Because the swing is a combination of intricate movements between multiple muscles and limbs, it's sometimes hard to pinpoint which body part is responsible for a certain job. However, identifying certain movements and practicing their execution can lead to significant improvements in technique.
One such area is the takeaway from the ball. During the first stage of the backswing, right handed players should feel the left arm is taking the club away. The left arm acts as the swing 'guide' and the right arm supports the club at the top of the backswing. This relationship between the two arms also continues into the down swing when the left arm guides and the right arm helps generate the power. The left arm should also be considered the arm which takes the club away because of the way it needs to extend in the back swing.
As the left arm swings the golf club away there are a number of different check points players can use to ensure a successful backswing. Firstly as the left arm reaches parallel with the ground in the back swing, the club should act as an extension of the arm also parallel with the ground pointing away from the target. From here, the left arm remains extended as the wrists hinge upwards pointing the club shaft at the sky. At the top of the swing, the left arm remains extended, guiding the club into a position where it is again parallel to the ground.
At the top of the swing, players can also use the left arm as a gauge of swing plane. If the left arm sits across the shoulders when viewed down the line then the swing is most likely on plane. Here is a drill you can use to help feel the left arm is taking the club away during the back swing.
1. Take your posture and let the left arm hang down as it would normally at address. Put your right arm behind your back out of the way. This is to help focus the mind on the left hand and arm.
2. Make your left hand into a blade with the back of the hand facing a target down the ball-to-target line.
3. Swing the left arm back to the top of the swing and stop before bringing it back down to the ball and through impact.
4. After repeating this drill a number of times, players will understand better how to control the movements of the left arm.
5. Following the drill without using a club, pick up a high lofted club such as a pitching wedge and repeat the drill using only the left arm to swing the club back and through.
6. You shouldn't expect to hit the ball a long way but by hinging the wrist correctly a good contact should be possible.
7. This second part of the drill will help improve the motion of the left hand and also the strength of the left arm.
Player looking to practice and perfect the takeaway using the left arm should think of it as a guide and use the drill to help achieve a great back swing.
Which Arm Takes the Golf Club Back and Why?
Getting your swing started can be one of the most difficult parts of the entire game. This is a challenge that is unique to golf, as you are the one that needs to start the action on each shot. Hitting a golf ball is up to you alone, and it happens on your time. This is different than baseball, for instance, where the pitcher throws the ball and the batter simply reacts. There is nothing to react to in golf, of course, because the ball is sitting still when it is struck. Figuring out how to start your swing properly time after time is one of the key challenges you need to overcome.
It is common for players to 'overthink' this part of the swing – and that is true for total beginners all the way up to top professionals. There have been many cases of pro golfers getting stuck in a slump simply because they couldn't manage to get their swing started successfully. If you allow your mind to take over as you stand at address, you will find that there are quickly too many thoughts in your head to sort through all at once. Starting your swing properly not only requires solid mechanics, it also demands that you have a clear picture in your head of what you are going to do to put the club in motion.
One of the keys on this important point is determining which @arm you are going to use primarily to take the club back away from the ball. Of course, since both hands are on the club, you will technically be using both of your arms to start the swing. However, you are going to want to allow one arm to take the lead, while the other just goes along for the ride. So, which one should you put in charge? We are going to get to the bottom of that question in the article below.
The best way to prepare yourself to play quality golf is to have answers to all of these little questions prepared well in advance of heading to the first tee. In this case, we are looking at a question that seems pretty minor in the grand scheme of things – but these minor points all add up in a big way. If you were to get out on the course and suddenly find yourself stuck over the ball at address, you might spend the rest of your round trying to figure out how to get the swing started. Instead of running into that problem you can address it now on the range and forget about it moving forward. Continually working on, and solving, minor issues in the swing will make your game significantly stronger in the long run.
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.
The Basics of a Good Takeaway
It is nearly impossible to make a great golf swing if you get off to a poor start. The @takeaway is incredibly important because it sets the stage for everything to come later in the swing. A good takeaway gives you a great chance to strike a solid shot, while a poor takeaway will most likely lead to disappointment. It might not be particularly exciting to work on your takeaway during your next trip to the range, but doing so will be time well spent. Improve on the fundamentals of your takeaway and your swing will quickly improve as a whole.
So what are the keys you should be looking for as you build your takeaway? The following list is a good place to start.
