Often golfers don't spend enough time practicing set up and posture positions believing their time would be better spent hitting balls to groove a new swing move.
However, what many players fail to appreciate is how faults at set up can create chaos with other areas of their technique. Aiming too far to the right of a target, for example, will lead to a closed club face at impact as the brain fights desperately to get the ball flying towards the hole or a weak grip could cause a golfer to lose shots to the right as the club face stays open through impact. The left arm position at address is another part of the set up which could cause problems during the swing.
During the swing, the left arm should remain extended to help the club achieve the maximum amount of width during the back swing. This wide arc allows a golfer to generate a greater amount of power when compared to players who generate a small arc. Golfers should, however, understand that an extended left arm does not mean a 'bolt straight stiff' arm; we want to keep tension in the golf swing to a minimum.
At first, this could sound slightly contradictory but it is perfectly possible to keep the left arm extended whilst maintaining suppleness between the upper arm, elbow, lower arm and wrist. To help achieve this suppleness and extension, golfers can adopt a 'soft' left arm position at address. This is self-explanatory as the golfer needs to relax the arm so it is free from tension and therefore 'soft'.
To get this feeling, practice gripping the club with only the left hand and then let the grip pressure, then the forearm, the elbow, the upper arm and shoulder to all relax as much as possible. Once the left arm is fully relaxed, the golfer can practice taking the club away only with the left arm keeping it tension free but extended.
At address, the elbow of the left arm should point down at the left hip as the soft arm position is achieved. A soft left arm position at address will not only help a player keep the arm relaxed and extended through the back swing but also help them fold the left arm after impact with the ball.
The golf swing has a certain amount of symmetry. On the takeaway and back swing, the left arm extends whilst the right arm bends and folds behind the golfer until the shoulder rotation hits about 90 degrees. On the down swing, the left arm remains extended as the right arm also straightens into impact. After impact, the arms work in a mirror image of the back swing, the right arm remains tension free but extended as the left arm bends and folds behind the golfer until the top of the finish position.
How and Why You Should Soften Your Left Arm at Address
For a right handed golfer, the left arm is the subject of much discussion and consideration. Should you keep the left arm completely straight during the swing, or is it okay for it to bend a little bit in the backswing? Does the left arm lead the golf swing, or is it really the right arm that is in charge? These are just a couple of the questions that a serious golfer may ask at one point or another. The left arm is indeed an important part of the swing, and you will need to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to do with that arm if you are going to reach your golf goals.
A big part of the golf swing is the address position that you choose to use. Your address position determines many of the techniques that you will be using once the club starts in motion, so you want to be sure you are setting up in a position that promotes the kind of swing you wish to make. As you might guess, the left arm plays a major role in your address position just as it does in the rest of the swing. There are two general options for how to set your left arm prior to your swing - locked straight, or soft and slightly bent. Each of these two methods has its own pros and cons, so this is an area of the swing that you will have to experiment with until you come to your own decision. It is certainly possible to hit great shots with both a soft left arm and a firm left arm at address.
Before going any further, it is important to mention that you shouldn't be making changes to your golf swing for no reason. Unless there is something specific in your swing that you need to improve, you would be best served to simply get more and more repetitions to gain consistency. However, if there is something that you feel needs to be changed within your swing mechanics in order to take your game to a new level, you can look at making a change such as altering the position of your left arm. Even a subtle adjustment like a different left arm position at address can have a surprisingly powerful effect on the rest of your golf swing.
Since softening your left arm at address is a relatively simply adjustment to make, this is something that you can experiment with on the driving range during your next visit. It is okay to experiment in golf, because you never know when you will run into a change that unlocks a new level of performance for you on the course. Feel free to try various new moves on the driving range and you will learn a lot about your swing along the way.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
What Can Be Gained with a Soft Left Arm?
Of course, you wouldn't want to make any changes to your swing if they aren't going to be beneficial to the overall goal of hitting good golf shots. With that in mind, you need to first understand what you can gain through softening your left arm at address – so you can then decide if the change would be one that could benefit your game. If nothing is to be gained through altering your address position, the obvious choice would be to simply leave it alone.
Following are three potential benefits of softening the position of your left arm at address. It is important to note that not all golfers will experience these benefits, so you will have to experiment with this new position for yourself to see if they actually appear in your game.
