Baseball fans know that when a slugger can extend his arms and connect with a pitch, the ball often ends up in the stands. The same applies to golf, where all good players exhibit very straight arms just past impact.
Extending the arms is a must to hit accurate shots, too. A bowed left elbow, for instance, prevents the clubface from rotating and produces a weak slice. A left elbow that's bent inward signals that the hands are too active, causing a hook. If the arms are drawn toward the body, with neither elbow locked out, you'll often top the ball or hit it thin.
It's helpful to remember that the elbows should be as close together just beyond impact as they were at setup, or about as wide as the hips. Here's a very simple drill to get your elbows straightened and your arms extended swinging through:
- Using your driver or a fairway wood, make a few practice swings and allow your right hand (left hand if you're left-handed) to drop off the handle just past the impact position.
- Finish with the club held only by your left hand.
- Next, proceed to hitting balls the same way, starting with a few short, slow swings.
- Allow your right hand to fall away the instant you feel contact with the ball.
To get the sensation of proper arm extension into and through the ball, you'll have to rotate the body and shoulders in the correct sequence. Put it all together and you'll hit more powerful, accurate shots.
Straight Golf Shots Require Fully Extended Arms at Impact
The impact position is where all of your hard work is put to the test. If you are able to arrive at a quality impact position, a good shot will result. If something has gone wrong during your swing to put your impact out of alignment, you will more than likely be disappointed with the shot. There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of during a golf swing, but in the end, it is only the impact position that matters.
Fully extended arms are one of the key components to making quality impact with the golf ball. straight arms are a great indication that you have fully released the club into the shot. If you have a bend in either of your arms at impact, you are probably holding something back that could have been used to create a more powerful strike. Also, straight arms will make it easier to contact the ball cleanly, something that is essential to playing good golf. There are a number of different ways you can swing a golf club successfully, but fully extending both arms at impact is something that every golfer should strive to achieve.
Of course, you don't want to have to consciously think about extending your arms during the downswing. Rather, this position should be reached naturally as a result of the other mechanics in your swing. When you make a proper backswing and transition into the downswing, you will be setting in motion of series of events that will lead to an impact position with fully extended arms. By spending the proper amount of practice time working on the fundamentals that you use earlier in your swing, you can make it easy to find the perfect impact position.
If you want to hit the golf ball farther and more accurately – and most golfers do – you will work hard to create a swing that allows you to have straight arms at impact. Without allowing your arms to fully extend, you will be limiting the swing speed that you can generate through the ball. You are probably capable of hitting the ball farther than you ever imagined, and unlocking that power potential starts with fully extending your arms through the shot.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
It All Starts at Address
The majority of amateur golfers underestimate the importance of a good address position to the overall quality of their swing. If you can get your body in a good position before the swing even begins, you will stand a far better chance of hitting a solid shot directly at your target. Dedicate yourself to perfecting your address position and you will find that the game quickly becomes much easier.
You don't need to do anything 'fancy' in your address position – you just need to hit all of the fundamentals correctly. While there is plenty of variation in the way professional golfers swing the club, there is very little change from player to player in terms of their stance and posture. The fundamentals of a good stance apply to everyone, and executing them correctly will make it easier for you to fully extend your arms when you arrive at impact.
The three points below are key elements of a proper address position. Hit on each of these three in your stance to greatly improve the consistency of your swing.
- Flex your knees. This is absolutely essential to making a good golf swing. Your legs are the engine of the downswing, and you won't be able to fully engage them if your knees are locked straight at address. Be sure to flex your knees slightly when you stand over the ball prior to starting your swing. You should feel athletic and comfortable in your stance.
- Head up, eyes down. Many golfers think they need to 'keep their head down' during their swing, so they push their chin down into their chest at address. This is a mistake. You certainly want to have your eyes looking down at the ball, but your head should be up to encourage a flat position in your back. Think about having good posture over the ball, and don't put unnecessary pressure on your neck by forcing your head down into an awkward position.
- Start with great balance. It is important that you maintain your balance throughout the golf swing, and that process starts by being balanced at address. Your weight should be evenly distributed between your feet as you prepare to start your swing. Be careful to avoid leaning to the left or right at any point before your swing starts as this mistake will make it far more difficult to strike the ball solidly at impact.
