The body's big muscles – hips, torso and shoulders – are the engine of the golf swing, but the arms are where the rubber meets the road, if you will, delivering the club to the ball. Tension in the arms restricts their speed and decreases your driving distance.
Therefore, addressing the ball with relaxed arms is a must. This begins with making sure they hang freely from the body as you set up to the shot and hold the club. (Keeping the arms too close to the body inhibits their progress on the downswing as well, another distance-killer.)
Next, your grip pressure should be light – about 4 or 5 on a scale of 10 (with 1 being lightest, 10 tightest). If you can feel tension in your palms or forearms, you're holding the handle too forcefully.
Finally, integrate a gentle waggle into your routine, waving the clubhead back and forth behind the ball before starting the takeaway. This prevents you from pressing the club against the ground and keep the arms loose.
If you're struggling to get good distance on drives and other shots, tension in the arms is the first place to look – and an easy problem to cure.
Relax the Arms to Maximize Distance
It is hard to relax on the golf course. There are a ton of reasons to tighten up as you are getting ready to play a shot, from thinking about your score to the pressure of having to hit over a water hazard. No matter what it is that has you nervous, you need to find a way to relax prior to starting your swing. The golf swing is supposed to be a fluid motion, and it is hard to move smoothly when you are tense. Relaxation is key in golf, even if it is difficult to achieve.
One part of your body in particular that needs to be relaxed is your arms. It is your arms that actually do the swinging of the club, so they need to be as relaxed as possible as you stand in the address position. Tension in your arms will only serve to slow your swing down, and you will also have difficulty making solid contact through the hitting area. It might feel natural to tighten your arms up as a way to add power to your swing – but that method will have the opposite of your intended effect. Instead of speeding up your swing, tightening your arms at address will slow you down and harm the quality of your ball striking.
Think of your swing like a whip. A stiff whip wouldn't be able to accelerate very quickly, and it certainly wouldn't be able to achieve that 'crack' at the end of its extension. For your swing to be 'whip-like', you need to maintain a loose feeling in both arms. Even if you were to make a technically perfect golf swing, but you kept your arms rigid the entire time, you would be disappointed with the results. Relaxed arms, in concert with great body rotation, are what can accelerate the club and provide you with impressive distance.
A large portion of this part of your game is mental. Sure, you need to have the physical technique in place, but what is going on in your mind is just as important. Good golfers are able to keep the tension out of their swings by keeping their minds relaxed from the first shot to the last. Of course that is far easier said than done, but it should always be your goal. Learn how to control your thinking on the course and you will suddenly find that you have more control over the ball.
All of the instruction provided below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
It Starts in Your Hands
It is impossible to have relaxed arms when you have tense hands. The way you hold the golf club has a direction relationship to how your arms feel at address, so focusing on a light and relaxed grip is key to getting the most from your arm swing. Many amateurs hold the golf club too tight when they swing, which is a big part of the reason why most players never live up to their distance potential. If you are able to learn how to play golf with a relaxed grip, you will take a big step in the right direction toward having relaxed arms as well.
Of course, most average golfers hold on to the club too tightly because they are afraid of having it fly out of their hands. And certainly, you do not want that to happen. However, there is a happy medium between a 'death grip' and a grip that is too light to control the club. What you are looking for is a relaxed but firm grip which gives you freedom in your wrists and control at the same time. It might not be easy to strike this balance at first, but you will get more and more comfortable with this kind of grip with practice. It might not be terribly exciting to practice your grip, but working on this basic fundamental can pay off huge in the end.
So how can you find that right balance to master the proper grip tension? Try using the three simple tips below –
- Proper grip fundamentals. If you form a bad grip on your club, you will need to squeeze tighter just to hang on through the shot. By using the correct fundamentals when you take your grip you can lessen the need for tension. Good fundamentals include holding the club at the base of your fingers (instead of in your palm), and forming a good connection between your two hands. There is room for individuality in the golf grip up to a certain point, but you will want to be sure to hit on both of those key fundamentals.
- Practice chipping first. As you are trying to relax your grip tension, head over to the practice chipping area to hit a few shots. Since you will be hitting shorter shots with a softer swing in the chipping area, it should be easier to trust your light grip pressure. As you get more comfortable with using a light grip, you can gradually hit longer and longer shots until you are all the way up to your full swing.