- Better turn away from the ball. If you keep your left arm stiff at address, you may wind up tightening many of the other muscles in your shoulders and back – leading to a limited turn in the backswing. Obviously, this is not good news. Ideally, you want to keep your entire body relaxed so you can make a full turn and maximize the speed you are able to generate prior to impact. By softening your left arm at address, it may be possible to add to your turn by keeping everything relaxed in the early stages of your golf swing. If you are a player who struggles to make a big turn going back, experimenting with a softer left arm would be worth your time.
- Complete release through impact. The only way to maximize the effectiveness of your golf swing is to turn the club loose through impact. Many golfers have a tendency to 'hang on' to the club through the shot, meaning they don't allow the club to release fully. When that happens, you will limit your club head speed, even if the rest of your swing up until that point has been well executed. In some cases, a straight and stiff left arm will lead to a limited release. By softening that entire left side, including your arm, you can make it easier for the club to tear through the hitting area aggressively. Without your left arm providing so much resistance as the club comes down, the right arm and shoulder will be free to provide as much power as possible leading up to the moment of impact.
- Better performance in the short game. A soft left arm can benefit your short game just as much as your long game, if not more. Specifically, hitting chip and pitch shots with a soft left arm is a great way to improve your touch and the consistency of your contact. It is common for amateur players to struggle with these delicate shots around the green, and a softer left arm could be part of the solution. By using that soft left arm at address throughout your game, you will create consistency and your overall feel for the golf club will benefit.
The three points above are just a partial list of the ways your golf swing could potentially improve through the use of a soft left arm. If your left arm is currently locked out straight at address, it would be a good idea to at least experiment with a softer arm position on the driving range. While it is sure to feel slightly uncomfortable at first, it won't take long to determine if there are any benefits to be found for your individual game.
How to Make the Change
Unlike some of the changes you may wish to make your golf swing, this one is relatively simple. You shouldn't need numerous long practice sessions to learn how to soften your left arm – in fact, making the initial change should only take a matter of moments. Once you understand how to get your arm in the right position, the rest of the job is simply to get comfortable with this new position as it relates to the rest of your swing. You don't want to be changing the moving parts of your swing at this point, you only want to soften your left arm prior to starting the motion.
As you step up to the ball to take your stance, start by standing just slightly closer to the ball than you would have previously. Since your left arm will not be quite as extended as it was previously, you will need to stand a little closer to compensate. It is important to note that you should only be standing a little closer – not a lot. There is no need to move several inches closer to the ball at address when softening your left arm. Start by getting only one inch closer, and check the comfort of that position. Continue to move closer a tiny bit at a time until you find an address position that feels right to you.
One of the best ways to ensure that you are keeping your left arm soft at address is to lighten the grip pressure in your left hand. Light grip pressure is a good thing for your golf swing anyway, but it is particularly helpful when trying to relax your entire left side. Soften your grip as you prepare to take your stance, and you should find that your left arm is naturally softer when settle in to the completed address position. If you are used to being tight at address, this new stance might feel a little 'casual' by comparison. That is okay. You want to be relaxed and comfortable at address, because those feelings will help you keep the tension out of your golf swing. A tense golfer is one who will never be able to fully release the club through the hitting area – and will therefore never maximize their power potential. Feeling relaxed is a good thing in golf, and a soft left hand grip (to go along with the soft left arm) will help you reach that goal.
So does keeping your left arm soft at address mean that you have to have your elbow bent at the same time? Not necessarily. While some golfers are able to play well with a bent left elbow, that is a technique that will not be successful for most players. Instead, try to keep your elbow mostly straight while retaining that feeling of 'softness' in your left side. This may be a tough balancing act to achieve at first. You will probably feel like you need to bend that left elbow to make it soft, but in reality, you don't. Instead, focus on removing tension while keeping the arm basically straight. As mentioned above, it won't have as much extension as it did when it was tight and locked at address, but you should still be in a mostly straight position. Keeping the straight line in your left arm is important because it leads to width in your backswing, and width almost always leads to power.
With your left arm nice and soft at address, it will be time to hit a few shots. For your first few shots on the practice range, focus on making a great turn away from the ball with your shoulders. Now that your left arm is softer, it should control less of the swing, meaning you will have to put that control into your shoulders and torso. Feel like you are using your whole body to swing the club, not just your arms. This is a feeling that will be foreign at first, but it can lead to great results in the long run. Maintain the soft feeling in your arms throughout the backswing, and try not to lock it out tight even when you reach the top. If you are able to keep that left side feeling soft and supple throughout the motion, you will have a much better chance of accelerating the club through the hitting area. With your back all the way turned toward the target at the top, you can clear your mind and just let it go.
