation to investigate Mike Adams and BioSwing Dynamics. Mike, E.A. Tischler, and Terry Rowles have done extensive research both with tour-level players as well as club golfers and have developed a way to test or screen each athlete to determine not only how their golf swing will look, but also how they will use the ground to create their maximum speed. This screen can be completed with a tape measure and takes about five minutes, and I have never seen results like I have since I began measuring.

For example, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a golf swing that tracks more to the outside during the backswing and intersects the body more towards the trail shoulder plane during the backswing. A golfer with a shorter wingspan than height will have a swing that tracks more to the inside and intersects the body closer to the trail hip plane. Also, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a more upright dynamic posture than a golfer with a shorter wingspan than height who will be more “bent over” at the address position.

Sport coats and golf swings

Have you ever bought a sport coat or suit for a special occasion? If so, pay attention to whether it is a short, regular, or long. If you buy a long, then it means that your arms are longer than your torso and you can now understand why you produce a “steeper” backswing. Also, if you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your middle-finger tips touching the top of your kneecaps, you will have perfect dynamic posture that matches your anatomy. If it appears that you are in a taller posture, then you have your second clue that your wingspan is greater than your height.

Translation to improvement

Using this and five other screens, we can help the athletes understand a complete blueprint of their golf swing based off their anatomy. It is due to the work of Mike, E.A., and Terry that we can now matchup the player to their swing and help them play their best. The reason that I believe that most golfers are better than they think is that most golfers have most of the correct puzzle pieces already. By screening each athlete, we can make the one or two adjustments to get the player back to trusting their swing and feeling in control. More importantly, the athlete can revisit their screen sheet when things misfire and focus on what they need to do, instead of what not to do.

We are all different and all have different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club because there is no one kind of golfer. I encourage every golfer to make their swing because it is the only one that fits.

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How golf should be learned

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is more popular than ever. Beginners being introduced to the game often find that golf is very hard, much harder than other sports they have played. To simplify the golf swing and make the game easier, it needs to start with a concept.

Golf should first be learned from a horizontal position. If the ball was placed four feet above the ground on a large tee, players would naturally turn in an efficient direction with the proper sequence to strike the ball on the tee.

Take for example, a person throwing a ball towards a target. With their eyes out in front of them? having an awareness to the target, their body would naturally turn in a direction to go forward and around towards the target. In golf, we are bent over from the hips, and we are playing from the side of the golf ball, so players tend to tilt their body or over-rotate, causing an inefficient backswing.

This is why the golf swing should be looked at as a throwing motion. The trail arm folds up as the body coils around. To throw a ball further, the motion doesn’t require more body turn or a tilt of the body.

To get the feeling of this horizontal hitting position or throwing motion, start by taking your golf posture. Make sure your trail elbow is bent and tucked with your trail shoulder below your lead shoulder.

From here, simply lift your arms in front of you while you maintain the bend from your hips. Look over your lead shoulder looking at the target. Get the clubhead traveling first and swing your arms around you. Note how your body coils. Return the club back to its original position.

After a few repetitions, simply lower your arms back to the ball position, swing your arms around you like you did from the horizontal position. Allow your shoulders, chest and hips to be slightly pulled around. This is now your “throwing position” in the golf swing. From here, you are ready to make a downswing with less movement needed to make a proper strike.

Note: Another great drill to get the feel for this motion is practicing Hitting driver off your knees.

Twitter: @KKelley_golf

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Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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