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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

What to look for in a golf instructor: The difference between transformative and transactional coaching

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Golf instruction comes in all different styles, methods, and formats. With that said, you would think this would be a good thing due to there being so many different types of people in the world. However, it is my opinion that the lack of standardization within the industry makes it confusing for the athlete to determine what kind of golf instruction they should seek out.

Before we can discuss what may or may not be the best type of instruction for yourself, first we need to know what our options are. Whether we are taking a “broad-spectrum approach” to learning or a more personalized approach, it is important to understand that there are differences to each, and some approaches are going to take longer than others to reach goals.

Broad-Spectrum Approach

Welcome to the world of digital golf instruction, where tips from the most famous coaches in the world are a click away. The great thing about the internet and social media for a golfer is there has never been more access to the top minds in the field—and tips and drills are plentiful. With that said, with there being so many choices and differing opinions, it can be very easy to become distracted with the latest tip and can lead to a feeling of being lost.

I would describe “internet coaching”—or YouTube and Instagram surfing—as transactional coaching. You agree to pay, either a monthly fee or provide likes or follows and the professional provides very generalized tips about the golf swing. For athletes that are new to golf or golf instruction, this tends to be the first part of their process.

There are people who prefer a more transactional approach, and there are a ton of people having success working together over the internet with their coach. With that said, for someone who is looking for more of a long-term individualized approach, this may not be the best approach. This broad-spectrum approach also tends to be the slowest in terms of development due to there being a lot of trial and error due to the generalized approach and people having different body types.

Individual Transactional Coaching

Most people who are new to golf instruction will normally seek out their local pro for help. Depending on where you live in the country, what your local pro provides will vary greatly. However, due to it being local and convenient, most golfers will accept this to be the standard golf lesson.

What makes this type of instruction transactional is that there tends to be less long-term planning and it is more of a sick patient-doctor relationship. Lessons are taken when needed and there isn’t any benchmarking or periodization being done. There also tends to be less of a relationship between the coach and player in this type of coaching and it is more of a take it or leave it style to the coaching.

For most recreational or club-level players, this type of coaching works well and is widely available. Assuming that the method or philosophies of the coach align with your body type and goals athletes can have great success with this approach. However, due to less of a relationship, this form of coaching can still take quite some time to reach its goals.

Individual Transformative Coaching

Some people are very lucky, and they live close to a transformative coach, and others, less lucky, have had to search and travel to find a coach that could help them reach their goals. Essentially, when you hire a transformative coach, you are being assigned a golf partner.

Transformative coaching begins with a solid rapport that develops into an all-encompassing relationship centered around helping you become your very best. Technology alone doesn’t make a coach transformative, but it can help when it comes to creating periodization of your development. Benchmarks and goals are agreed upon by both parties and both parties share the responsibility for putting in the work.

Due to transformative coaching tending to have larger goals, the development process tends to take some time, however, the process is more about attainment than achievement. While improved performance is the goal, the periods for both performance and development are defined.

Which One is Right for You?

It really depends on how much you are willing to invest in your development. If you are looking for a quick tip and are just out enjoying the weather with your friends, then maybe finding a drill or two on Instagram to add to your practice might be the ticket. If you are looking to really see some improvement and put together a plan for long-term development, then you are going to have to start looking into what is available in your area and beyond.

Some things to consider when selecting a coach

  • Do they use technology?
  • What are their qualifications when it comes to teaching?
  • Do they make you a priority?

As a golf coach who has access to the most state-of-the-art technology in the industry, I am always going to be biased towards a data-driven approach. That doesn’t mean that you should only consider a golf coach with technology, however, I believe that by having data present, you are able to have a better conversation about the facts with less importance placed on personal preference. Technology also tends to be quite expensive in golf, so be prepared if you go looking for a more high-tech coaching experience, as it is going to cost more than the low-tech alternative.

The general assumption is that if the person you are seeking advice from is a better player than you are, then they know more about the golf swing than you do. This is not always the case, while the better player may understand their swing better than you do yours, that does not make them an expert at your golf swing. That is why it is so important that you consider the qualifications of your coach. Where did they train to coach? Do they have success with all of their players? Do their players develop over a period of time? Do their players get injured? All things to consider.

The most important trait to look for in a transformative coach is that they make you a priority. That is the biggest difference between transactional and transformative coaches, they are with you during the good and bad, and always have your best interest top of mind. Bringing in other experts isn’t that uncommon and continuing education is paramount for the transformative coach, as it is their duty to be able to meet and exceed the needs of every athlete.

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The importance of arm structure

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How the arms hang at address plays a vital role in the golf swing. Often overlooked, the structure in which we place the arms can dictate one’s swing pattern. As mentioned in the article How Posture influences your swing, if you start in an efficient position, impact is much easier to find making, the golf swing more repeatable and powerful.

