When his game is on, Lee Westwood is one of golf's deadliest ballstrikers. The Englishman follows string-straight drives with laser-like irons, and if he's putting well, he usually wins. Westwood is also a match play master, with a 16-11-5 Ryder Cup record.
Westwood has become one of golf's most accomplished players despite a swing oddity that typically afflicts only rank amateurs. Obviously, his swing is built to compensate for this apparent flaw.
Unconventional move: The “chicken wing,” a bending of the left arm through impact
Who else does it: Retief Goosen (to a lesser degree than Westwood)
Why it's a problem for amateurs: A number of different pre-impact swing flaws can cause a chicken wing. Often, the golfer's upper body moves ahead of the lower body to start the downswing, forcing the arms to shorten through impact. Other times, the ball is simply positioned too far back in the stance, meaning the left arm must give to allow the right hand to release (roll over). Another common cause: keeping the head rigidly in place, rather than allowing it to rise naturally as the shoulders rotate through.
The bending of the left elbow has numerous ill effects. For one, it shortens the swing arc, sapping your power. Golfers exhibiting a chicken wing have trouble squaring the clubface at impact, causing slices and generally poor ballstriking.
How Westwood gets away with it: Westwood has a strong shoulder turn on the backswing, and he unleashes them with great power coming through. His left shoulder is very high as the clubhead approaches the ball, creating room for the right side to fully release. At impact, Westwood's hands are ahead of the ball and the shaft tilted toward the target – like all great players.
The cure: The split-grip drill is a great method for ingraining a proper release, and you don't even need a ball. Simply take any club and grip it normally with your left (top) hand, then place the right hand 2-3 inches below it. Make a series of half swings, then progress to longer swings.
You should feel the right hand and forearm rolling over the left through impact. The left arm will be straight as your swing bottoms out -- no more bending at the elbow.
Lee Westwood's Chicken Wing in His Golf Swing
There is little doubt that Lee Westwood's swing is unique. But it's also hard to argue a swing that has carried him on to win 23 European PGA Tour events, which ties him for 8th on the all-time win list. In 2012 he parted with his long-time teacher Pete Cowan to work with Sean Foley, but the partnership lasted only six months. Although Westwood has not gone back with Cowan he has been working with a Cowan protégé, Mike Walker.
Westwood's swing, when looked at on video, is a complicated mechanism that seems as though one small timing mishap could throw the entire motion into a burning heap. In real-time, his swing looks powerful and that's because it is. It is also accurate and it is so partly due to his chicken wing, which goes against some basic teaching premises in golf.
It's been said that you don't fix something unless it's broken. Some would say that having a chicken wing at impact indicates that something is broken and whether the results show it now or not it should be fixed. Without judging, let's take a look at Lee Westwood's swing and see how it works:
- Westwood has a slight bend in his left elbow and remarkably still has a fairly strong left hand grip. His left elbow actually points to the left of left hip at address. His left arm is not connected to his chest.
- He also has a neutral to strong right hand grip and his right elbow points down more towards his right hip. His elbows and forearms, therefore, begin the swing on different planes.
- He has a wide stance and his left foot flares out a bit while his right foot stays square.
- Westwood positions his ball one to two balls further back than standard.
- He is very balanced. His weight is centered on the middle to back of his feet.
- Westwood takes the club away with the shoulders and the arms.
- He sets the club with his right arm bending in a relatively sharp angle.
- The rest of his backswing consists of the left knee bending considerably while the right leg straightens. He has a full shoulder turn, but not much arm swing. His head lowers quite a bit. Considering his arm bend he still gets a substantial amount of arm width.
BEGINNING OF THE DOWNSWING:
- At the top of the backswing, Westwood has his left heel slightly off of the ground. While slamming his heel down and violently making a lateral shift to the outside of his left hip, his spine tilts right lowering his head even more. The motion also slides his arms down to about shoulder height and connects his right arm against his chest. It creates even more width with his right arm. THIS IS THE KEY POSITION FOR WESTWOOD. And guess what? His club head is ALREADY square!
- At impact Westwood's weight has shifted left, but his right leg is still straight. His upper body is tilted right and his head is so far back at impact it appears as though he is looking at his right shoe. His left arm is so disconnected you can see the gap between the arm and his chest. But, his right side is absolutely golden. His right side comes slamming in like a door and his right arm, which folded early, is finally starting to straighten out very quickly at the bottom of his downswing. And even with the very prominent left arm chicken wing his face is square.
