Symptom:  You are obsessing about your left arm – is my left arm straight?  Do I have a bent left elbow?  All the while you are getting more and more tension in your arm and shoulder.

You have heard about your bent left elbow so often that you have come to believe that your key to golfing bliss is to keep that left arm straighter still.  Now your swing looks robotic and rigid and the ball still isn’t going where you aim it…

Description:  Swing so that your left elbow stays relatively straight, especially at impact and during the takeaway.

Why it works:  “Keep your left arm straight” is perhaps the most famous (infamous?) golf tip on the planet.  The tip must be understood in context.  In a properly-executed swing, the left arm will stay fairly straight, and this is desirable.  A bent left arm robs power from the shot, and will return the clubface to the ball inconsistently.  But if you focus on keeping your elbow straight, you will introduce tension that restricts your turn and inhibits a powerful release of the club.  If you are swinging and your left arm is bent, then forcibly keeping your left arm straight is unlikely to fix your problems — you have much bigger problems that are best fixed by different drills, such as the underhand stick toss drill or the two ball drill.

What “Left Arm Straight” Really Means

I much prefer to phrase the “left arm straight” tip as “swing so that your left arm stays relatively straight throughout the swing” — especially at the takeaway and at impact.  This phrasing emphasizes the turn, the release, the lag, and so on, rather than focusing on your left elbow.  Who wants to focus on the elbow anyway?  You need to focus on the ball — that’s what you’re trying to hit!

Perry, Cabrera, Spieth, Watson Bend Their Left Arm

To prove that you don’t need a straight left arm throughout your swing to hit great shots, let’s watch Kenny Perry.  Run the video to 0:17 and look at his left arm:

Let’s also have a look at Angel Cabrera, a long hitter and great ball striker.

Run this video to 0:05 and have a look at his left elbow.  You will see it is bent even a bit more than Kenny’s!

Jordan Spieth has a beautiful, rhythmic golf swing, and some fairly significant left elbow bend at the top.  Jordan’s is a swing that the Occasional Golfer can imitate with success.  He initiates the swing with a nice starter move, maintains excellent balance throughout, and his left elbow stays supple enough that it does not unduly strain his lower back as he initiates the downswing.

Actually “saving your back” might be the best reason of all to keep a little give in your left elbow.

Have a look at Jordan as he starts his downswing:

Finally, have a look at the great Tom Watson.  He has been a premier ball striker for decades, perhaps one of the best ball strikers ever to play the game.  In the video below, notice how his left arm is quite straight during the takeaway and throughout much of the backswing, but not at the top (0:14).  The left elbow is quite bent at the top, and stays so until just before impact.  Have a look:

golf left arm straight bent left elbow kenny perry angel cabrera tom watson

Perry, Cabrera, and Watson all bend their left arm on the backswing.

Your Swing, Your Left Arm

So, please remember that a left arm that is fairly straight, especially on the takeaway, and when you strike the ball, is a good thing.  But this is a result of an otherwise good swing, not a primary swing thought for you to be focusing on as you swing.  Indeed, keeping the left elbow rigid throughout the swing is not necessary to hit great golf shots and may in fact be hurting you a lot more than it is helping.

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