What the Left Arm Does in the Golf Downswing - LADD Drill

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Published: February 17, 2014

A lot of golfers don't understand how the arms work in the golf swing. That's why I have spent a great deal of time talking about the right arm to this point but not as much talking about the left arm. The left arm has an equally important role to perform in the golf swing, perhaps even more so in that it directly controls the club face through impact.

The right arm's job is primarily speed and support of the left arm; whereas, the left arm controls trajectory and direction. In this 20 minute long video I discuss how the left arm works in the golf downswing to both prevent injury to the left elbow, which is a very common golf swing injury, and to maximize control by understanding how the left arm should be rotated and positioned at impact, as well as the left wrist.

tiger woods left arm in the downswingThe left arm pulling with the help of the right arm pushing is what allows the hands to get in front of the ball at impact and create shaft lean as you see here.



The Left Arm Downswing Drill (LADD) is also covered in two phases, both without a golf club and with a golf club, allowing you to master these impact positions that are so vital for directional control. The topic of getting stuck in the downswing and how the incorrect movement of the left shoulder easily creates this dreaded feeling is also covered, as well as how the left shoulder works to get into the proper impact position.

If you have an otherwise good golf swing but struggle with spraying the ball over the course and play a lot of Army golf, this video will set you straight once and for all. The left arm role in the golf swing cannot be overstated when it comes to the direction the ball flies.

If you struggle with getting stuck in the downswing and hitting a lot of blocks and quick hooks, the movement of the left shoulder and the left arm from the top of the backswing as discussed halfway through the video will make a tremendous impact. You will be able to finally control trajectory and direction and not find yourself struggling just to make solid contact all the time.

Lastly, if you find yourself getting to the top of the swing and uncontrollably unwinding your torso and hips, this video will show you how to make a proper downswing and how the left arm facilitates this so that you can feel stable and under control at impact rather than spinning wildly out of control and hoping to make solid contact.

tiger woods left arm in the downswingClick image for larger view.

The image above of Tiger Woods tells the entire story of how the left arm properly works in the golf downswing. Notice at the top of the backswing, the angle formed by the left arm and shoulders is approximately 56° when viewed from this angle.

By the time the hands are about the height of his pants pocket, he has dramatically increased this angle by nearly 40° by using the proper pulling motion of the left arm, which is supported by the right arm. You'll note that his chest is still pointing well away from the target creating this closed appearance, giving his arms time to get back in front of his body as he approaches impact.

This creates the affect of his left shoulder being much lower than his right; whereas, golfers who tend to get stuck would have the appearance of the left shoulder being level with the right shoulder at this point. For such players, when the upper torso starts to unwind, the hands simply can't catch up as the left shoulder only needs to move about 6 inches in the same amount of time that the hands need to move about 6 feet.

This ends up creating too much secondary axis tilt and leads to a path that is too far from the inside. As Tiger uses the proper musculature of the left arm to help move the club back down in front of the body, he has the ability to bring his hands much more down on top of the ball, creating a sharp descending blow which allows him to flight the ball very low without making excessive compensations in his setup or golf swing.

Even though Tiger Woods plays perhaps the highest spinning ball on the PGA Tour, he is still able to control his trajectory when at places like Doral, which is a notoriously windy golf course during the Florida swing.

Without creating separation between the torso and left arm by pulling with the left arm to move the hands down in front of the body while keeping the shoulders passive, Tiger would not have the ability to control his ball flight the way he does now.

control golf ball flight


Partial Video Transcript (first few minutes):

We all know the golf swing takes a lot of work. There's a lot of repetition needed in order to master any new movement pattern. This is the way the brain learns. But what we're talking about today will actually make an instant impact in your ball striking.

That doesn't mean you get to go out and do it perfectly every time; that's where the repetition comes in. But for once you will finally understand what really controls the ball flight. When we talk about ball flight there a couple things that we are specifically dealing with.

