It's true that many modern golf instructors advocate restricted hip rotation during the backswing. This does not mean, however, that the hips should be cast in cement.
Without adequate hip movement, the upper body controls the swing. This causes an over-the-top or outside-to-inside clubhead path that leads to short, weak slices.
If you suffer from an arms-only, over-the-top swing, take a look at these common causes and some tips to cure them.
Cause: Poor setup position
You can short-circuit your lower body before ever taking the club back. Standing too wide, locking the knees and bending from the waist will inhibit the free motion of your hips.
Cure: Activate the lower body at address
Your setup should be athletic – think of a shortstop, or a basketball player in defensive position. The knees should be flexed and relaxed. Bend from the hips, not the waist. And make sure your stance is wide enough to provide balance and stability, but not so wide that it prevents the hips from turning.
With the driver, the insides of your feet should line up with the outsides of your shoulders – no wider. The stance narrows slightly with each shorter club. For a quick tutorial on proper stance width, watch this video.
Cause: Lack of flexibility
If you're setting up correctly and still struggle to generate lower body action, flexibility could be the issue. Ideally, you're able to turn the shoulders until your back faces the target, meaning the shoulders are perpendicular to the target line. At this point, the hips should have naturally rotated to about 45°, or half the shoulder turn.
Cure: Stretching exercises to improve suppleness
Flexibility is vital to build a powerful, efficient swing. And the science of golf-specific fitness has come miles in recent years. Here's a good hip stretch exercise to get you started: Hip Rotations Video
Cause: Poor swing sequencing
It's possible to make a proper hip turn on the backswing, then waste it by starting down with the shoulders and arms. This is called “casting from the top” and it afflicts a large percentage of golfers.
Cure: Lower body leads the downswing
As you reach the top of the swing, the left (lead) foot should initiate the action and pull the left knee and hip toward the target. The tried and true “pause at the top drill” is a great way to learn and ingrain the correct order.
Causes and Cures – Arms-Only Golf Swing
It takes your whole body to swing the golf club effectively. In order to create a powerful motion that leads to a great strike into the back of the ball, you need to use your legs, torso, shoulders, arms, and hands properly. If even one part of your body fails to do its job, your results are going to suffer. A great golf swing can look powerful and effortless all at once – and that appearance is only possible when the whole body gets involved to move the club back and through.
Unfortunately, there are many amateur golfers who fail to grasp this concept. A large number of average players that take to the courses each weekend simply move the club around their bodies with their arms only, leading to weak and inconsistent swings that are unable to move the ball very far down the fairway. If you are an arms-only swinger, you already know the frustration of seeing your shots come down shorter than the shots hit by everyone else in your group. If you are tired of being a short hitter, the first thing you need to do is learn how to incorporate the rest of your body into your golf swing.
Once your entire body is working together to move the club through the hitting area, you will quickly feel an increase in the power potential in your swing. Hitting the ball long distances isn't about sheer brute force, it is simply about getting all of the mechanics of your swing to work together toward a common goal. There are plenty of skinny golfers with very little muscle who are able to hit the ball long distances, and they can do so because they understand how to move the club efficiently throughout the swing. Learn how to get the most from each individual part of your body and the result will be a swing that is more powerful than you could have imagined.
It isn't only power that can be gained from improving your technique, however. If you are able to get the rest of your body involved in your swing, along with your arms, you will be able to strike the ball more accurately on a regular basis. It is hard to make an accurate arm swing time after time, so players who use arms-only to hit the ball are usually players who spray it all over the course. By using your body rotation to swing the club, your movements will become more consistent and your ball striking will rapidly improve. Accuracy is even more important than power on the golf course, so this is a benefit that is not to be overlooked.
Between gaining power and gaining accuracy, there is a lot to like about getting rid of your arms-only swing. Of course, you are going to have to invest some time and energy into this process if you want to see results. Once you decide to work on using the rest of your body properly in the swing, you will have to spend plenty of time on the practice range to fine tune your new technique. Nothing comes easy in golf, and there are likely to be some bumps in the road along the way. Stick with it, even if you struggle at first, and eventually you should reach your goals.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Are You an Arms-Only Swinger?
The first step in solving any problem is identifying the fact that there is a problem in the first place. You can't fix your arms-only swing if you don't even know that you are making one to begin with. Any process of swing improvement in golf should begin with a period of analysis that reviews the current state of your swing. What are you doing right? What needs work? An honest assessment is a crucial first step on the path toward eventual improvement.
