Golf swing mechanics are a complex matter that causes amateurs headaches on the links.
Besides a sturdy grip, there is the matter of upper and lower body rotation, club path, swing plane, and arm position. In this post, I block out the distractions and zero in on what your right arm should be doing in your golf swing.
I have compiled a list of effective drills for right-handers to train your trail arm for optimal results. Your right arm helps you generate lag for accelerated clubhead speed, power, and increased distance.
Quick note: if you are a left-handed golfer, the opposite advice recommended below applies to your game.
The Role of The Right Arm in Your Golf Swing
Golf instructor Steve Sieracki recommends that your right elbow sits approximately 3 inches from your body at address. You must bend your right arm to achieve this position at setup. If your right arm is straight at setup, it reduces your ability to generate wrist hinge, costing your clubhead speed and power:
Eric Cogorno explains that a bent right arm is its first pivotal role in the golf swing. Your right hand guides the club on the backswing to keep it on the intended path, while your left hand pushes it up to the top of the swing:
Cogorno suggests bending your right elbow to 90 degrees at the top. His partner Sieracki explains that at this point, your right elbow should sit approximately 3-inches from your upper body. For your right elbow to reach this mark, you need to bend it on the backswing.
This position simplifies your route to the ball from the top of the backswing. This makes it easier for an amateur golfer to keep your clubface square leading into impact for an accurate result.
The second core function of the right arm in your swing is to straighten on the downswing. You straighten the arm on the way down and through impact. As a result, you generate lag leading to rapid swing speed, power, and a clean strike.
It’s vital not to straighten your right arm too early in the downswing, as it can weaken your contact. Furthermore, straightening your arm before impact can prevent you from clearing your hips. That can cause you to open or close your clubface to the target, leading to hook and slice shots.
In the video above, Cogorno continues to explain that your right arm should not reach full extension until it is 45 degrees past the impact point. Getting your trail arm to this point shows you have produced sufficient speed and power for a successful shot.
Which Arm Should be Dominant in Your Swing?
On your backswing, your lead arm propels your golf club to the top of your swing. As a right-hander, this is your left, our non-dominant side.
Now, on the downswing, your right arm is the dominant limb. From the top of your backswing, your dominant side enables you to generate increased power and speed. This boosts your chances of producing a clean strike for accelerated ball speed and maximum distance.
Drills to Help You Use Your Right Arm Correctly in Your Golf Swing
Hand Position Drill
I will start you off with an easy drill that helps you get used to the feel and positioning of your right arm during the swing. Golf coach Chris Ryan suggests letting your right arm hang to approximately waist height:
Face your palm towards your target line, and pause in this position. If you reach this point on your downswing, your club head may hit the turf before the ball. That is why you need to adjust the position of your arms depending on the point of the swing.
Next, rotate the palm of your hand so that it faces directly in front of you. In other words, if you were on the tee box, it would point to one of the markers. At this point, your elbow shifts towards the center line of your body.
Finally, rotate the palm of your hand back towards your target, and press the heel of the palm forward. Therefore, your palm will point towards the ground. Hold this setup and take note of your positioning. This is how you want your right arm at impact to produce a clean, powerful strike.
Earlier, I explained that your right arm bends on the backswing and straightens on the downswing. It follows the same method as curling dumbbells at the gym. However, instead of building muscle, you use the weight to feel the motion of your right arm on your up and downswing.
Grab a dumbbell that is a comfortable weight, and assume your stance for a routine strike. Hold the dumbbell in your right hand, and cross your left arm across your torso. Take full swings with your right arm and notice how it bends on the backswing and straightens on the downswing through impact.
The additional weight exaggerates the sensation, enabling you to feel when your club shaft is on plane and your arms are operating optimally.
Once this action becomes comfortable, substitute the dumbbell for a lower iron and place a golf ball on the turf. Now, repeat the movements of your dumbbell drill, this time with an actual golf club and ball.
Golf Ball Drill
The golf ball drill is a classic exercise to help you improve the performance of your right arm in the swing. Chris Ryan demonstrates how simple and effective this training is. The ultimate objective is to throw and bounce the ball in front of your tee:
Take a golf ball and place it into your right hand. Now stand over an imaginary ball as if you were about to strike it. Notice that if you threw the ball from this position, you would probably toss it over your left shoulder.
From your address position, take a half backswing, employing optimal hip and shoulder turn. Start your downswing before stopping before impact. Take note of your body position and how your weight has shifted onto your left hip. In addition, your right arm should lag your hips, prompting the generation of optimal velocity.
Repeat the process again, but this time release the golf ball moments before impact. Ideally, the golf ball should fall in front of the tee. If it lands before the tee, you either released it too early, or your arm is too straight.
Overall, this drill enables you to feel the positioning of your right arm during your backswing, downswing, and follow through.
One Handed Shot
A simple drill my high school coach taught me was the one-handed shot. If you are right-handed, grab the club with the same mitt. I suggest a short iron or wedge that is easier to swing. Set up a golf ball and take a few practice swings with the golf club in your right hand.
You only need to take a half or three-quarter swing for this exercise. Once you are comfortable, address the ball and attempt to strike it with your right hand. Naturally, you will hit the ball shorter, but the aim is to concentrate on a clean strike.
Since you do not have the propulsion from the left hand on your backswing, you rely on the control of your right arm and optimal rotation to reach the top of your swing. Furthermore, you are without the left hand to guide your club to the ball, and it is up to the proficiency of your right arm.
If you strike the ground before the ball, it was likely caused by an early straight. This could lead to a fresh air shot or a weak strike. Your ultimate goal is to position your right arm precisely at each point of the swing. Achieving this boosts your ability to strike the ball cleanly.
The half swing drill is designed to help you feel the movement of your right arm on your backswing and downswing. As I explained earlier, your right arm needs to bend on your backswing and straighten on the way down. Your right arm should fully extend once it is 45 degrees past the impact point.
A slow half backswing enables you to feel your right arm bending on the way up. Place a ball on the turf and grab your preferred mid or short iron. Take a step back from the ball and produce three half-practice swings.
Familiarize yourself with the position of your right arm at each point in the swing and address your ball. Induce a slow half swing to combine that with your hip and shoulder rotation, and work on striking the ball cleanly.
I suggest filming yourself to ensure that your arm bends and extends when required. Forget distance for this drill. Focus on correcting your right arm action for cleaner ball striking.
Top Down Drill
The final drill on this list is one I practice frequently at the driving range. I call it the top-down exercise. Basically, I take my backswing, and when I reach the top, I pause for a count of 3. Then I let it rip from the top.
I do this because it offers a clearer insight into the position of my arm and shaft en route to the ball. Slowing it down and taking it from the top makes it easier to identify if I am positioned correctly for impact.
Following Sieracki’s advice, I get my right elbow approximately 3-inches from my body at the top of the swing. From there, my elbow moves 2-inches away from my torso. Finally, it should sit 1-inch from my upper waist, enabling you to produce lag, and accelerated clubhead speed.