One is trajectory. The better golfer you become, the more important trajectory becomes to your arsenal golf shots. It becomes especially important to be able to score in all conditions consistently, especially when it becomes windy.

As an instructor, it is a huge piece to me when I work with my professional players because being able to control ball flight, especially in Florida, is critical to being able to score 4 days a row. If you regularly play golf in an area that's a windier one, pay especially close attention to this video.

The second thing is directional control. For those of you who have read the instructors manual, specifically the Level I Certification Manual for Rotary Swing Tour, we talk specifically in the manual about how the right hand and left hand work and compliment each other during the golf swing.

Today, we are going to talk about specifically what the left hand and arm do in the golf swing. Specifically how the bones and joints need to be in alignment at impact for control and power. When it comes to the left arm in the golf swing, two main areas to focus on.

The first is the back of the left hand or left wrist, and the second is the elbow on the left arm. We know at address we're trying to keep everything in neutral so that we're minimizing our chances for injury and assuring that we are connected to our core for power and energy transfer. But at impact those positions change due to the dynamics of the golf swing. Impact and address do not look the same.

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If you look at the swing video that I did on Tiger Woods where I discussed his dynamics from address to impact which has been seen over 1 million times, you will see that his address position and impact position are very different.

These dynamics also affect the position of the left arm at impact. When we look at impact, we often check the position of the back of the left hand or wrist as it is primarily controlling the club face through the hitting area. Because the left arm must be pulled across the body in the golf swing in order to get into a leveraged position at the top of all swings, there is some rotation that occurs.

This rotation is internal rotation of the left arm. As we come into impact and during the early phases of the downswing this internal rotation actually slightly increases by a few degrees. This really happens during the transition as the arms begin to fall, and the left arm begins to ready itself for impact.

As it comes into impact, the left arm should be internally rotated between 75 and 90°. This allows us to check the simple positions of the left arm. The first one is that the left elbow is pointing more or less straight down the target line if it is internally rotated about 90°.

This puts the left arm in a stable position and prevents the flipping motion as the arm tries to externally rotate through the hitting area which is undesirable. While some rotation does occur what this rotation primarily come from the bones in the forearm that move the wrist rather than having two points rotating during the downswing.

This allows us to put the arm in a stable position and control the club face through the hitting area primarily just with the left hand. Many golfers who flip the club get the left arm in an externally rotated position where the left elbow points more or less back at the body rather than down the target line. This puts them in a position where the club is rotating closed rapidly through impact; it is very difficult to time and unnecessary.

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Checkpoints for Practice

  • This drill can improve your swing instantly because you learn what determines the ball's path
  • The left arm, especially the wrist and hand, controls the club face at impact
  • The left elbow should point down the line and the left wrist should be flat at impact
  • For the drill, keep the left shoulder shut, elbow pointing down the line, and rotate the wrist through the entire downswing
  • Practice with arms only, then add a club & impact bag - stop and check form at impact
  • The goal is to have everything aligned at impact - left shoulder over left hip, knee & ankle
  • You should feel that your chest is over, or "covering" the ball

Video Transcription: Left Arm Downswing Drill

We all know the golf swing takes a lot of work. There's a lot of repetition that's needed in order to master any new movement pattern; that's just the way the brain learns.

What we're going to talk about today can actually make an instant impact in your ball striking. That doesn't mean you're going to go out and do it perfectly every time - that's where the repetition comes in, and the practice - but what you are going to find is that for once you're going to start to really understand what controls the ball flight.

Left hand controls club faceThe left hand and wrist control the club face through impact

When we talk about ball flight, there are a couple of things that we're specifically dealing with. One is trajectory. The better a golfer you become, the more important trajectory becomes in being able to score in all conditions, consistently.

Trajectory is a huge piece that is important to me, especially with the professional golfers that I work with, especially being in Florida where it's windy a lot. If you're in an area that's very windy, you're going to want to pay very close attention to this video.

