Every golfer knows what the (right-hander’s) left arm should do on the backswing: remain straight.
But what about the right arm? Is it just along for the ride?
Hardly. In fact, since nearly all right-handed golfers are naturally stronger with the right hand (and vice versa for lefties), the right arm is a key power source in the golf swing.
Here’s what the right arm should do from setup to finish.
- At address, the right arm is relaxed; a little slack at the elbow is OK.
- On the takeaway, the right elbow begins folding almost immediately as the right hand rotates away from the ball. Both arms stay in front of the chest for the entire backswing.
- The top portion of the right bicep remains tucked against the body as the club goes back.
- At the top, the right bicep and forearm should form a 90-degree angle, or close to it.
- The backswing positions are closely mirrored on the downswing, with the right elbow tight against the body. A powerful, 90-degree angle is maintained between right forearm and shaft as the club travels downward.
- The right arm unhinges approaching impact, when it forms a straight line with the shaft.
It stays straight well after contact, extending toward the target, with the right elbow bending as the swing slows to the finish.
Mastering the Role of the Right Arm in the Golf Swing
Making a good golf swing requires many different parts of the body to work together properly – both of your arms, your hands, your shoulders, your legs, feet, and more. Only when everything gets in sync together will you be able to produce a swing that can consistently send the ball toward the target. With that said, some of the parts of the body play a more important role than others – and the right arm is one of the most-important of all (for a right handed golfer). Getting your right arm to trace the right path both back and through the shot is something that you should spend time working on during your practice sessions. If your right arm were to get out of place at any point, you will have a difficult time hitting a quality shot.
It might seem like both of your arms should be doing roughly the same thing – after all, they are holding on to the same golf club throughout the swing. However, the way your right arm works, specifically through the backswing, will be different than the motion that your left arm makes. This distinction is important, and you should have a clear understanding of what you are trying to do with each arm. Good mechanics in golf make it far easier to play consistently well, regardless of your ability or experience level. Even an average golfer can achieve impressive consistency simply by using the same mechanics shot after shot.
Ideally, you won’t have to think about the role of right arm in golf swing after a period of practice to engrain the proper fundamentals. A good golf swing right arm position isn’t necessarily hard to achieve, but you do need to know what it looks like and how you can get there. Once the right arm in golf swing takeaway is figured out, the golf swing right arm downswing should just happen automatically. The less you have to think about what your right arm is doing as the swing progresses, the better. This is what the driving range is for – iron out your technical issues there, so it can happen naturally on the course.
The irony in this topic is that most golfers use their right arm too much in the golf swing. The role of right arm in golf swing should be mostly to guide the club into position and get it ready for an aggressive downswing. Once set properly at the top of the swing, the lower body and left arm should take over and do the rest of the work. Think of it as a transfer of power – the right arm in golf swing takeaway does most of the work, and the left arm regains control when you transition into the downswing. This might be the opposite of how you swing the club currently, so some serious practice time will likely be needed to master this movement.
Remember that all of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer, so left handed players will need to reverse the directions (including focusing on the left arm instead of the right).
Getting Started with the Right Arm
You may have heard previously that you don’t want to use your hands in the takeaway portion of the golf swing. By and large, that is true – hand action in the takeaway frequently leads to problems later on the swing as far as the position of the club face is concerned. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t focus on using one of your arms specifically for the purpose of pulling the club away from the ball. The right arm is the perfect place to focus your attention as you are starting the backswing because it needs to be set in just the right position at the top to facilitate a good transition down.
The sensation you want to try and achieve during the takeaway is one of the right arm slowly pulling the club away from the ball. Pay particular attention to the word ‘slowly’ – you don’t want to rush through the takeaway at all. A slow and even takeaway gives your shoulders time to turn back as they should so you can get set up properly for an aggressive downswing later on. Try to feel the back of your right wrist remaining stable as it leads the club away from the ball. As long as there is no hinge in your right wrist for the first foot or so of the backswing, you should be in good shape. The wrists and hands will get involved more later, but for now they should remain stable and quiet.