- Stay within yourself. Another common cause of tight grip pressure is trying to hit the ball as hard as you possibly can. When you reach back for every single yard you can find your swing, the natural reaction is to tighten up your hands – and your arms by extension. You shouldn't be hitting any shots on the course at complete maximum effort. The focus should always be on control and balance in the golf swing, and those things are lost when you swing as hard as you can. Stay within yourself and you will be able to maintain a softer grip – and you will hit better shots as a result.
Don't overlook the importance of your grip pressure when it comes to the way your arms work in the swing. A tight grip can easily lead to tight arms, which can lead to a long list of other problems. Practice improving your grip pressure until you feel confident enough to use a lighter grip with all of your swings. Remember, you need to control the club throughout the swing, but you also don't want to squeeze it as hard as you can. Strike a nice balance with your grip and your swing will thank you.
Feel the Hang in Your Arms
If you have read much golf instruction previously, you already know that your address position has a lot to do with the success of your shots. By getting into a great address position, you can set yourself up for a fundamentally sound swing. Many amateurs overlook this important step and never take the time to learn how to build a proper stance. As a result, they are always trying to make up for the mistakes that they made at address, and their swings will never be repeatable.
One key fundamental at address is the ways your arms hang down from your shoulders. You don't want to feel like you are forcing your arms out in front of your body – rather, you should be letting them hang down naturally so that they feel free and loose. In order to reach this position, you must first have plenty of tilt from the waist in your stance. When you stand up too vertically, it will be impossible to let your arms hang down away from your body. Bend from the waist at address, while keeping your back straight, and you should be able to put your arms in a perfect position.
To practice this position, you can work on your stance in front of a mirror (you won't be using a club for this drill). Stand in front of a mirror with the mirror positioned to your left, as if the mirror was the target for your imaginary golf shot. Take your stance and let your arms hang down comfortably from your shoulders (don't put your hands together at this point – just let each arm hang down by your side). Once your arms are hanging down, turn your head to the left and look in the mirror. Are your arms hanging straight up and down, or are you reaching away from your body? Hopefully, each arm will form a straight line up and down. In not, try adding some additional tilt to your stance until you are able to find this position successfully.
After you have placed your arms into a good hanging position, bring your hands together. As you bring them together, make sure you aren't forcing your arms up and away from your body. They should still be hanging down comfortably, only now they will be clasped together in front of you. This is the position that you will be in when you hold the golf club at address.
Working on your arm hang is probably not as exciting as some other parts of the game, but it can go a long way toward freeing up your swing and adding power to your game. If you want to have relaxed arms at address, you are going to need to practice a comfortable arm hang. As long as your arms feel free and loose under your shoulders at address, you will know that you are ready to make a smooth and aggressive swing.
Using Your Engine
If you aren't going to use your arms specifically to generate power in your swing, you are going to need to find that power from another source. This is where so many amateurs go wrong, because they simply don't understand what parts of their body should be used to build speed in the swing. Instead of forcing your arms through impact, you want to be rotating your body aggressively toward the target while your arms just come along for the ride. Think of your lower body and your torso as the 'engine' of the swing, while your arms are the tires. Sure, the tires are essential, but you aren't getting anywhere without an engine. Allow the big muscles in your body to power the swing while your arms and hands guide the club into the ball.
So how do you know if you are using your engine properly in the swing? The first place to look is your finish position. The following points should all be in place when you finish your swing –
- Full weight transfer to left side. By using your torso and lower body in the downswing you will be moving all of your weight onto the left side. At the finish position you should have the vast majority of your weight on your left foot, with only a small amount balanced on the toe of your right shoe. If you are able to get left during the downswing, you can be confident that you are rotating your body nicely.
- Belt buckle at the target. One of the classic ways to check your follow through is to pay attention to the position of your belt buckle when the swing is finished. If your belt buckle is pointing roughly at the target at the end of your swing, you have done a good job of turning your lower body through the shot. Many amateurs find that their belt buckle is pointing to the right of the target, meaning they haven't moved through the downswing correctly.