The second thing is just directional control. For those of you who have read the Instructor's Manual for Level 1, we've talked a little bit about the right hand versus the left hand, and how those things work. Today, that's what we're going to talk about specifically - what the left hand does in the golf swing, how the bones and joints and muscles need to be in alignment for control and for power.

Specifically when we're dealing with the left hand, there's a couple of areas that we're going to focus on. One, we're going to focus on the back of the hand or the wrist, and two we're going to focus on the elbow.

We know at address we're trying to keep everything in neutral so there's minimal chances for injury, we're connected to our power source, our core, and those things. At impact, those positions change. We don't want impact and address to be the same, because we're trying to generate power and stability and control at impact, so some of those things are going to change, versus where they were at address.

If you've looked at some of the videos I've done on Tiger Woods' dynamics on YouTube - the video has been seen a million times - where people have looked at, the positions that he's in at address and at impact are very, very different. That's how they should be. That's just the way that the dynamics of the golf swing work.

When we talk about the left arm, specifically in the downswing which we're going to focus on today, it has a very, very important, specific role to do.

Elbow rotationExternal elbow rotation above, internal below

One, its primary role - the back of the left hand, the wrist, this whole area of your arm - is predominantly controlling club face through the hitting area. It does it on the backswing as well, as we have some rotation in that arm, but as we get into impact where this guy is facing, if we have a good grip, is going to really help you track where the club face is pointing.

It's a simple measurement, so you know that if you have a proper grip and that left hand is in a good position at impact where it's nice and flat and it's pointing directly down the target line, then the club face should be pointing there as well.

If it's pointing out this way, the club face is open, if it's pointing this way the club face is, of course, closed.

When we're dealing with that, we also want to look at the left elbow. This is an area where I see, particularly the more inconsistent golfers - it doesn't mean they don't have a phenomenal golf swing; you can have a great golf swing, and people walk up to you all the time on the range and they watch you hit balls but you're spraying it all over the place and you don't know why - a lot of it has to do with your elbow.

What a lot of golfers do is that, as they're coming down into impact, particularly if they get stuck on the way down, this arm is externally rotating very quickly through the hitting area. You can see, if I just rotate my arm, right now it's internally rotated, so I've got it twisted in. Then if I just spin it really fast, what's happening to my hand? It's turning really fast.

Now, if I put a golf club in there, you can see right now the club face would be square. If I back up just a little bit...Now as I turn it, it's wide open. Then as I rotate it again it's shut. Now I'm trying to time this movement, through the hitting area.

Rotation controls the club faceElbow and wrist rotation control the club face

It's not very desirable because at the same point that this guy is rotating, the wrist can rotate independently. Now I'm not rotating my arm at all, but now I'm spinning the club face all over the place.

I can have all of these great positions going back, and if I'm trying to time this rotating at thousands of degrees per second through the hitting area, I'm never going to do that consistently.

That's why this video is so incredibly important, because what we're going to do is give you drills on how to get that in the right position at impact so you're consistent on every golf shot. Let's talk about what that looks like.

Steep swing planeA vertical shaft would make the swing plane too steep

As we're going back, at the top of the swing our shoulders are down and in, everything's still maintained. Obviously, this has got to come out of the box a little bit. When that happens - the left shoulder comes out of the box a little bit - the arm rotates just a little bit.

This is an important part of the swing because if I didn't do that, if I just kept that arm in neutral, the club shaft would be vertical. I'd have a really steep swing plane, and as I went to the top I'd be really, really steep. All we need to do is, as we're going back, that left arm rotates a little bit and now I'm on plane.

That arm has basically rotated from just outside of neutral - it's slightly internally rotated - then as it goes back it rotates about 50-60-70 degrees. It just depends on the swing and your build. As we get to the top, now my arm is in this position, versus neutral.

As it's rotated, I don't want to start to spin that down because look what happens to my golf club. Now I'm just externally rotating my wrist and my arm, and now the club face is out of position.