- Stable head. Although this article is about how your arms are going to work in the takeaway, it would be a mistake to overlook the important role that the rest of your body plays at the start of the swing. In this case, you need to make sure that your head is staying quiet and steady throughout the early part of the swing. If you allow your head to move, the rest of your body is going to move along with it – and you may lose your balance as a result. While the takeaway is in progress, keep your head still and focus your eyes on the ball. This might seem like a simple point, but it is one that a surprising number of amateur golfers get wrong swing after swing. If necessary, try practicing your takeaway in front of a mirror to confirm that you are doing a good job of keeping your head still.
- Stable right knee. If you are going to focus on only two parts of your body to keep perfectly still during the takeaway, make those two parts your head and your right knee. The right knee, as is the case with your head, has a lot to do with your ability to stay on balance. When the right knee holds in place, your body will be forced to turn through the backswing, and everything will stay on track for success. However, if you let the right knee slide to the right and away from the target, your balance will be lost and trouble will be soon to follow. This is an incredibly common mistake for amateur golfers to make. Take note of how your right knee feels at address and then work to maintain that feeling all the way through the takeaway and up into the rest of the backswing.
- Shoulder turn. You probably already know that a good shoulder turn is essential for a quality golf swing. What you may not know is that the shoulder turn needs to begin right from the start of the swing. Rather than getting the club started by using your hands – which is what many amateur players do in their swings – you need to start the action by turning your shoulders away from the target. Turn your left shoulder under your chin going back and you will be poised for a powerful strike by the time you reach the top of the backswing. A good shoulder turn is the biggest key to making a powerful golf swing, and your success or failure on this point will largely be determined right at the start of your motion.
The good news is this – a quality takeaway is not actually a complicated action. Proper takeaways are quite simple, even if they do take some time to learn. Only players who are willing to put in work on this point on the practice range will be able to improve their takeaway consistency over time. There is no detail too small to practice within the golf swing, and that it certainly true of your takeaway. Invest some time and effort into the way your swing starts and better golf will be soon to follow.
Golf is a Game of Opposites
If you are an experienced golfer, you already know that this is largely a game of opposites. If you want the ball to go up into the air, you need to hit down. If you want the ball to curve to the left, you need to hit through to the right. The opposite nature of the game continues in the discussion we are having about which arm you need to use to start the swing. For a right-handed golfer, it is going to be best to start the swing with the left arm. Of course, if you are a left-handed player, you will want to get things started with the right arm.
Why would you start the swing by putting control into your non-dominant @arm? It all comes down to positioning the club properly in the backswing. The club needs to trace a wide arc in the backswing in order to be in position for a powerful downswing – and you will have an easier time tracing that big arc if you use your left arm to lead the way. Your left arm should remain almost perfectly straight during the backswing and downswing, as keeping your arm extended will allow you to maintain as much width as possible. Any degree of flex in your left elbow is only going to narrow your swing overall, which will cost you power and make it more difficult to achieve a clean strike.
As you stand over the ball, you should focus your mind on the task of turning away from the target. While you need to use your shoulders to make a big turn going back, it can be hard to think only about a shoulder turn when it is your hands that are holding on to the club. For this reason, thinking about starting the swing with your left arm is a great way to go. The action that you should strive to create is a sweeping motion which will 'drag' the club head back from the ball. Nothing needs to be rushed at this stage of the swing, so take your time and allow your left arm to take control of the action. When done correctly, the left arm will pull your shoulders around into position, which is really the key when talking about creating a powerful, rotational swing.
It is important that you are able to avoid involving your hands early in the backswing while the left arm is pulling the club back away from the ball. Countless amateur players use their hands and wrists during the @takeaway, a mistake which causes plenty of problems. Using your hands early in the swing will force the club to the inside of the proper plane, likely leading to an over-the-top move later on – and, eventually, a slice. As you practice your takeaway, make sure the back of your right wrist is not folding back on itself. Both wrists should remain relatively flat throughout the first foot or so of the takeaway. Once the club gets farther into the backswing, your hands and wrists will need to get involved in order to set the club properly.
So, to review, it is your left arm that should be in charge of the early stages of your backswing. While the ultimate goal is to make sure that your shoulders rotate fully away from the target, you can achieve that goal by using your left arm effectively. With the left arm leading the way and the right arm going along for the ride, you should be able to produce a solid takeaway with just a bit of practice. Not only will this takeaway serve you well in the long game, but it should help your performance in the short game as well (more on that later). Put the takeaway near the top of your practice to-do list and the quality of your ball striking should move in a positive direction.