Hopefully, you will be able to hit some quality shots right from the start when using this technique. If not, don't give up after just a few swings. Even a simple swing change like this one takes a little bit of time to incorporate into your game, so stick with it and keep your patience. However, if you are still not seeing any results after a few practice sessions, it may be time to scrap the experiment and go back to your previous address position. There is a fine line between giving a new swing technique enough time to work and not using it long after it has proven to be ineffective – it will be up to you to decide how long to work on a soft left arm.
Ball Flight Changes
Every change that you make, even the subtle ones, will alter your ball flight in some manner. In the case of softening your left arm, the changes that you will see are likely going to be minor, but they are important to note nonetheless. If you ignore the new patterns in your ball flight, you will have trouble applying your improved swing on the course. It is great to hit pretty shots on the driving range, but the entire point of sharpening up your swing is to shoot lower scores – meaning performance on the course is the only thing that really matters.
After a period of time is spent learning how to hit the ball with a softer left arm, you should begin observing changes to your ball flight. Among the likely alterations to your patterns are the following –
- Lower launch angle. A softer left arm should lead to a shallower angle of attack for most players, which would in turn create a lower launch angle – specifically with your iron shots. While some players would prefer to keep their launch angle where it is, this change could be seen as a blessing for many. Launching the ball too high with too much spin make it difficult to play in windy conditions, and it also makes it hard to control your distance on short wedge shots. Lower ball flights have a number of benefits, so you may welcome this change with open arms. Most likely, the lowering of your launch angle will be relatively minor, so don't expect a drastic difference on the course.
- Easier to hit a draw. That improved release that was discussed above should allow you to put right to left spin onto the golf ball with ease. Players who used to hit mostly fades may find that they are starting to turn the ball over more frequently. Of course, there is nothing wrong with hitting a draw – as long as you know its coming. You need to be able to plan for your ball flight if you are going to hit shots that finish close to the target, so watch your patterns carefully on the driving range and take note if you are starting to hit more draws than ever before.
- Added distance. This is the big point, and it is the one that will motivate most golfers to give a soft left arm a try. Every player would love to hit the ball farther, as golf is generally easier when you can hit long drives and powerful iron shots. However, all of the added distance in the world isn't going to help you if you can't control where the ball comes down. Note exactly how much distance you are gaining with each club so you can pick the right clubs when out on the course. Even adding just a few extra yards on your iron shots is enough to throw off accurate club selection. It might be helpful to make a quick chart with all of your club distances currently so you can then write in your updated distances once you soften your left arm successfully.
Obviously, you want the ball flight changes to be good ones. If you begin to hit a slice as soon as you soften your left arm, that is a negative change, and one that will probably lead you to return to your old address position. However, even if all of your ball flight changes are positive, you still need to take the time to learn how to use them correctly on the course.
Chip and Pitch Shot Details
It was mentioned earlier that chipping and pitching the ball can be made slightly easier by softening your left arm. That is true, but it may take a period of practice time before you are fully comfortable with this technique. The reason is simple – most amateur golfers hit chip and pitch shots predominately by swinging their hands and arms back and through. As you soften your left arm, that technique will become less effective. Instead, you will need to turn your shoulders to move the club. Hitting a chip or pitch shot with mostly shoulder movement is a great way to control the speed of the club, but it will take some getting used to in order to execute shots correctly.
Take some time to visit the short game practice area at your local course to hit some chip and pitch shots with your new soft left arm position. As you hit these shots, focus on keeping your eyes on head down on the ball through impact. That might sound like basic advice, but it really is important when trying to hit the ball close to the hole. Clean contact is the most important part of short shots, and the best way to hit the ball solid is to be looking at it the whole time. With your eyes down through impact, you can slide the wedge right into the ball of the ball, imparting plenty of backspin in the process. It will take some time to trust this motion without using your hands excessively, but you will get there as long as you stick with it. Pro golfers are great at chipping and pitching the ball close to the hole because they let the club do most of the work while keeping their hands out of it – you should follow their lead.
Playing golf with a soft left arm at address has a number of advantages, but it isn't for everyone. You may find that this technique doesn't do any good for your golf swing – and it may even do some harm. Regardless of the outcome, it is still worth your time to work on this position as an experiment. The best golfers are the ones who are willing to try new things so they can discover what works, and what doesn't. Over time, you can keep what works and throw out what doesn't, and your swing will become better and better along the way. Try a soft left arm at address in your own game and you just might be able to take some big steps in the right direction.