Rotation flattens the shaftA slight rotation flattens the shaft

What we do want to do is actually the opposite. It slightly increases on the way down. This is a minimal amount; this is not something that you're going to go and work on in your swing. I'm just giving you the nuts and bolts of what's actually happening. This is not something that you'll probably have to work on at any point in your golf swing, unless you have a specific issue with it.

What happens is, as that arm is internally rotated a little bit, if I just started coming down specifically with the shoulders, I'm going to come over the top. But if I let that arm rotate just a little bit - again, this is just a few degrees from here - as I start everything back down, notice how the shaft has a flattening appearance.

I'm exaggerating this. Again, it's more than what's actually happening, but as I do that the shaft starts to come back down on plane instead of the opposite, which would be over the plane. We don't want that, obviously.

Elbow points down the lineThe elbow points down the line at impact

The point of this is that as this internally rotates a little bit more, as I come down into impact notice where my elbow is pointing. I'm going to put a shaft here. It's pointing right down the line.

That allows me, now, to control the amount of rotation that's happening in the swing, because the club face is rotating shut through the hitting area - it has to. As that's happening, the movement is coming from here, instead of from my arm.

Now, instead of having two pivot points where the arm is spinning in the shoulder socket and the wrist is spinning, we've eliminated one. Now what that does is, that elbow gives us a reference point because it's going to be pointing almost down the target line. It will be slightly internally rotated, but we just use 90 degrees as a reference.

In other words, this is zero, where it's pointing straight out. If I turn it 90 degrees, now my elbow is pointing down the target line.

Now as I come into impact - that's why I have this impact bag here - as I come into impact, I can check that my elbow is pointing down the line and now my wrist is flat. Now, instead of trying to time all this flippy rotational motion coming from two different places, I'm only doing it at the wrist.

Now that takes the focus off of this guy. We've eliminated one variable in the swing, and now we just have this guy.

Rotate into impactThe wrist rotates into impact

This is a very important part to train, as you're learning to control impact. This is how we typically do it. As you go to the top of the swing, what I would want you to do is put the golf club down and just use your left arm.

Get it into a position that, as you come into impact the left elbow is pointing down the target line, and start rotating your wrist into impact. Now, this is not something where you're keeping it wide open and at the last second trying to flip your hands over. This rotation is actually happening almost from the top of the downswing.

You don't want to be trying to time an early rotation. You want to be starting to rotate it shut, or back to square, early. Now as I come down, the club face is squaring early, looking at the ball already. Then as I come down, it's a minimal rotation.

If I kept it wide open - now I'm going to take this wrist and leave it open - now I've got the club face wide open, and now I've got to really flip my hands over at the last second. That's no good. We want this rotating gradually throughout the whole downswing in a natural rotation, so that it doesn't have something where you're just trying to flip it at the last second.

That's a terrible feeling for golfers who have really good golf swings, but every single shot is just hoping to save it. That typically has more to do with how they start down, and that's what we're going to talk about now.

Only the wrist is rotatingOnly the wrist is rotating

Without a golf club, what you want to do is take your right arm out of it for right now. As you go to the top, start working on keeping your shoulder shut and pulling your left arm down so that your elbow is pointing down the target line and you're rotating your wrist.

You're going to separate these two movements. You're not rotating your arm. You're rotating your wrist into impact. You're going to do this just with your left arm. Why wouldn't I want to get to the top and just spin my shoulders and fling my arm off my chest?

Well it's very simple; that feels very powerful, and in fact your body is putting a lot of muscular effort into it, but there's two things that happen and they're detrimental to the golf swing.

One is that if I go to the top and just spin my shoulders, my arms get trapped behind my body. There's no way around this. If I go to the top my shoulder, to get back to impact, has only got to move about six inches. My hands have got to travel about six feet.

How am I going to match the speed of something way out away from center, getting all the way back to impact, trying to make that catch up with something that's only got to move six inches before I'm stuck? It's not going to happen.