Sequencing Your Thoughts
The mind is a powerful tool. Unfortunately, it can be used for both good and evil, and that is just within a round of golf. When your mind is working properly, it can help you to focus in on the important parts of course management and swing technique. When it loses focus, however, it can cause all sorts of trouble. If your mind is bouncing around from thought to thought without any rhyme or reason, you will have trouble playing good golf on a consistent basis.
To play well round after round, your mind has to be just as finely tuned as your swing. Mostly, the work you need to do on your mental game is going to take place before the swing begins. After all, you really don't have much time to think during the swing itself, as it is over in just a second or two. By controlling the way you think prior to starting the swing, you can position yourself for great results.
The following step-by-step guide is going to walk you through a thought process you can use to get from club selection all the way through to a confident swing.
- The first order of business when you arrive at your ball is to pick a club for the shot at hand. You should immediately work on determining a yardage for the shot, and you should also be looking up toward the target to spot any hazards or other trouble spots to avoid. Only when you have settled on a yardage and a target can you pick the club that you will be using.
- Now that your club is in hand and your target is picked, you are going to move on and put all of those initial concerns out of your head. At this point, you shift to thinking about how you are going to execute the swing required. Are you trying to hit the ball low to stay out of the wind? Are you trying to hit a high shot so the ball will stop quickly on the green? Whatever the case, now is the time to think about the right technique for the desired ball flight. You should be standing a few feet back from the ball at this time, and you can make a couple of quick practice swings if you like.
- From thinking about your swing, you are going to shift to thinking only about the target as you walk up to the ball. Step up into the shot, establish your stance, and take a good long look at the target you have selected. Picture your ball flying directly to the target and stopping in the perfect spot. If you have ever seen a professional golfer staring up at the target while holding their stance over the ball, this is exactly what they are doing. Once you have clearly pictured a successful shot in your mind, it will be time to bring your eyes back down to the ball for the final step.
- As you might have guessed, the final step in this process is to think about using your left @arm to start the swing. Everything else is done at this point, as you already have the right club, you picked a target, and you took your stance. There is nothing left to do but hit the shot, and one of the best ways to get started is to think about using your left arm to turn the club back away from the hole. If this seems like a simple thing to think about at the start of the swing, that's because it is – anything complicated at this point is only going to cause problems. Keep it as simple as possible and allow the mechanics you have built on the driving range to shine through.
If you stick with the thought process outlined above, your mind really won't have time to wander in a negative direction. Many golfers – both professional and amateur – are plagued by negative thoughts as they play this game. There are plenty of hazards out there to worry about, of course, so negative thinking is easy to understand. In the end, however, it has no place on the golf course. Thinking positively is the only way you are ever going to live up to your potential. Practice this thought process on the range and use it consistently on the course until it becomes a natural part of your game.
The Takeaway in the Short Game
It was mentioned briefly above that using the left @arm to start the takeaway is a method which will work well in the short game as well. That is true – but only when we are talking about the short game which occurs around the edges of the green. When chipping or pitching, you can absolutely think about the takeaway in the same way you think about it with a full swing. When putting, however, you would be wise to go in a different direction.
First, let's talk about chipping and pitching. The goal when hitting these kinds of short shots is to make solid contact at impact – which just so happens to be the same goal that you should have with your full swing. If you make solid contact, your chip and pitch shots are almost certain to come out pretty well, and they might even be better than that. Solid contact allows for distance control, and distance control is essential when playing from around the greens.
So, if using your left arm to control the @takeaway works for chipping, why doesn't it work for putting? The problem isn't so much in the backstroke, but rather what happens when you move the putter toward the hole. A player who thinks about using the left arm to swing the putter back is likely to 'block' the putter through the ball toward the hole – often resulting in a miss to the right. Your putting stroke needs a nice release at impact, and that release isn't going to come from your hands (as it does with other shots). To make sure the putter can rotate through the ball properly, you want to think about rocking it with your shoulders instead of using your left arm to dictate the action. At address, move your left shoulder down toward the ground to start the putting stroke. That simple action will set your stroke in motion, and if you rock your shoulders back the other way for the forward stroke, you should roll the ball down the line time after time.
As a right-handed golfer, you will be best-served to think about using your left arm to control the takeaway. It is important to have your fundamentals under control during the crucial takeaway phase of the swing, so don't overlook this part of your game during practice sessions. Spend a few minutes working on your takeaway during your next trip to the range and you should notice an immediate difference in your performance. Good luck and play well out there!