The Role of the Arms in the Golf Back Swing

The role of the arms in the golf back swing will be the first in a series of posts on the role of the various parts of the body in the golf swing. My intention here is to create a simple, quick reference resource which can be accessed if you hit problem areas in your swing or you want a focus area to work on in a practice session. I also want to show you just how simple this game can be  when you break it down to it’s essentials.

What i don’t want you to do is to look at this series as a list of ingredients or components which can be assembled into a golf swing. I don’t think that is the right way to learn or teach golf. The golf swing is a single event with various parts of the body working in harmony. It is not (and should not be seen as) a sequence of short events occurring in a specific order.

if you are a complete beginner, by all means start here and get onto the on correct track from the outset. It will work for you and hopefully instil a mindset which embraces simplicity and which you will carry forward into your future golfing life. These tips are fundamentals which you can and should apply to your game now and going forward. They are the groundwork to which you can apply nuances and refinements as you progress.

For readers who have played golf for a while and want to improve their games I would be happy if you see this as a reminder of just how simple this game can be if you break it down to it’s core motions. They are not complicated or difficult and they are few in number. If you follow and execute these core motions your body will do the rest on autopilot.

Lastly, before we address the role of the arms in the golf back swing, I want to remind you how important it is to use your reflection as a practice aid and that you are able to recognise correct form (or the absence of it) in your reflection. Please go to the last three paragraphs of Back swing Simplified for more information on this.


Role of the arms in the golf back swing


Here is a quick drill to demonstrate the role of the arms in the back swing. To show you just how simple this, I will describe it in one short sentence.

“Clasp your hands together and use your right arm to pull your straight left arm across your chest and lift it above your head.”

It really is as basic as that. Let me flesh this out a little so that you can see for yourself how this works.

Adopt The Address Position without a club and clasp your hands together with your left thumb over the base of your right thumb and your left fingers folded around your right wrist. Make a simple fist with your right hand. Your arms should be hanging straight down from your shoulders.


The arms in the golf back swing 1


Now, keeping your left arm straight throughout, start to pull it across your chest to the right with your right arm. Allow your right elbow to bend and keep your right elbow as close as possible to your side.


arms in the golf back swing 2


Continue lifting your left arm and allow  your right elbow to move away from your side, but keep it pointing at the ground.


arms in the golf back swing 3


Finally lift you left arm up to the top of the swing position. Keep your upper left arm in close contact with your chest throughout the process. 


arms in the golf back swing 4


You should notice immediately how you have created correct back swing form automatically by following these simple instructions. You should also notice how your shoulders have rotated without consciously thinking about it. In fact, you should pay some attention to shoulder rotation during this move and make sure you have rotated the shoulders ninety degrees by the time you reach the top.

Repeat the exercise paying attention to full shoulder rotation but allow it happen passively and make sure you are rotating not lifting the right shoulder. The right shoulder will lift because the shoulders are rotating around an inclined axis which is your upper spine, but shoulder lift (as in it is getting closer to your right ear) must be avoided. You will find as you add rotation that the straight left arm plays a more active role in pushing the arms and hands into the top position.

Remember to perform this exercise in front of a mirror or other reflective surface and watch the process without unduly lifting your head. This is very important. Make sure your positions are correct throughout.

Now lets try the same thing with a club. Take a 7 iron and assume the address position (If you need any help with the grip go to How to grip a golf club for a guide on this subject). From your address position start moving the club head back and away from your imaginary ball using the same technique as you used earlier without a club. Allow your left arm to be a little more active this time and assist in the process.

As soon as the club is moving start cocking your wrists. The cocking action should be smooth and progressive. Don’t rush it. Aim at achieving a 90 degree angle between the club and your straight left arm by the time your left hand is about level with the top of your right hip bone.This is not crucial. Suffice it to say that the sooner your wrists are cocked the easier it is to lift the club into the correct position at the top. it’s a simple leverage thing. The closer any mass is to its pivot point the easier it is to move. The pivot point in this case is your upper spine.
I like to generate some momentum in my back swing quite early. This assists in keeping the process smooth and on plane. It helps in getting the club to the top with less effort.
The “top” in golf is a fairly broad term. At its simplest, club shaft parallel with the ground is the most common position we should aim at. If you are older and less flexible short of parallel is acceptable, past parallel is not. I simply swing the club up until my flex limit stops the process naturally. Whatever you do don’t bend the left elbow to try and get it further.
Some brief comments on swing plane. if you follow the instructions on the correct arm movement during your back swing (left upper arm against the chest and right elbow close to your side you won’t go too far wrong. If for some reason you go hopelessly off plane on the way up your top position will show this.
The two criteria here are: 
(1) The club shaft should be pointing at the target when at the top of the swing.
(2) If you open your hands and drop the club at the top, it should fall onto the point of your right shoulder.
Check these 2 points and work on correcting the plane if they are wrong. There is another useful plane checker at Check your Swing Plane.
Well, that describes the role of the arms in the golf swing as far as the back swing is concerned. I am sure you will agree there is nothing difficult or daunting about it. its a simple and straightforward move and should be regarded as just that. It is important in golf to look for simplicity and accept that most things are simple. Carry that thought forward into your golfing life. You will do better and you will enjoy it more.
In the next post in this series I will tackle the arms role in the down swing though ball contact and the follow through. If you would like email updates on when these posts are published go to the simple subscribe form at the bottom of every page and we will keep you up to date.
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