Shoulders are shutShoulders are shut at the top

That's why the shoulders feel like they stay really shut at the start of the downswing, and the left arm is working to help pull the club back down into impact and give me this nice, solid, braced impact position.

There have been lots of great players that have just gone to the top and unwound. Hogan was a great example of this. Hogan struggled with hooking the ball for most of his career, until he built in enough compensations that he could fade it.

Super weak grip, keeping the club face open at the top - all of that could have been prevented if he stopped spinning his shoulders and leaving the club and arms stuck behind his body. Simple fix, but he figured out a way to make it work and he hit millions of golf balls to ingrain it.

We don't want to have to go through all that. We want to keep things simple, so as we come down we're not spinning our shoulders, we're pulling our arm down.

This is the exaggerated motion of what it is, and this is what you're going to work on.

At first, you're just going to work on getting that impact alignment correct, where my left wrist is flat, my elbow is pointing down the target line.

Now I'm working to get my arms back in front of my body. I'm not pulling my shoulders. I'm pulling my arm. Obviously the right arm is going to be helping in this, but for right now we're just focusing on the left and getting everything into alignment at impact. By that, I mean that your left shoulder is right over everything else, stacked over your hip, your knee and your ankle.

That's into alignment, and now we've got this really solid, stable, platform to release the golf club and get into a solid impact position.

Late releaseLate release

The second thing, that I was going to mention earlier, that when you go to the top and unwind and you get everything stuck, is that the club releases late because of the fact that it's stuck. Your arms are stuck back behind you, the club is coming into impact late.

Instead of getting into this impact position where all of your speed and energy is expended here, and everything's fully released, when you're late the club head doesn't fully release at max speed until out here. That's when all the angles finally release.

Again, it's just wasted energy because your maximum speed is happening after the ball has already been sent to the target. It's a total waste of effort.

For a lot of you, this is going to feel like a lot less effort, and that's really important to understand because if you've been going to the top and just spinning and pushing as hard as you can, it's a double-edged sword. The faster you spin, the more centripetal force you create. That's pretty simple; the faster I turn, the more energy I've created here.

There's a direct correlation to that; when I spin my body really fast, my club wants to get thrown out, away from me because that's the equal and opposite reaction. I get to the top and I spin my shoulders, I cast the club. It's very typical.

Early releaseEarly release

For the average amateur, they go to the top, start spinning, their shoulders start working up and out of the shot, their hips are way out in front, and now the club is coming in, they've released it, and now they're just scooping through impact and they have no speed and power.

That takes a lot of effort. What's worse is, the harder you try and hit the ball, the more you're going to try and spin because that's what you're associating the golf swing with, in terms of speed and power. The faster you spin, the more you cast it.

You end up in a position where you actually hit it shorter and higher, and tend to chunk it more, the harder you try and hit it. That's no fun.

This is going to feel like a lot less effort, to start working your arms back down in front of your body and get into this stable position, but that's a good thing. That's what we want. It should feel like less effort. You should be working less hard to try and generate power in the swing, and that's what this drill is helping you do.

Check your alignmentCheck your alignment at impact

You're going to do this drill while you're hitting balls, and there's a couple of things that I mentioned. You want to check to make sure you're in alignment, your shoulder is stacked over your left leg.

The opposite of that would be to be way back here. Now we've got too much axis tilt and we're going to come too much from the inside. We're going to tend to hit the ball fat and thin, we're going to tend to launch it out to the right.

You want to be stacked on top of it, so it's going to feel like, when you start down, my left shoulder - what does it look like it's doing? Does it look like it's coming up and out and spinning, or does it look like it's working down? Well, the appearance is that it's working down to the ball.

If you've never compressed a golf ball properly in your life, a lot of it is typically due to golfers doing this. If you start to feel like you're on top of the ball, this is the feeling, if you've heard of "covering the ball," and having your shoulder work down, having your chest feel like it's on top of the ball.

