Left Arm in Golf Swing – Straight or Relaxed?

7 laws of the golf swing

Anytime I hear the “straight left arm” in the golf swing I cringe. Just the visual of it will put your mind in an un-dynamic position. It’s like a shortstop waiting for a ground ball with straight legs – kinda hard to be agile from that position.

I think there’s a lot of mis-understanding about keeping the right arm straight in the backswing and downswing. My GolfDash partner, John, even mentioned it in a recent article titled Golf Resolutions for 2010 mentioning:

“Keep the left arm straight from takeaway to well past impact. If I bend the arm I lose consistent contact because the width of the arc of the swing changes. This is equally important for chips as well as full shots”

Now I’m not picking on John or anyone else about this. After all, there are degrees of this. What feels and looks “straight” to you might feel “hyperextended” to the next chap – no matter, this is just something to experiment and test in practice and play for the betterment of your game.

I started to think a lot about this when I read the great golf instruction book, The 7 Laws of the Golf Swingby Nick Bradley. (it was even one of my “Top 10 Best Golf Books”)

At the time I first read the book and hit the 4th “Law” in the book “Synchronicity”, then looked at the picture of the left arm “relaxed” versus straight something clicked for me. And, really, it was all because of the “crescent moon” image shown above.

Here’s what Mr. Bradley says about it in the book:

“One of the most common faults in the backswing stems from the belief that you must keep your left arm rigid and straight during the swing in order to create width, precision, and power. Unfortunately, this normally has exactly the opposite effect.

While it may feel powerful, attempting to keep your left arm as straight as possible as you sweep the club straight back away from the ball on a wide arc will actually limit the amount of power you can create in the swing.

The result of keeping your left arm rigid and tense is two-fold. First, the clubbed will travel on an unnaturally wide arc on the backswing and will probably cause the clubface to remain closed or hooded during the takeaway.

During the change of direction between backswing and downswing, the forces exerted on your left arm will cause your wrists to flex excessively, leading to narrow, steep arc that creates a whole array of ball-striking problems.

The second problem is that forcing your left arm to remain straight causes your body to turn too early in the backswing.

If your upper-body coil is already complete when your arms have not even reached their halfway-back position, your arms will inevitably have to complete the rest of their journey to the top on their own, resulting in poor strikes and directional problems”

You can quickly test this out on your own with your left arm. Just extend your left arm straight in front of horizontally across your chest (like you are taking a backswing) and notice how that “feels” Now just bend the elbow slightly (so it feels like a “crescent moon”) and notice how that feels.

It should feel much more soft, alive and “whip-like.” That is really the feeling your after – light, soft, free-flowing and ready to snap the club into the back of the ball.

By the way, Nick also includes a few great “crescent moon” drills to ingrain this feeling even further. But you’ll have to get the book to check them out. Pretend you paid $5000 for the book. That’s how you should treat the instruction in it. It’s that good.

I have experimented with this A LOT – in practice, during competitive tournaments and it has made tremendous amount of difference in my ball-striking and ultimately scoring.

Buy the book at Amazon – The 7 Laws of the Golf Swing


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  • Agreed. It’s not about having the arm as stiff and straight as possible. You tense up the muscles and you are going to lose a lot of power. Tense muscles move slowly, relaxed muscles move fast.



  • Robert, thanks for the comment. I used to think that a predominantly straight left arm was critical for the golf swing, but a number of things have convinced me it’s not. I do believe it needs to be straight at impact. If you get the chance, look at the ’12 Nights at the Academy’ piece from the Golf Channel that features Rocco Mediate and Jimmy Ballard. The left arm doesn’t remain straight in the backswing and it seems to work well enough for Rocco!

  • Yes I agree, it is something that a lot of golfers believe to be correct. I have tried to do it and it is very difficult to achieve in a golf swing. A slightly bent left arm is much more comfortable and results in a better golf swing.


  • Troy, the left straight arm is difficult. I believe this is because people – like me – try to turn farther than we’re physically able. The result is the left arm has to break down. Perhaps the left arm is more a symptom than a cause. There are good players who bend the arm – Rocco Mediate for one – but they have a swing style that allows it. If you’re arm breaks because you’re turning beyond your flexibility, then it’s going to work against you.

  • For me the left hand really needs to be relax and slightly bend so you will be more comfortable and have a better swing.

  • Wm Tipton

    Just the opposite for me.
    If I let the left arm get even remotely loose the club is simply too unpredictable and I end up making a lot of fat and thin shots. The swing path is dead on but the club face might be too high to too low because my elbow is bent slightly…but who knows by how much compared to how it was at address.

    I experimented for 9 holes yesterday on a long course and every shot I kept my left elbow straight was a hell of a long dead straight shot or my natural slight draw.
    But just as soon as I would try to let the left elbow relax a bit I’d get topped balls, tons of fat shots, and ball flight was all over the place.

    For myself I keep the left elbow straight so its more predictable where my club face will be.
    That combined with looser wrists and as light a grip as I can get and still hold the club with gives me tons of fantastic shots that I can actually rely on.

  • Wm Tipton
  • John

    William, I tend to be in agreement with you on that one. I need to keep my left arm straight but not rigid to consistently make good contact.