There are two specific fundamentals that you should pay attention do during the backswing with regard to the right arm. The first is the stability of your right wrist, which was just mentioned above. The other is the position of your right elbow, and its proximity to your torso. You do not want to let the right arm get up and away from your side during the backswing – especially early on. The upper arm portion of your right arm should stay mostly connected to your side as you turn through the backswing. When you let that right arm get away from your side, you will make your arm swing too long, and your shoulder turn will probably be too short as well. Instead, stay connected to your side with that right elbow pointing down, and use your shoulders to turn the club back as far as necessary.
Fortunately, there is a simple drill that you can use to reinforce this concept until you become comfortable with it. At the driving range, take an extra golf glove from your bag (a small towel would work as well) and place it under your right arm so it is trapped under your armpit. With the glove in place under your arm, pick up one of your short irons and try to hit a few shots. The idea is to keep the glove in place under your arm throughout the backswing and downswing – if it falls to the ground on the follow through, that’s fine.
Obviously, the glove in this drill is just serving as a physical reminder of where your right arm should be in the swing. For example, if you let your right arm get up and away from your side early on in the takeaway, the glove will quickly fall to the ground and you will know that you have made a mistake. For most amateur golfers, this drill is quickly going to expose an obvious swing fault – not enough shoulder turn. Most amateurs fall short in terms of shoulder turn, making most of their backswing with arms alone. At first, you are probably going to feel like you have to exaggerate your shoulder turn in order to make a full swing while doing this drill. That is good. Focus on adding to your shoulder turn until you can hit full shots and still keep that glove in place under your right arm.
The Transfer of Power
The top of your backswing is a moment of great change in the golf swing. Not only is the club changing directions and starting to move back toward the ball, but you are also changing which muscles are used to control the club. While the right arm has been largely responsible for getting the club to this point, it will now give up control and allow the rest of your body to take over. Namely, your lower body and your left arm should engage in the swing and do much of the work that is required to get the club head to rip through impact at maximum possible speed.
As you approach the top of your backswing, your hips should start to turn to the left to initiate the forward swing action. It is imperative that your lower body is the portion that engages this motion before anything else starts toward the target. Without getting this sequence right, you will have trouble creating as much speed as you would like through impact.
Sadly, this is where many golfers get it all wrong. Instead of the lower body initiating the downswing, it is actually the right arm that they use to push the club down toward the ball. In this way, the right arm can go from being your best friend to your worst enemy. Not only does this cause a loss of power in the swing, but it also will usually put the club overtop of the proper swing plane coming down – meaning a slice is the likely outcome. With one simple mistake – using your right arm to start the downswing instead of your lower body – you can be left with weak and off-line shots. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that this is the single most important moment of the whole swing. Sure, the impact position is important as well, but you can’t reach a good impact position if you mess up the transition.
Assuming you have gotten the golf swing right arm position correct at the top of the swing, you should be perfectly poised to hand over responsibility for the swing to your lower body. When you start by rotating your hips toward the target, your arms will be naturally pulled down into the ‘slot’, from where they can attack the ball aggressively. At this point, you should feel your left arm start to play a more active role as well. The left arm should be mostly straight, while your right arm is close in to your side. By pulling the left arm down toward the ball, in concert with a rotation of the lower body, you can achieve the perfect combination of power and accuracy.
Working on the action of your arms in the downswing can be tricky, largely because it is tied to the motion of your lower body at the same time. You need to synchronize those two movements together in order to time the swing just right. One tip that may help you picture what you need to do in the downswing is thinking about the end of the grip of the club pointing at the ball for as long as possible. When you start down, the bottom of the grip should be pointing generally at the ball – try to hold that angle by pulling your left arm down toward impact. Eventually, the club will have to begin to release and your right arm will straighten up as you get toward the point of contact. Most amateur golfers are unable to keep the butt end of the club pointing at the ball for very long in their downswing, and they lack distance as a result. Get this part right and your power should quickly increase.
Where it All Goes Wrong
As you already understand, golf is an extremely difficult game to play well. There are plenty of moving parts within the swing, and you are trying to hit the ball at a target that is often hundreds of yards away. To say the least, there is plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong. It isn’t a big deal to make a mistake in your swing, as long as you know what went wrong and how you can fix it. Even the best golfers make poor swings in each and every round – only they are experts at identifying the mistakes they have made, so they can get them fixed before the next shot.
