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The truth about a straight left arm

Chuck EvansBy Chuck Evans,
Special Contributor
Straight left arm
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keeping your lead arm straight is an important, but often misunderstood part of a good golf swing. (Courtesy Andi Brenner)

One of the "absolutes" in golf - and what is taught - is a straight left arm (Or right arm if you are a lefty like Phil Mickelson). First let's define what a straight left arm is and isn't.

For the majority of people a left arm that hangs downward has an elbow joint. This joint has between three and five degrees of bend in it. This is what a straight left arm is.

Stretching - hyper extending - and locking the elbow is not a straight left arm! All the golfer has done successfully is to increase the radius from the left shoulder to the ground. This is a major cause of "fat shots!" This is what a straight left arm is not!

Harry Vardon won the British Open six times playing with a "bent" left arm.

Calvin Peete won the Players Championship and is the most accurate driver of the golf ball ever! In 26-plus years of playing professional golf he hit one ball out of bounds!

Calvin's left arm was severely bent as a result of an accident as a young child which shattered his left elbow.

Surgeons repaired the elbow, but it remained permanently fused so that Calvin could never fully straighten his arm.

Calvin won 11 times on Tour in a five-year span - 12 events total - plus his Players Championship victory. He led the Tour in driving accuracy for 10 straight years and led the Tour in "greens in regulation" three times.

Another player that had huge success on the PGA Tour is Curtis Strange. Curtis won 17 times on Tour including winning the U.S. Open back to back in 1988 and 1989. Others include Jay Haas and Kenny Perry.

Swing "Gurus" referred to Curtis' left arm as "soft."

Think of it this way, if you were to swing a piece of rope is it "locked" and taunt in the backstroke? Of course not! But what happens when you swing it to the ball - it becomes a straight line!

Now I'm not advocating that you intentionally bend your left arm but I am saying not to lock it thinking that is what straight is. The arms must feel like dangling ropes - loose. This will give you more power with less effort.

Remember, whatever angle your left arm hangs - loosely - just maintain it during the backstroke and let it come out by itself in the downstroke.

Chuck Evans, G.S.E.D., a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, is one of only 31 golf instructors worldwide designated to hold a doctorate in golf stroke engineering. He is executive director of instruction for the Medicus Golf Institute and has served as director of schools for the PGA Tour Golf Academy, and as director of instruction for the United States Golf Institute. He is also the author of "How To Build Your Golf Swing."

 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • straight left arm

    Blake wrote on: Apr 9, 2014

    Im not saying a bent left arm is wrong i cant get my left arm to stay straight to save my life but watch videos of Byron Nelson in his prime and his lead(left)arm looks like a piece of steel all the way through his backswing and downswing

    Reply

  • Staright left arm

    Joe wrote on: Mar 30, 2014

    If there is a natural bend at address it is ok. but I must have a feeling I am pushing it out to keep it straight. It solves a lot of problems for me.

    Reply

  • The right analysis

    larrybud wrote on: Aug 22, 2013

    The problem with a "bent" left arm is that it usually means that the arms are running on after the shoulder turn has completed. This is a big no-no!

    Reply

  • Bent left arm

    David Ransom wrote on: Jan 25, 2012

    I think this is a major golf coaching issue and should be sorted. After a lot of confusion, considerable pain and poor shots, I am leaning very much towards the bent left arm philosophy particularly for older / amateur golfers.

    Reply

  • answer..

    Alex wrote on: Apr 29, 2011

    I found an interesting explanation:
    The maximum increase in club head speed comes at the 0.06 seconds before impact. At this point the left arm will be straight in a bent left arm stroke. If you start with a straight left arm in the backstroke, it is in its most disadvantaged position at the top. It can only support. It can provide minimal speed from the top to the 0.06 second position. The right arm must provide the majority. It also depends on how much pain you like in the backstroke. The bigger the shoulder turn with a straight left arm, the greater the pain in the back and shoulders. So, if you like pain (and a slower club head speed), make big shoulder turns with a straight left arm.
    When you bend the left arm in the backstroke, you add a powerful lever, the left triceps to help start the club down. You remove the tension from your back and shoulders and increase the club head speed by about 10% at the 0.06 second position over the straight left arm method. It is now easier to turn on the right arm lever flexors to achieve your maximum club head speed.
    The physics is simple - optimum use of arm levers. The body is a stabilizer. There are no mechanisms for transferring any speed, momentum, force, pressure or any other term that has been written about from the body into the arms. Type IIx fast twitch muscles moving arm levers create maximum club head speed. The more of them you employ, the greater the club head speed.