  • John

    Tiger can’t be wrong, except when he putts like he did on Sunday at Pebble Beach. Ouch

  • Todd Phillips

    I am a 9 handicap and have never really been able to keep my right arm (I am left handed) straight. This was never an issue until I started getting older and now I am seeing that my arm bends more at the top of my backswing, causing the club to cross the line. I am fairly flexible and make a big shoulder turn which compounds this problem. How should I correct this?

  • John

    Todd, thanks for sharing. Keeping the lead arm straight is difficult. You’re a good enough player at 9 to know straight is better than bent. If you make a big shoulder turn then you don’t have to do a lot with your arms in the backswing, the turn and uncorking the wrists will generate plenty of power. You’ve found the hard part of golf – changing something you’ve been doing wrong. The figuring out what to do is easy in comparison. Read the recent post on ‘Neuroscience and the Golf Swing’ It may lead you to the help you need.

  • John

    Todd, one more comment on the straight leading arm. The main problem is people contorting their bodies in the back swing beyond their flexibility. The mistakenly believe that the bigger the backswing the longer they will hit the ball, which of course we know is wrong. Timing, purity of hit, fluidity, ability to delay wrist release, these are what make for great shots. In pushing our bodies beyond our flexibility range all the key angles start to break down – the spine tilt straightens and the leading arm bends. Under those circumstances, recreating all those key angles at impact is nearly impossible, even for Tiger Woods.

  • lucy freshman

    I think both arms are equally important to swing the body perfectly. Firstly, the left works for it secondly the right. But for the left armors it may different because their left arm muscles are stronger than the right. Thanks for sharing your observation.

  • Harv

    I am not as experienced a golfer as most on this post. I am still learning and improving my swing. However, I have found that keeping the left arm straight tends to improve the quality of the impact hit in regards to hitting the sweet spot of the club head. The sweet spot is quite small. Very small variations in club placement make a large difference. With the arm bent X at address, and then Y at impact, I find there to be too much inconsistency. I have watched many ball striking videos by many of the tour players. It appears to me that the left arm stays straight on the backswing and the downswing. There may be golfers who are successful with a bent left arm, but I question the reliability of their sweet spot hit. In the tradeoff of accuracy to power, perhaps accuracy should be the more fundamental of the considerations. Thanks for the thoughtful posts.

  • golfdash

    Hi Harv! Thanks for your comments. I’m actually a big proponent of NOT keeping the left arm straight (unlike by GolfDashBlog Partner, John) – Here’s why. I think you can add increased tension to the golf swing by “overly” trying to keep your left arm straight. In Nick Bradley’s wonderful golf book, “The 7 Laws of the Golf Swing” he mentions this as well (I quote the book exactly). Ultimately, it’s what feels best to you. For example, if you’re older and have less flexibility in the shoulder this “straight arm” idea may work more against you than for you. Ah, the madness of golf!!!


  • bill

    To return the club straight and square for good contact I relax at address, think ” rock steady ” for spine angle and keeping my eyes on the ball and ground after impact and bring a straight left arm through to the ball. I find that the shoulders turn automatically as a function of the swing, my concentration is centred on being “still” as my arms swing.

  • golfdash

    Hi Bill, totally agree with your idea of “rock steady” I just spoke about that in my recent post on Observing the Pros at the Travelers Championship. It’s such as a simple concept that’s it’s often hard to practice. Additionally, it DOES take a certain degree of solidness in your core muscles to stay steady. That is why we often address “core_strength” here at GDB. Thanks for your comments! – Doug

  • Gary Lewis

    I was taught to keep the left arm straight and that created problems with the swing, more so as I got older. The left arm locked at the elbow joint, which causes so much tension that it reduced the backswing turn and the right elbow never really was able to fold properly and as I got older the backswing just got shorter, which made the swing more difficult. So I have had to learn to relax the arms so that the right arm would fold better and I could get more turn. IT would be nice to be able to keep the left arm straighter but it is impossible for me to do given the flexibility issues. Have done pretty decently with a bent left arm and have been able to keep the handicap in the 7-9 handicap level for a few years. Flexibility is crucial. If someone teaches someone to keep the left arm straight, it could be disastrous for their game, depending partially on the level of flexibility of the individual.

  • John

    Gary, excellent point. There is no one way to swing that is right for everyone. We are all different. Having said that, I believe there are basic principles that guide us to get the best out of what we bring to the table. Personally, I keep my left arm straight but not rigid. I’m not sure that ‘rigid’ works for anyone, even a 20 year old as it probably adds tension. If your handicap is in the single digits, I’d say you are doing just fine. For myself, I know any improvement for me is going to come from the short game.

  • Having read all comments for and against a bent left elbow it is really simple. Do what is best for your game. I notice when I bend my left elbow I can create a lot more leverage with my wrists at the top of swing and the longer swing permits the proper sequencing in the downswing. Knee, hip, shoulders, arms, clubhead. Today increased my 9 iron carry from 140 to 155 without any loss in accuracy. Felt great. Much more relaxed.

  • Michelle

    I just discovered yesterday that keeping the left arm straight and extended at address and going back made a huge difference in my golf shots. The ball goes much farther and is hit a lot more flush. I think this works for people who are too flexible like me.

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