POST IMPACT AND FOLLOW THROUGH:
- Through impact his left arm stays bent, keeping the clubface square another foot or so past impact. After impact all of his weight is truly on the left side allowing his right leg to bend and his right arm to extend. Finally, the head and body roll through and stand for the follow through.
Whether you agree Westwood's chicken wing should be fixed or not, you should realize that if he were one day to decide to change that one aspect of his swing he would have to adjust several other parts of his swing as well. Working backwards, he would not be able to drop his head and spine quite as much.
Therefore, he would not be able to straighten or release his right arm at the same angle with the same amount of leverage. Those two things alone would affect his accuracy because the clubface would not come squarely down the line for as long as it does now.
Lee Westwood's Permanent Chicken Wing
Why is it that Lee Westwood has what we refer to as a “chicken wing” at impact? Pete Cowan, who was Westwood's original teacher at age 16 says that, "A lot of people were worried about the fact Lee bent his left arm, but he has a 17-degree natural bend in his left arm, he can't straighten it so the bend is a constant, so there is no point worrying about it.”
Power is released on the downswing as the arms straighten. If a golfer could not straighten his/her arms then he/she would need to compensate by creating power another way. Lee Westwood uses a combination of moves to create power on the downswing and accentuates the straightening of his right arm while downplaying the use of his left for power.
Concurrently, the left elbow plays a role in positioning the face of the club on the downswing. Many times a player that displays a chicken wing on the downswing will also show an open clubface. There are also those players that will create an open clubface with a chicken wing and then actually end up with a closed face at impact because they have closed the shoulders to compensate.
Lee Westwood displays a prominent chicken wing at impact and at the same time a very square clubface. Don't try this move at home! So how does Westwood defy these golfing basics and turn a wrong into a right? It's just about re-positioning his angle of attack.
The modern golf swing is taught so that there is less movement, more efficiency and less room for errors. It's built around physics and time-tested fundamentals. Wasted movement equals wasted yardage, right?
Lee Westwood's isn't exactly a poster-boy for the modern-swing era. He has a swing built around a swing flaw; a bent elbow. While most of the professionals on tour today deliver the club to impact relatively on plane with where the club began at address, Westwood attacks the ball from below the plane.
Westwood bends his left leg considerably and straightens his right on the backswing. When he kicks his left hip to the left to shift his weight on the downswing it makes his upper body tilt and his head drop.
At this point the grip end of the club is now pointing ahead of the ball, rather than down. His saving grace is that now his right arm is connected to his body.
Westwood's right arm doesn't straighten on the way down until just before impact. Left elbow is pointing up by time right arm starts to straighten for impact. His right side come in like a door slamming and his right arm releases like a hammer.
His delivery into the ball is similar to a sidearm pitcher in baseball. His upper body becomes more parallel with the ground and his right arm unleashes from the side, rather than from above. And if you think about it, this type of delivery is brilliant for someone with a permanent chicken wing. I just hope he doesn't ever need back surgery.
CURING LEE WESTWOOD'S CHICKEN WING SWING PT 1
For 20 years Lee Westwood played professionally with a swing that was not picture perfect. He won an average of a tournament a year, was a Ryder Cup regular and was regarded as both an accurate and long player. And then he decided he wanted to change his swing.
It happens frequently on Tour and who can blame him? If you aren't going forward you're going backward, right? But Westwood soon found out that picking a teaching that seemed right for one great player didn't mean that teacher was right for him. It's not that teaching golf is rocket science, because it isn't. However, it's much easier to screw up a great players swing than it is to improve it.
With that being said, we are going to improve Lee Westwood's Chicken Wing Swing. Improve, not change. We are going to buy into the notion that he has a permanent bend in his left arm, hence, a permanent chicken wing. Unfortunately, his chicken wing gets bigger at impact and that can definitely be improved, so here we go.
The main area we are going to concentrate on is both of the arm positions at impact. Rather than having his left arm flying out so much that his elbows are splayed at impact, we would like to see Westwood at least back to his address position with the left arm with possibly some connection between the upper part of the left arm and his chest for a bonus.
The only thing that we are going to do is to drop his right foot back about 3-4” at address. Here is why:
- At address this will allow him to turn his upper body slightly to the right.
- When he turns his upper body to the right he can connect the upper part of his left arm to the chest.
- He can pre-set some of his weight over his right leg so he doesn't have to bend his left knee so much turning back.
- Because he is not bending his left knee so much on the backswing, he won't have to tilt his upper body to the right so much when he shifts his weight left on the downswing.
- By not tilting as much and staying more upright with the upper body, the arms can swing down a little more.