    Reply

  • increased distance..

    Alex wrote on: Apr 29, 2011

    I am 37 y.o and play hcp 6. My swing is short because I have limited upper body flexibility and I always wanted to keep my left arm straight. I started recently bending slightly my left arm so that I could increase my backswing and gain distance. Indeed, I gained about 15 yards on my irons. The issue is clearly accuracy which I hope to solve. But I finally have the feeling I cat hit the ball harder.
    I'm not sure where the extra distance comes from, I feel the shoulders rotate more.

    Reply

      • RE: increased distance..

        larrybud wrote on: Aug 22, 2013

        What you've done, however, is added another timing element to your swing, which is going to cost you accuracy.
        Most people restrict hip turn (back) too much, which limits how far they can turn their shoulders. Increase your hip turn, and you'll increase your shoulder turn.

        Reply

          • RE: RE: increased distance..

            Mike G. wrote on: Sep 7, 2013

            It is easy to teach and learn a straight left arm swing, less movements. But the left elbow bends in everyday life it is a natural movement. It is not how you start it is how you finish your swing. It’s more of keeping your head down bringing the club over your shoulder 45 degrees at 85% of full swing speed and go through the ball. Let the club do the work. Yes a soft elbow does add more moments to your swing but I promise your left elbow will be as straight as a plank on impact. Oh your back will thank you also. Landing on par 3 holes four feet from the pin and hitting the fairway most the times will make you love your game more. Now putting is another thing, good luck on that – Have fun AMATEUR GOLFERS…

            Reply

  • Relaxed Left Arm

    Dick wrote on: Oct 8, 2009

    I played with an exaggerated straight left arm for years. I didn't rotate rather pulled like a rubber band and suffered years of low back pain.
    Now at 74 I let the left arm relax and use only a 45 degree turn and am doing great without back pain.
    Swinging flatter is less painful for me too.
    I think the straight left arm concept in poorly conditioned people is the cause of most of the back problems.

    Reply

  • The Bent Left Elbow - What's Important

    Peter Brooks wrote on: Nov 22, 2008

    Many golfers who let their left arm bend at the top, try to straighten it at the start of the downswing. This increases their inertia and actually slows their rotation (think of the spinning skater who stretches out his arms). This is also like casting and can cause an undesirable change in the swing plane.
    Harry Vardon did not do that. He kept the left elbow bent well into the downswing. This minimized his rotational inertia at the start of the downswing, thereby allowing his torso to rotate more quickly. Then, when the right elbow reached his hip, he "stopped" the upper left arm and allowed it to straighten. The "stopping" action (really a slowing action) transfers rotational momentum from the torso to the forearm and club. This slows the torso going into impact, but produces a huge increase in clubhead speed.
    Vardon's technique is closely akin to the modern pro's "late release", except that Vardon used a two part lever (the left forearm and the club) that gives a double release. In other words, first the elbow "stops" and accelerates the forearm ... then the forearm "stops" and releases the club.  Double whammy.  Difficult to time if you try to time it.  Probably not so difficult if you just let it happen and allow centrifugal force to work it's magic.
    Be sure that at address the left elbow is oriented such that if it bends in the backswing, it does so in the plane of the arm swing. Coming down into impact, any unbending of the left arm must be directed along the desired clubhead path. Any deviations will ruin the shot.
    The choice of grip, weak or strong, influences but does not control the orientation of the left elbow at address. If the arms are relaxed, a weak grip will tend to orient the left elbow so that the club will move from out to in when the elbow straightens. A strong grip sets the elbow up for an in to out path as the arm straightens. At address you can chose to set the elbow in any orientation and then opt for a weak or strong grip. If you match the orientation of the elbow to the arm swing plane, your choice of grip will then determine the flight characteristics of the shot... draw, straight or fade.
    So decide on your desired path through the ball and, at address, set the elbow so as to accommodate that path. Then decide on the nature of the ball flight and choose your grip.
    Bending the left arm can offer a significant advantage for the older golfer who has a restricted swing and not much core strength. I am 74 with a bad back and I am hitting the ball further than I did 15 years ago. Just get the timing right for the release of the left elbow and you can pick up 20 to 30 yards off the tee with less effort.

