Passive Arms in the Golf Swing

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Published: February 18, 2014

Something we talk about a lot on the website and in the Rotary Swing book is passive arms - this concept of not using your arms per se in the golf swing.

At the topThe backswing builds and stores potential energy

That concept tends to be misunderstood, so we're going to discuss it today and explain exactly what we mean by passive arms and why it's important.

The "why" is the big key, of course. Why do you want passive arms? What's the goal? What are the benefits? Read on and find out.

The first step is to understand our philosophy of the golf swing. The golf swing has two main components: a backswing and a downswing.

The purpose of the backswing is to build up energy. You're trying to create potential energy.

You set the wrists, turn the body, etc., to wind everything up and store as much potential energy as you can.

That part is pretty simple.

What's The Purpose of the Downswing?

The question is, what are you trying to do in the downswing? That's where the big disconnect lies.

Passive armsComing down with passive arms

If you ask people the purpose of the downswing, most of them will say it's to accelerate the club as fast as possible from the top of the swing, or to generate club head speed, or to hit the ball hard, etc.

We believe all of those answers are incorrect.

The purpose of the downswing is to conserve all the energy that was created and stored in the backswing, so it's available at impact.

Think about that.

Imagine what will happen to your swing when you stop thinking I need to accelerate the club head, and start thinking conserve, conserve, conserve.

That's the point of the downswing. Its whole purpose is to conserve energy. That's it; there's no other point to the downswing.

Keep that concept in mind as we look at it visually.

Say you get a good setup, then go to the top of your swing. From there, you're just going to start to unwind back into impact, doing nothing at all with your arms.

Closer to impactCloser to impact

If you're at the top and you just start to unwind your body without doing anything with your arms, then on the way down you'll get into the position shown in the photo above. Your wrist cock - the angle between your wrists and the club - will still be exactly the same as it was at the top.

Wrist angle remains the same from the top, through the position shown above, and even closer to impact, as shown in the photo at left.

How could you maintain that angle if you were trying to accelerate the golf club? You couldn't.

But if your mentality is to conserve energy from the top of the backswing down into impact, now you're onto something. Now it's simple to maintain that lag that everybody wants so much.

Don't Accelerate the Club!

How do you stop casting? Simple. Don't try to accelerate the golf club.

Starting to releaseStarting to release

That's it.

You can accelerate your body. You can accelerate your arms along with your body.

As you get better, you can even learn to accelerate your arms by themselves, but until you're proficient at conserving energy in the downswing and only starting to release into impact, there's no sense in ever doing anything with your arms because their whole purpose is to conserve energy.

If you learn to do nothing but conserve energy with them all the way down - not by holding the angle, but by not doing anything with them at all - then you're always going to get a solid strike.

That's the key. If you do that, you'll always have plenty of lag, and lag is what's important.

What About the Release?

At this point, students often say, "Well, at some point I've got to release the club, right? There's got to be speed there."

First of all, the speed is created by conserving the energy. The potential for speed is already there. You just have to not muck it up, basically.

If you have all this energy stored up, what happens at impact? That's the beauty of it.

If you're in a good position at the top and rotate all the way back down keeping your arms passive, then at impact the release happens automatically.

By the time you get down into impact there's so much force and momentum and inertia in play that you couldn't stop the release from happening if you wanted to. All you have to do is conserve the energy so it's all still there at impact.

It's a foregone conclusion. It's going to release.

Let Physics Do the Work

There's no way you're going to stop it, so let physics do the work for you.

Let the physics of the golf swing create this snap release automatically at impact and save yourself all the trouble. That's the beauty of it.

Everybody is mesmerized by the pros' lag and the impact positions they achieve, but let's go back to the Rotary Drill for a minute here.

The Rotary DrillThe Rotary Drill: Club out, swing back, add the right hand, tilt forward, unwind

Hold the club out, swing it up, put the right hand in place, tilt forward, and then just unwind down.

Look where that puts you, coming into impact. You're in the slot, the club head is perfect, and if you keep turning through...everything's perfect.

What Passive Arms Are...and Aren't

Everything is perfect and you didn't have to do anything. You can literally just set yourself in that Rotary Drill position, tilt your spine, bump your weight to the left, and start to unwind. Your arms do absolutely nothing.

Passive arms simply means that you're not expending any energy with the arms in the downswing.

It doesn't mean that your arms are limp noodles. It just means you're not trying to do anything with them. You're working to conserve energy, not accelerate. That's really the key.

Next time you go out to play golf, think about it as you get to the top.

Remember that you're just trying to conserve, conserve, conserve, all the way through, and watch that release happen on its own. It will - you can't stop it from happening.

"In the slot"

That will make your golf swing 1000 times simpler, and that's the point of passive arms.

It doesn't mean you're not using your arms, because of course you can and subconsciously you're going to use them anyway.

But the more passive you can be - the less you consciously interfere with them - the more you allow your subconscious to square the club face and do all these minute adjustments that you could never do at a conscious level.

Keep them passive, let them stay in position, conserve their potential energy, and watch your ball striking improve.

Checkpoints for Practice

  • The purpose of the backswing is to build up energy - the purpose of the downswing is to conserve it for impact
  • Don't accelerate the club - passive arms conserve the potential energy for release at impact, not before
  • "Passive" does not mean limp - it means you don't consciously expend energy with the arms
  • Release happens automatically at impact - you couldn't stop it if you tried
  • Go back to the Rotary Drill to practice coming into a great impact position

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