Creating a good address position doesn't require talent – just effort. You will need to put in some practice time on the driving range to find a comfortable and technically-sound address position prior to hitting each shot. If you take this part of your game for granted, it will never be as reliable as it needs to be to promote solid ball striking.
Your address position is directly related to your impact position. It is natural for most golfers to return to a position at impact that is similar to the one they used at address, so keep that in mind while you are taking your stance.
Specifically, make sure your left arm is straight when you address the ball. Your right arm will naturally have a little flex at address – which is fine – but it shouldn't be bent dramatically. If you execute the rest of the swing properly, both of your arms will be able to extend through the hitting area to strike a powerful and accurate blow into the back of the golf ball.
Maintaining Your Width in the Backswing
Width in the backswing is a topic that is overlooked by many players. When you start to move the club away from the ball, you want to make sure that your swing doesn't become too narrow early on in the takeaway. Maintaining width comes down to keeping your left arm straight while your right arms bends naturally in response to the rotation that you are making away from the target. If you allow both of your arms to collapse in close to your body, you will be making it very difficult to find extension later on in the swing.
A loss of width early in the backswing is one of the main reasons why so many amateur golfers struggle with the slice. When you let the club get too close in toward your body during the backswing, it will have no choice but to move up and away from you during the transition. That move puts the club overtop of the ideal path, and the inevitable result is a swipe across the ball at impact – and a slice. Many golfers think that their slice is a puzzle that is too complicated to solve, when it reality it all boils down to losing width in the backswing.
If you would like to work on improving the width of your backswing, try using the following drill.
- Head to the driving range with at least a few clubs and your golf bag. You can hit some practice balls if you would like after the drill has been completed, but you will not actually be hitting any shots during the drill.
- For this drill, you will want to use one of your mid-irons. Anything from six iron through eight iron will work just fine.
- Find a spot on the driving range where you have plenty of room to practice without getting in the way of other golfers. Since you won't be hitting any shots, you could even do this drill off to the side of the range in a safe area where there will be no distractions. In fact, you could even do the drill in your backyard if you so choose.
- Start by placing a ball down on the ground. Address the ball as if you were going to hit a shot (even though you are not going to hit the ball – it is used only as a reference point). Make sure to work through your normal pre-shot routine and build your stance just as you would on the course.
- With your stance in place, take the club back until the shaft of the club is parallel with the ground. At this point, stop your backswing and check the position of your left arm. Has it remained straight, or did it start to fold in toward your body? If it is straight, you are ready for the next step. If not, work on getting your left arm into a straight position while keeping the club shaft parallel to the ground.
- Note the position of your club head while you are holding this mid-backswing position. Put the club down and move your golf bag into a position where you will be able to barely touch it with the head of your club when the shaft of the club is parallel to the ground. For most people, this means that the bag will be standing about four feet behind the position of the ball.
- With the bag in place, make some practice takeaways with the goal of touching the bag with the head of the club each time. You may need to fine tune your set up (specifically the position of the bag) until you have everything just right.
- Continue to make your takeaway over and over, practicing reaching out to touch the bag with your club head. You shouldn't be moving the club very fast in this drill – a slow, smooth takeaway that reinforces a wide swing is all you are trying to accomplish.
Spend some time working on this drill until you become comfortable with the wide takeaway. Creating a wide takeaway that you can repeat over and over again is key to achieving extended arms when the club reaches impact. Also, if you are a player that struggles with a slice, you might find that you slice quickly improves after working on this drill for a period of time.
Leave Your Arms Alone
Working on the drill above should put your backswing in a pretty good position. When you reach the top of your swing, you want to have your left arm straight across your chest with your right elbow pointing down to the ground. As long as you can find that position time after time, you will be in great shape to make a quality downswing.
When the time comes to start that downswing, don't do it with your arms. This is an extremely common mistake, and one that leads many players to lose out on potential power that is hidden in their swing. If you start your downswing with your arms, you will end up slapping at the ball weakly instead of powering through impact with your whole body. Also, it becomes very difficult to get full extension with your arms at impact when you don't engage your lower body right from the top of the swing. If you want to get your arms extended nicely and maximize your power potential, you are going to need to use your legs as soon as the backswing transitions into the downswing.