The following three points are all signs that you are making an arms-only swing. If you see one or more of these points regularly in your game, there is a good chance that the rest of your body isn't holding up its end of the bargain.
- Slice. The slice is the most-common ball flight problem found among amateur golfers, and many slices are the result of an arms-only swing. When you fail to use your body, especially in the downswing, the club is forced to go over the top just to be able to reach the ball at impact. That over the top motion puts the club on an outside-in path, meaning the club face will impact slice spin to the ball and the shot will curve quickly from left to right. Using your body properly in the downswing will quickly help you get out of this frustrating pattern.
- Lack of distance for no reason. Some golfers know exactly why they are limited in terms of distance – such as players who have some sort of physical limitation due to an injury or even permanent handicap. However, other golfers have no clue why they can't hit the ball as far as all of their buddies. No matter how 'hard' they try to swing, the ball keeps coming down well short of the everyone else in the group. The player that is suffering from this kind of mysterious lack of distance is likely making an arms-only swing. The core of your body is the engine of a powerful golf swing, and you can't utilize that engine effectively if only your arms are moving back and through the shot. Engage your body right from the start of the swing and you will unlock power you didn't know you had.
- Fat contact. Another common sign of an arms-only swing is making fat contact, especially with your short irons. It is body rotation in the downswing that allows your center of gravity to get right over the ball at impact, making it possible to achieve a clean strike. However, if your body isn't moving properly in the downswing, you won't get into that position – and a fat shot is the likely outcome. When your legs do their job from the transition all the way through impact, you will have no trouble at all getting your body over the ball for a solid hit.
Obviously, none of the three points on the list above are desirable for the golfer who has hopes of shooting some good scores. Hitting a slice, hitting short shots, or hitting the ball fat are all problems that are going to add strokes to your card at the end of the round. If these are problems that regularly pop up in your game, you are probably failing to use your body properly in the backswing and the downswing. Get to work on solving this problem as quickly as possible to get your game headed in the right direction.
Setting Up for a Successful Swing
One of the main reasons that many golfers fail to engage their bodies in the golf swing is that they set up poorly over the ball to start with. When your address position is lacking from a technical perspective, it will be extremely difficult to use your body as you are supposed to in order to generate speed. Get your address position right, however, and the swing will almost happen automatically. It takes some practice to teach yourself how to get into the right stance, but that effort will be nicely rewarded in the end.
The first key to a great address position is flex in your knees. By bending your knees, you automatically engage all of the big muscles in your legs, which is the first step in using those legs during the swing. You don't have to be in a deep knee bend, either – just a slight bend of both knees will be sufficient. The right amount of knee bend is going to vary from player to player, so experiment with your own stance until you are able to get comfortable.
With your legs set, the next step is to get your arms is a great position to swing freely as your body turns. Tilt your back out over the ball to enable your arms to hang freely down from your shoulders. You will know when you have reached the perfect position because your arms will be hanging straight down toward the ground, and there won't be any tension in your upper arms or shoulders as you stand at address. Many golfers make the mistake of reaching their arms out for the ball, which causes trouble once you begin the takeaway. Use your spine tilt to get your upper body out over the shot, and allow your arms to hang down freely in front of you as your hands grab on to the club.
The last piece of the address puzzle is keeping your chin up. While it is true that you want to keep your eyes down on the ball, you don't really want to keep your head down because it can get in the way of a good shoulder turn. Many golfers bury their chin into their chest, and the shoulders are unable to make a full turn back as a result. Keep your chin up and your eyes down in order to give your left shoulder a clear path for the backswing.
Those three keys – flexed knees, arms hanging down freely, and chin up – are going to be all you need to build a great stance. Even though it might seem relatively simple, you actually will need to practice your stance if you want to be able to take it the same way time and time again. You want to feel as comfortable as possible when you are standing over the ball, and the only way to reach that point is to practice. If necessary, work on building your stance in front of a mirror until you can successfully repeat it every time you step up to a shot.
How the Body Works During the Swing
As mentioned above, getting set up properly prior to the swing is one of the biggest hurdles you have to clear. Just by getting into a good address position you are automatically going to have an easier time using your body in the swing. With that said, you still need to understand how the body is supposed to work so you can execute the right mechanics shot after shot. Not only do you need to know what to do with the various parts of your body, you also need to know when to make those moves. Only when you have the sequencing down correctly will you be able to produce the kind of golf shots that you desire.
Following is an outline of how you body should be working during each phase of the swing.