Following are a few ways in which the way you use your right arm in the swing can go wrong. Hopefully, these points will help you identify faults in your own swing so you can get them fixed as quickly as possible.
- Too much extension. Getting extension with your left arm is a good thing, but you don’t want your right arm straying too far from your side during the backswing. One common mistake is to keep both arms straight as long as possible in the backswing – leading to a loss of connection between your right arm and your body. Once the first foot or so of the takeaway has been completed, it will be mostly up to your shoulders to load the club up in the backswing. Focus on the rotation of your trunk and let the arms come along for the ride.
- Elbow getting behind your body. Another way to get out of position in the backswing is to pull your right elbow quickly behind you during the takeaway. Instead of rotating away from the target, this mistake causes you to pull the club in close to your body and gets everything out of position immediately. An easy way to spot this mistake is actually by watching your left arm during the takeaway. If you notice that your left elbow is bending quickly after starting your swing, you might be getting your right elbow stuck behind you. Again, you can fix this by focusing on rotation away from the ball. When your shoulders turn correctly right from the start, it will be difficult to make this mistake.
- Too much right hand grip. A perfect grip will have very little tension or pressure coming from the right hand. However, many amateur players struggle with squeezing the club tightly with that right hand, putting too much power in the right arm for the downswing. When you are holding on tight like this, you will have trouble transferring control of the downswing to the lower body and left arm as discussed earlier. Work on using your left hand mostly to control the grip, while your right hand maintains a light grip pressure and simply works to guide the club into position.
- The throw. This fault was alluded to earlier, but it certainly deserves more attention because of how destructive it can be to your swing. When you reach the top of the backswing, it is crucial that your lower body initiate the movement toward the ball. If, instead, you ‘throw’ the club down toward the ball using your right arm, your swing will be harmed beyond repair. It doesn’t matter if you do everything else beautifully throughout the swing, this one single mistake can wreck it all and leave you with a poor shot as a result. Countless amateur golfers get in a rush when they reach the top of the backswing and throw the club down toward impact as a result – therefore, many players struggle with a slice and a loss of distance. Let your swing gather at the top, don’t get in a rush, and use your whole body to rotate aggressively toward the target.
Those four faults with your right arm should mostly cover the issues that you can encounter during the swing. If you are able to keep any of those four errors safely away from your swing on a consistent basis, you should be in a pretty good shape from a ball striking standpoint.
It’s All about Order
This last point isn’t solely related to the golf swing right arm downswing, or even the right arm in general. Rather, it has to do with how your swing is put together, and how the parts of the swing interact with each other (including right arm motion). The golf swing is a series of movements all put together in a specific order to complete the task of hitting the ball. When done properly, such as by a professional, it can be a beautiful motion that looks completely natural – and incredibly controlled. Unfortunately, it can look weak and awkward when the components are out of order or improperly performed.
The moral of the story is this – the golf swing is all about sequencing. Not only do you need to do the right things in your swing, you also need to do them in the right order, at precisely the right time. The right arms plays an important role in the backswing, for example, but it should be largely left out of the downswing thought process. It you get that backward, your swing is unlikely to be very effective. This highlights just how important sequencing is in the game of golf. Make the right movements in the right order and suddenly this swing can come together nicely.
One of the main problems that most golfers deal with in this regard is just how fast the swing goes by. From start to finish, it only takes a second or two to complete the act of hitting the ball. That simply isn’t enough time for your brain to process the various motions that need to be made. Therefore, golfers who haven’t practiced extensively have trouble making the swing come together time after time. This should make it very clear why practice time is so important for a golfer. The repetitions that take place on the practice tee go a long way toward engraining those movements and making them easier for you to repeat. Without practice, there will be too much conscious thought going on during the swing – and that is never a good thing for a golfer.
The right arm plays a crucial role in your golf swing, but it is important to understand just when and how it should be used. You don’t want to make a swing that is dominated by your right arm, but you also don’t want to make one that leaves the right arm out of the equation entirely. Instead, your swing should be a seamless blend of various movements that come together to create a cohesive motion designed to launch the ball accurately into the sky. The good news is that you can put your swing together one piece at a time and master it on the practice range before heading to the first tee. In regard to your right arm, pay specific attention to your sequencing and right elbow position throughout the swing, and you should be on the right track for quick improvements.