That's what you want to feel. You don't want to feel that you're spinning your hips and unwinding everything and getting everything stuck, so your shoulder is coming up and out of the shot. You want your shoulder to feel like, and it should look like, it's working down.

Spine angle dictates your pathSpine angle dictates your path into the ball

I'm not consciously trying to put my shoulder down. I'm shifting my weight while pulling my arm down and not spinning my shoulders. That's what creates that appearance.

My shoulders are going to be a lot more level, compared to being very tilted, if this is the appearance you have at impact. This is where a lot of golfers get into hitting a lot of big hooks. They're coming way from the inside, because your spine angle is going to dictate your path into the ball. The more tilted you are this way, the more you're going to be coming in-to-out.

For amateurs who tend to be slicers, this is going to feel different. You have to work on getting your arms in the proper position, which means not coming over it like this and spinning your arms down. We're just working on pulling our arms down.

Now, once we get that, the next key is to add a tool to help reinforce that feeling and stop you at impact so that you can check your impact alignments. We use an impact bag for that.

Wrist flat, elbow internally rotatedWrist flat, elbow internally rotated

We used to sell tons of these on the site, and unfortunately it became harder and harder to get them. We have new ones coming, so check the website soon. We are going to have new impact bags coming. Mine's seen its better days, to say the very least, but I've gotten a lot of good use out of it.

Now what we're going to do is choke up on the club, get into impact alignment. You want the wrist flat, the elbow pointing about 90 degrees away from the body, so it's internally rotated about 90 degrees, and then we're starting to get into impact.

You want to make sure that this doesn't start to break down and flip, and that you're not spinning your arm, externally rotating it and trying to flip the club. If you're used to doing that we've got issues, so we want to start working that out of the golf swing; that we get into this position and not this position.

Force can injure the elbowForce from the wrong direction injures the elbow

The added benefit of this is, if you've had any pain in your elbow from hitting lots of balls and your elbow is like this, think about how your elbow is designed to work. Is it designed to bend this way or up and down, this way?

Obviously, it's designed to move in this one plane, so when your elbow is in this position and the force is working across your arm this way, you're going to eventually injure your elbow this way. When it's here, now your elbow is naturally going to take all that stress off of it.

It's obviously a big difference from being here, where your elbow is now getting jacked up inside the joint, versus now if you were to hit a tree stump or a hard piece of ground and it was really firm, and your arm needed to stop moving, your elbow would just bend and it would be totally fine.

This is an added benefit of getting rid of that pain and getting into the proper alignment here, but it also is helping us control the club face.

Understand that both arms have a job to do. The left arm is working down, the right arm is working down, and as we get into impact we want to start working on hitting an impact bag, a tire, hitting balls. Start checking your impact alignment with that left arm.

That's what this drill is all about. Now, as you get a little bit better with it you can start working on getting into those impact positions with your left arm only.

You can hit balls like this. It's similar to the Right Arm Only Downswing Drill, in that it's pretty hard to do it with one arm only, but this is a great way to train it and get your left arm working correctly, but don't try to hit them far. That's not the point.

Proper impact alignmentProper impact alignment

The point is to get into these proper alignments, so now instead of flipping the face through impact, you're squaring it up. As I mentioned, both arms have a job to do and in the end that's what we're going to do is compile both of them.

Now we're in a stable impact position. That's how the left arm works in the golf swing. From here, down into impact you want to check that the elbow is at about 90 degrees, the wrist is 90 degrees, they're nice and flat and working into the solid strike position where everything is in alignment over the left foot.

I guarantee you, if you've always been an inconsistent ball striker and you start working on this left arm only, it's going to make a huge difference in your golf swing.

If you're a right hander trying to play left handed, it's going to be tough at first, so take your time. It's going to take reps in order to get comfortable with this, but as you start doing it you're going to find, "Oh, my gosh. I used to really flip the face, and now I can actually control it and know where the ball is going."

It will make a huge difference in your ball striking.


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