Just by having his arms swing down a little more Westwood can close the gap between the arms and prevent the extra chicken wing in his left arm. He can still deliver the power he needs and the chronic bend in the left arm should still give him his consistency.
Right now much of Westwood's power is delivered from the right side. With is right foot being drawn back slightly he will have plenty of space to work from the right side and not feel crowded. As he gets older he is going to feel more crowded and this is another way for him to create power while feeling loose.
It's not a big swing renovation, but one change can mean a lot and in the case of a swing like Lee Westwood's it's a chain effect from start to finish. Ain't no thing!
CURING LEE WESTWOOD'S CHICKEN WING SWING PT 2
If we were to take a conventional shot at curing Lee Westwood's chicken wing swing then we might have to make some adjustments that were ultimately uncomfortable for him in the short run. Here are some things we might do:
- At address, lift the left arm so that it sits on the chest.
- Square the left foot and drop the right foot slightly.
- On the backswing, maintain some bend in the right knee and try to restrain bend in the left knee.
- The important change would be the transition from backswing to downswing;
- When the hips clear to the left, it would need to be slightly more rotational instead of the violent bump he uses now. This would reduce the amount the spine tilts to the right.
- If the spine angle can be maintained, the arms can work down and won't be forced to work around the body.
- By working the arms down, they stay in front of the body and the elbows will stay down and closer together. The face will stay square. The left arm will be connected at impact.
Westwood gains much of the power in his shots by leveraging his straight right leg. He doesn't need to totally give that up, but it is important that in order to eliminate the chicken wing he get rid on the excessive left knee bend and the severe hip bump to the left leg. It places too much stress on the upper body to fold and in effect, that is what forces the arms to come in sideways.
Another effect of his violent hip bump is the lowering of his head. The further away the head is pulled from the ball at impact the more the left elbow points out towards the target. In looking at Westwood's head, he appears to be staring at his shoes at impact his head is so far back.
It would not be effective in this case to move the ball up further in his stance because that would force him to tilt more to the right in order to get up to the ball. It's just how his swing works. It would be equally ineffective to have him perform a towel drill with a towel under his left arm. This might cause disconnection with his right side, which is where he gets all of his power from.
Remember that even though you can make conventional changes to an unconventional swing, the player should be able to perform the changes easily. If they can't then the changes will do more harm than good, no matter what sense they make logically. Lee Westwood has a chicken wing swing, but it's not your typical chicken wing. He was prudent in backing off the swing changes and going back to making smaller adjustments.
HERE ARE SOME CURES IF YOU CATCH LEE WESTWOOD'S CHICKEN WING
Your chest and your arms should work together. Pretend you have a string attached from your sternum to your hands. When your hands and arms move, the sternum follows.
If you turn your body past the ball after impact then the arms will extend or release automatically. You can get rid of the chicken wing by just doing waist high to waist high swings keeping your arms in front of you and just trying to extend your arms while concentrating on releasing the club thru impact. It will take some work but eventually you will get rid of that dreaded chicken wing left arm.
- Flip your hands on the grip so the top hand is on the bottom.
- Take your normal pitching stance and set up for a short 20 or 30 yard pitch.
- Allow your arms to fold as you turn your chest back and through.
- NOTE: As you work up to fuller swings you will feel your right arm get longer through the impact area and you will start to feel the club release. When you have a chicken wing the club will not release, or it releases so late that it is insignificant.
- Keep your arms in front of your body by using a mid-sized playground or workout ball. Find a 12-16” ball. On the range, place the ball between your forearms. Start with some short pitches. You should find that your contact is much crisper. Hit full shots without letting the ball fall or drop out. This drill will help you learn to use your pivot to hit the ball. You will feel instantly how it feels to correctly move your arms and club with your pivot. In addition, your arms will move correctly and in sync with the rest of your body or you will drop the ball.
- The Towel Drill will help resolve several common faults that are found in many players – first, the flying elbow and, second, improper forearm rotation relative to body turn. Master the Towel Drill, and you will start to generate more speed and power – consistently.
- Start by taking a standard-sized bath towel. Position the towel across your chest so that the towel is secured in both arm pits. Begin with slow, tension-free practice swings.
The split grip drill is great for getting the feeling of folding arms. Try it first with pitching and then move up to full swing. Here's how:
On your backswing, keep your right elbow near your right side, and then focus on keeping your left elbow in contact with your left rib cage on your follow through. As you get comfortable with your new elbow position and controlled forearm rotation, gradually add speed to your swing until you can go at the ball at full speed.