    Reply

      • RE: The Bent Left Elbow - What's Important

        Peter M wrote on: Oct 26, 2010

        My left wrist is broken and almost fused. If I didn't bend my left elbow I couldn't get the club up in the backswing. I can add 20 yards to my wedge (135) by bending my left elbow. The secret, like you said, is not to unhinge it too early. Thank-you for explaining how the grip setup affects the ball flight and elbow position affects the path. I fully concur with your analysis.

        Reply

          • RE: RE: The Bent Left Elbow - What's Important

            mike r wrote on: Sep 4, 2011

            I agree 100% with this comment allowing the left elbow to position it self according to the left hand grip on the club is one of the best tips I have ever read.those of you who rotate the left elbow inward at address are definately promoting an out to in swingpath.

            Reply

  • Stop telling people its ok to bend their left arm.

    Matthew Parker wrote on: Oct 27, 2008

    Most people will never be able to properly hit the golf ball if gurus like you keep telling them it's ok to bend the left arm. CAlvin Peete? Are you serious? He had a disability that he overcame. Are you seriously using him as an example? That is ridiculous. Curtis strange? Very streaky golfer. Great short game. Never a great striker of the ball. Ask Jack, Tiger, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, and the other great ball strikers of all time if they tried to keep their left arms straight.

    Reply

      • RE: Stop telling people its ok to bend their left arm.

        larrybud wrote on: Aug 22, 2013

        I agree completely. Bending the left arm, only to need to straighten it again at impact only adds another timing element to the swing, and will NOT give more clubhead speed.

        Reply

      • RE: Stop telling people its ok to bend their left arm.

        HH wrote on: Jan 29, 2013

        Clearly you never studied physics. The analysis is 100% correct. Should have studied more and spent less time offering uninformed opinions.
        PS - I'm a Ph.D. and a professional long driver. Funny how I get 150 mph clubhead speed with a bent elbow...but I'll stop because you said so.

        Reply

          • RE: RE: Stop telling people its ok to bend their left arm.

            Phil wrote on: Oct 1, 2013

            LOL ! Best thing ive read all day

            Reply

          • RE: RE: Stop telling people its ok to bend their left arm.

            larrybud wrote on: Aug 22, 2013

            You long drive guys need to only hit it into a grid 60 yards wide!
            There's a reason a bent left arm is an anomaly amongst the best players instead of the norm.

            Reply

              • RE: RE: RE: Stop telling people its ok to bend their left arm.

                Jim wrote on: Sep 29, 2013

                60yds wide at over 400yds is equal to average fairway of 30yds wide , so I would take hitting th fairway each time

                Reply

      • RE: Stop telling people its ok to bend their left arm.

        Marcus Peirce wrote on: Mar 25, 2012

        The left arm only has to be straight in the bottom half of the downswing. This is done as a result of droping your arms in the slot.

        Reply

      • RE: Stop telling people its ok to bend their left arm.

        FS wrote on: Sep 30, 2010

        NEWS FLASH Average and older golfers can't get in the positions that Jack, Tiger, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, and the others get into.If bending there left arm helps there game then let them do it.

        Reply

          • RE: RE: Stop telling people its ok to bend their left arm.

            larrybud wrote on: Aug 22, 2013

            Who says you need to get into the same TOS position Tiger, Jack, and Hogan got into? Heck, they didn't even get into the same position amongst themselves!

            Reply

  • left arm bent ?

    monkeyboy wrote on: Oct 1, 2008

    I make better contact when I make sure my left elbow / arm does not bend. If and when I bend the elbow I lose connection with the driver head and rarely hit the ball well.
    the story on Calvin Peete who was the most accurate ever and had a bent arm goes on to say it was fused and would not move. This seems to argue MORE towards keeping your arm extended than not. It was fused solid and he might as well kept it locked.

    Reply

      • RE: left arm bent ?

        Alex Lacayo wrote on: Sep 20, 2012

        I agree 100% with monkeyboy, try to play with a straight left arm and you will play superior golf.
        bend your arm on purpose and be happy to be a
        B or C category player.