- Takeaway. During the takeaway, it is your shoulders that should be controlling the action. This is where most golfers go wrong, as they use only their arms instead of shoulder rotation to move the club. If you swing back with only your arms, you will get the club 'stuck' behind you almost immediately, and there won't be much you can do to save the swing from that point. The takeaway should be keyed off of your left shoulder turning under your chin – if you can make that simple move each and every time, you swing will be off to a great start.
- Rest of backswing. From the takeaway up to the top of your swing, your body should be supporting the turning of your shoulders away from the target. A full shoulder turn is necessary to hit powerful golf shots, so make sure you are putting your back to the target as much as possible. During this backswing, your legs should remain steady, with that flex in your knees holding strong and your balance remaining a top priority. Ideally, you will get to the top of the backswing with a full shoulder turn and a lower body position that looks much like it did at address.
- Transition. It is during the transition from backswing to downswing when your body really starts to take over the swing. With the club positioned nicely at the top and your shoulders fully rotated away from the target, it is time to use your legs to rotate down toward impact. Start the downswing by turning your left hip open to the target, and allow the rest of your body to follow gradually. At this point, the club should be lagging behind the rest of your swing. Your arms should be 'coming along for the ride' rather than taking an active role. As your transition continues into the downswing, keep turning your lower body hard to the left while your upper body stays down and your eyes remain focused on the ball.
- Downswing. This is all about continuing to turn. There should be nothing holding you back once the downswing has gotten started, so simply focus on turning your body all the way through the shot. Feel free to turn as fast as you would like, as increasing the speed of your turn will increase the power that you provide to the shot. However, you should not swing so hard that you lose your balance. Keeping balance is always the number one priority, so make sure you remain in control of your body position while making this aggressive move through the ball.
- Impact. Once you arrive at impact, everything has already been decided. The swing happens too quickly to make any conscious adjustments at the moment of impact, so you are basically holding on for the ride at this point. There is one thing that you can control, however, and that is where your eyes are looking. You should be looking down at the ball when you get to impact, and you don't want to let your eyes leave that spot until the shot is on its way toward the target. It can be difficult to keep your eyes down when you are anxious about the outcome of the shot, but this fundamental is essential to great ball striking.
- Follow through. Most amateur golfers don't think that the finish position of their swing matters at all – after all, the ball is already gone, so what is the difference? The finish position is important because it gives you a good idea of what went right and wrong in your swing. If you are off balance at the finish, for example, you will know that you let your weight get away from you at some point during the swing. Or, if your right shoulder is higher than your left, you came up out of the shot. Work on staying balanced and holding your posture all the way through to the finish and you will become a better player overall.
The list above includes a lot of information to take in all at once. If you head to the range with the idea of implementing all of the information into your swing, you are certainly going to fail. Instead, you should be working on these points one at a time until you reach the finish successfully. There is no promise that this will be a quick fix to your swing, as you are going to have to invest plenty of time and effort. Once the work is done, however, the reward will be some of the best golf of your life.
Tempo is Essential
You must have good tempo to use your body effectively during the golf swing. Without great rhythm in your swing, you will likely have to revert back to your arms-only technique because you won't have time to let your body motion develop properly. The body-driven golf swing takes time to complete, and you have to be prepared to give it that time by working through the swing one piece after another.
Most amateur golfers rush through their swings, which is another reason why the arms-only swing is so common. When you watch golf on TV, do you see players that rush through their swings, or players who take their time? The answer should be obvious. One look at a player like Ernie Els or Fred Couples highlights just how important it is to allow your swing to develop naturally. Both of those players were among the longest hitters of their generations, and each used a slow and methodical swing tempo to get the job done. Rushing through your swing will give you nothing but trouble – take your time, keep an even tempo, and store up all of your power and speed for the moment of impact.
It is relatively easy to keep your tempo in line on the driving range, but it is another challenge completely to do the same thing on the course. Your emotions tend to get in the way on the golf course, making it easy to rush through the swing that you have mastered on the range. To avoid this problem, stick with a consistent pre-shot routine and don't let your anger or excitement distract you from the job at hand. A round of golf is simply a collection of individual shots, and you job as a golfer to is hit each one of those shots to the best of your ability. By focusing on tempo and rhythm prior to each swing, you should be able to translate your range performance out onto the course.
Making an arms-only swing is never going to provide you with the kind of performance that you will be proud of on the course. Work on integrating the rest of your body into your swing on the driving range so you can hit shots with power and control on a regular basis. The content above should help get you started in the right direction – the rest, however, will be up to you.