- Balance. Great balance is key during all parts of the golf swing, but especially at the finish. You should be able to hold your finish position until well after the ball has landed. If you find that you are falling off balance before the ball comes down to the ground, it would be a good idea to work back through your swing to find the point that is throwing you off balance. Consistent golf is played from a balanced posture and stance, so taking time to get this point right is well worth the effort.
If you can check off each of the three points above in your own swing, there is a good chance that you are using your engine properly. However, if those points above are eluding you, try the following drill to get your body rotation on track –
- To start, head to the driving range with your clubs and a bucket of balls. You can use any of your clubs to complete the drill, so feel free to work your way through a number of different clubs in order to get a good feel for the proper body rotation throughout the set.
- You can use any club you wish to start the drill, but a short iron would be the easiest option.
- Once you have selected a club, place a ball down in front of you and get ready to hit a shot. Of course, you will want to go through your normal pre-shot routine and take your stance just as you would for any shot on the course.
- Instead of starting your swing by moving the club back away from the ball, you are going to start by moving the club forward and swinging up into a finish position. Go slowly and avoid moving the ball as you swing the club forward. Make sure you get your weight onto your left side while making this motion, and find a balanced position at the finish.
- After you have completed this first step, move the club back down behind the ball by unwinding your body away from the target. Then, start your swing as usual and hit the shot. As you are making your swing, remember the finish position you were just in and try to reach it again. If you can get your body to move in a way that leads to a perfect finish position, you can be sure that your lower body and torso are working correctly.
This drill is simple, and it might look a little funny on the range to people who don't know what you are doing. However, it can be an effective way to 'teach' your body the feeling of a good finish position. By getting into that finish position just before you swing, you will be reminding your brain what the goal is at the end of the motion. Try using this drill on a regular basis to engage your 'engine' and add power to your swing while keeping your arms loose and relaxed.
The Mental Side of Relaxed Arms
Just as with everything else in golf, there is a mental side and a physical side to keeping your arms relaxed and swinging freely. It will help to get your arms in a good address position and to use your core muscles to power the swing, but your arms could still tense up if you have the wrong mental approach. Learning how to think properly on the course is a vital skill that very few amateur golfers ever master.
Following are three mental game tips that will help you keep your mind – and body - relaxed as you prepare to hit each shot –
- Pick specific targets. Believe it or not, picking a very specific target is a great way to relax your mind prior to a shot. When you fail to pick a target, your mind can easily wander and start thinking about all of the bad places that the ball could end up. This is obviously a problem when you are trying to relax and focus. Instead of letting your mind drift around prior to the shot, focus in on a very specific point and try to execute a swing toward that target. You aren't going to hit your spot every time, of course, but the clarity that this kind of thinking provides will help you to stay relaxed.
- Never stretch your limits. Again, it is important that you never try to hit the ball with 100% of your power. There should always be a little something held back, because that will help you to stay on balance and make a clean strike. As you are preparing to hit a shot, think about your club selection and choose the club that will be able to easily reach the target without undue effort. If you are thinking that you will need to smash the shot with your maximum effort in order to reach the target, you are holding the wrong club.
- It's just golf. One of the oldest, and most effective, 'tricks' in the book is to tell yourself that golf is just a game. Obviously you want to play well, and there is nothing wrong with a little nervous energy to help you play your best. However, if you take the game too seriously, you can limit your ability to perform up to your capabilities. Prior to hitting a shot that you are particularly nervous about, think of something away from the golf course that is more important in your life. A little perspective can go a long way toward helping you relax and play great shots.
Extra tension in your arms prior to a shot is just as likely to be a mental problem as a physical one. Golf is a game that plays with your emotions and can make you think about things that you would rather not think about (like water hazards or out of bounds stakes). To take the next step in the development of your game, you will need to learn how to control the way you think and use it to your advantage. One of the best skills a golfer can possess is a relaxed and peaceful mindset. If you mind is relaxed your body will be relaxed, and you will be a big step closer to hitting great shots.
Relaxed arms are key to adding power to your swing, as well as to improving your ball striking as a whole. Use the instruction contained above to keep your arms relaxed at address and throughout the rest of the swing. With relaxed arms and a great body turn, additional power should be right around the corner.