        Reply

  • straight left arm

    Chuck Evans wrote on: Dec 10, 2007

    As I said in the article. Straight does not mean locked, it means maintaining what you start with or are physically capable of.
    Everyone has some bend, that's because of the joint located at the elbow, the players job is to neither add or decrease the amount of bend.
    If you have a bend in your left arm like Calvin Peete then that is YOUR straight left arm. You can still play great golf with this as evidenced by Calvin. Just try and maintain the left shoulder to ball radius that you establish at address and all will be fine.
    chuck

    Reply

  • Left elbow straight as a steel rod

    darryl wrote on: Dec 8, 2007

    I am trying to get a swing I can live and grow with. This is my first year of serious golf. I have straighten my left arm so that it now hurts after every round. I need more than a passing lesson and more explanation of the mechanics of the swing. I just bought the Medicus swing trainers and I am slowing unleraning the things I have learned.

    Reply

  • BENT ARM

    FAYE wrote on: Oct 2, 2007

    HI
    I JUST HURT MY ARM ON SEP 11,2007 AND MY ARM IS STUCK IN A BENDING POSTION
    IF ANYONE WANTS TO TELL ME ANY GOOD IDEAS ON HOW TO HEAL PROPERLY EMAIL ME OK.......
    THIS IS PAINFUL

    Reply

  • Left Elbow

    Tom wrote on: Aug 27, 2007

    I was wondering about this. I play to a 9 handicap and was being critisized on course for having a "soft" left elbow. I've always swung that way. I didn't really know how to defend it except for winning the Sunday foursome by three strokes. I hit 9 fairways and 14 greens. I was pretty happy with that...even with my soft left elbow. Thanks for the explanation.

    Reply

  • elbow

    Jen wrote on: Aug 27, 2007

    I shattered my right elbow joint and I am left with my arm stuck bent too.

    Reply

  • left elbow

    ed healey wrote on: Aug 7, 2007

    I have been playing "at" the game of golf for 40 years.Unfortunatley I also had a gymnastic accident at 16 yrs and was left with limited motion of my left arm "about 30 degrees from straight.I followed Calvin Peete throughout his career and also did reading on Ed Furgol.Are there any videos or photos (on the web )of Calvin or Ed showing their grip,ball position with different clubs,etc.I would greatly appreciate any info you can send. Kind regards, Ed H. hndc 18

    Reply

      • RE: left arm

        Dick wrote on: Oct 7, 2009

        I played with an exaggerated straight left arm for years. I didn't rotate rather pulled like a rubber band and suffered years of low back pain.
        Now at 74 I let the left arm relax and use only a 45 degree turn and am doing great without back pain.
        Swinging flatter is less painful for me too.
        I think the straight left arm concept in poorly conditioned people is the cause of most of the back problems.

        Reply

          • RE: RE: left arm

            H. wrote on: Nov 1, 2011

            ok...How to comment and talk about straight versus relaxed etc etc. All I know is that I've tried them all. And the result is, as soon as I keep my left arm super straight and tight,,,,my ball would shoot like a bullet! Hard to believe but this is through trial and error and only my own result will tell me what works. I used to work very very hard to keep my arms relaxed and I was not happy with the result! not consistent. Thats why I decided to give straight left arm a chance and amazing reults , my distance has increased extra 20-30m

            Reply

              • RE: RE: RE: left arm

                LarryJ wrote on: Dec 2, 2012

                I just recently returned to the game of golf.Age 67. I've been very inconsistent but noticed a guy I was playing with kept his left arm very straight with good success. So I went to the range and experimented with a totally locked straight left arm, not just a "hanging" straight arm that many writers recommend. My drives were instantly improved, straighter and longer,both woods and irons. My elbow was sore but OK the next day. Have I discovered the "secret" to better golf?

                Reply

                  • RE: RE: RE: RE: left arm

                    medical doc wrote on: Feb 24, 2014

                    If you can have straight left arm, left arm parallel to your shoulder and less 45 degree angle of left arm to chest , it will benefit your swing (long and accurate).
                    If you can have straight left arm, left arm parallel to your shoulder and less 45 degree angle of left arm to chest , but you try to bend your left arm, you will have trouble.
                    If you cannot have straight left arm, left arm parallel to your shoulder and less 45 degree angle of left arm to chest , bending your arm will be helpful.
                    If you are handicap with one arm, you still can find your way to hit ball.

                    Reply

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