To work on developing your ability to use your lower body to start your downswing, we are going to add another segment onto the drill from above. This extension to the drill will quickly and easily teach you how your legs can create powerful golf shots while your arms simply come along for the ride.
- Pick up where you left off with the previous drill. That means that your bag should be in position behind you, and you still should be using a mid-iron. However, instead of being set up off to the side of the range (or in your back yard), you will need to be positioned on the driving range where you can actually hit some shots.
- Put a ball down in front of you and take your address position as normal. Start the drill again by swinging back toward your golf bag and stop when the club head touches the bag. Hold your position at this point. You should be maintaining good balance and the shaft of the club should be roughly parallel with the ground.
- From here, you are going to swing forward into the ball and hit the shot. Don't take the club back any farther before starting your downswing. Obviously, you aren't going to be able to hit the ball very far only making a partial backswing, but that it okay. At this point, you are simply learning how to engage your lower body to start the club moving down toward the ball.
- Rather than using your hands and arms to bring the club forward, focus on using the rotation of your hips to turn your body to the left. As you turn left, your left arm should remain straight while the club comes along for the ride. Continue turning all the way through the shot until you have reached a balanced finish position. It is important to note that you should be turning left, and not sliding left. If you allow your weight to slide to the left in the forward swing, you will lose power and possibly hit the shot fat. Keep your balance during the forward swing and simply rotate hard to the left to propel the club through impact.
Even when well-executed, you probably won't hit the ball more than 50 or 60 yards while doing this drill. Don't worry about it. Continue repeating the drill over and over until you begin to understand how your lower body is controlling the downswing. As you gain confidence, start to make slightly longer backswings while still focusing on using hip and leg rotation to bring the club down toward the ball. If you feel your arms starting to take over the downswing, go back to the basics of the first drill and build back up from there.
In the end, achieving full extension at impact with your arms is really more about what you are doing with the rest of your body. If you are successfully driving the downswing with your lower body, and you are setting up in a good posture at address, it should be pretty easy to fully extend your arms through the hitting area.
Fighting the Mental Battle
Extending your arms fully through impact is not only a sign of good fundamentals, but of confidence as well. If you are not swinging the club confidently, you will likely back off of your swing right before the club meets the ball. That can lead to losing extension in your swing, and losing power on your shots. You have to work hard to get your technique to a point where you are achieve full extension, but you have to make sure that your confidence comes along for the journey as well.
So how do you find the necessary confidence to execute your swing to the best of your ability? Well, it starts on the driving range. Doing things like working on the drills that were laid out above is a great start. When you get onto the course, your mind will be able to look back on those experiences you had on the driving range to find confidence. While doing it on the range and the course are two different things, the practice tee is a great place to set yourself up for success when hitting shots during a round of golf.
Another way to build confidence is through positive visualization prior to your shots. Before hitting any shot during a round, stand behind your ball and quickly visualize the ball flying perfectly toward the target. That mental image should be the last thing that you put in your head before you walk up to hit the shot. Simply thinking about success – and expecting success – is a great way to fight of any fears or nerves that you might have. Golf is a challenging game, but a high level of confidence can make it far easier to execute your shots.
If you are really struggling with your confidence and can't seem to get out of your own way, try this simple but effective trick – play a really easy course. Look for the easiest course you can find in your area and make a tee time. Play the short tees to make it even easier. In order to get your confidence pointed in the right direction, all you need to do is see some success. Playing an easy course with very few hazards is a great way to put some good numbers down on the scorecard and get your mind moving in the right direction. If possible, play two or three rounds on the easy course until you start to believe in your swing once again. When you head back to your normal golf courses, those positive vibes should come along with you.
Executing a golf swing that includes full extension of your arms at impact requires a combination of confidence and proper fundamentals. One without the other isn't going to do you very much good. You need to practice your technique in order to put your body in the right positions throughout the swing. Also, those practice sessions should put you in a good frame of mind for believing that you can execute the swing correctly on the course. There is most likely power locked inside your golf swing that you had no idea was there – but you are going to need to get full extension with your arms at impact in order to unlock it. Not only will full extension help you find more power, but it can go a long way toward straightening out your ball flight as well.