To start, I opt to have a player’s trail arm bent and tucked in front of them with angle in the trail wrist. While doing so, the trail shoulder can drop below the lead with a slight bend from the pelvis. This mirrors an efficient impact position.

I always prefer plays to have soft and slightly bent arms. This promotes arm speed in the golf swing. No other sports are played with straight arms, neither should golf.

From this position, it’s easier to get the clubhead traveling first, sequencing the backswing into a dynamic direction of turn.

@peterthomson

When a player addresses the ball with straight arms, they will often tilt with their upper body in the backswing. This requires more recovery in the downswing to find their impact position with the body.

A great drill to get the feeling of a soft-bent trail arm is to practice pushing a wall with your trail arm. Start in your golf set-up, placing your trail hand against the wall. You will instinctively start with a bent trail arm.

Practice applying slight pressure to the wall to get the feeling of a pushing motion through impact?. When trying the drill with a straight trail alarm, you will notice the difference between the two? arm structures.

www.kelleygolf.com

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What is ground force in the golf swing?

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There is no doubt about it, the guys and gals on tour have found something in the ground—and that something is power and speed. I’m sure by now you have heard of “ground reaction forces”—and I’m not talking about how you “shift your weight” during the golf swing.

Ground force in the golf swing: Pressure and force are not equal

With respect to ground force in the golf swing, it’s important to understand the difference between pressure and force. Pressure is your perception of how your weight is being balanced by the structure, in this case, the human body. Your body has a center of mass which is located roughly one inch behind the belt buckle for men and about one inch lower in women. When we shift (translate and/or torque) the center of mass, we create a pressure shift as the body has to “rebalance” the mass or body. This pressure shift can help us understand some aspects of the golf swing, but when it comes to producing power, force and torque are where it’s at.

Pressure can only be expressed in relation to the mass or weight of the body. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can only create 150 pounds of pressure at one time. However, when we direct that mass at a larger object than our mass, all of a sudden that larger mass directs an opposite and equal reactionary force. So now, when a human being “pushes” their legs against the ground and “feels” 150 pounds of pressure, they now get 150 pounds of force directed back towards them from the ground, creating a total of 300 pounds of force that allows them to jump off the ground in this scenario.

If ground reaction forces don’t have anything to do with the “weight shift,” then what do they affect? Everything!

Most people use the same basic ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. However, almost everyone has chocolate chip cookies that taste slightly different. Why is that? That is because people are variable and use the ingredients in different amounts and orders. When we create a golf swing, whether we are aware of it or not, we are using the same basic ingredients as everyone else: lateral force, vertical torque, and vertical force. We use these same three forces every time we move in space, and how much and when we use each force changes the outcome quite a bit.

Welcome to the world of 3D!

Understanding how to adjust the sequencing and magnitude of these forces is critical when it comes to truly owning and understand your golf swing. The good news is that most of our adjustments come before the swing and have to do with how we set up to the ball. For example, if an athlete is having a hard time controlling low point due to having too much lateral force in the golf swing (fats and thins), then we narrow up the stance width to reduce the amount of lateral force that can be produced in the swing. If an athlete is late with their vertical force, then we can square up the lead foot to promote the lead leg straightening sooner and causing the vertical force to happen sooner.

While we all will need to use the ground differently to play our best golf, two things need to happen to use the ground effectively. The forces have to exist in the correct kinetic sequence (lateral, vertical torque, vertical force), and the peaks of those forces need to be created within the correct windows (sequencing).

  • Lateral force – Peak occurs between top-of-swing and lead arm at 45 degrees
  • Vertical torque – Peak occurs between lead arm being 45 degrees and the lead arm being parallel to the ground.
  • Vertical force – Peak occurs between lead arm being parallel to the ground the club shaft being parallel to the ground.

While it may seem obvious, it’s important to remember ground reaction forces are invisible and can only be measured using force plates. With that said, their tends to be apprehension about discussing how we use the ground as most people do not have access to 3D dual force plates. However, using the screening process designed by Mike Adams, Terry Rowles, and the BioSwing Dynamics team, we can determine what the primary forces used for power production are and can align the body in a way to where the athlete can access his/her full potential and deliver the club to the ball in the most effective and efficient way based off their predispositions and anatomy.

In addition to gaining speed, we can help athletes create a better motion for their anatomy. As golfers continue to swing faster, it is imperative that they do so in a manner that doesn’t break down their body and cause injury. If the body is moving how it is designed, and the forces acting on the joints of the body are in the correct sequence and magnitude, not only do we know they are getting the most out of their swing, but we know that it will hold up and not cause an unforeseen injury down the road.

I truly believe that force plates and ground reaction forces will be as common as launch monitors in the near future. Essentially, a launch monitor measures the effect and the force plates measure the cause, so I believe we need both for the full picture. The force plate technology is still very expensive, and there is an educational barrier for people seeking to start measuring ground reaction forces and understanding how to change forces, magnitudes, and sequences, but I’m expecting a paradigm shift soon.

 

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