Of all the points I try to convey in my golf instruction, the subject of arm relaxation tends to be the greatest challenge for my students to "get."
The main reason for this is what I term the "hit impulse."
Give the average person a club and a ball and watch the carnage take place. Instinct is a very powerful force, and it takes awhile to tame and refine before a learning session can become effective.
For this reason, I try to start beginners with very short chip and pitch shots, stressing the swinging motion vs. the hitting motion. Taking "power" out of the process for the moment makes the learning experience a lot easier to absorb. The student can appreciate the concept and the importance of "arm relaxation."
The reason arm relaxation is so critical and desirable is that if the grip is correct you don't need to worry about the motion of the arms and wrists. That is, we can swing with the triangle of our arms and shoulders, keeping the hands and wrists passive, and the club face will tend to "true up" at contact.
Easier said than done. Many players may not know they have this arm tension problem, which creates a wide gap between what the person perceives and what's really occurring. Players will swear up and down that their arms are relaxed, but as a teacher, I take one look and realize they're in the "clutch mode." I want wet noodles for arms and they give me steel rods.
The perception is that strong tight arms will create power, only to discover that this tension "kills" any chance of striking the ball with authority. Relaxation of the arms is essential.
One of the best shot-makers of all time was the late Jimmy Demaret, who won the Masters three times, plus about 30 other events. When Demaret played, he'd often shake his arms to loosen them, as if trying to shake water from his fingers. In doing that, you'll sense how relaxed your arms can be (as a baseball pitcher loosening his arm between pitches). When you take hold of the club, don't let that tension creep back in. It will destroy your ability to make a free motion through the ball.
A little trick I use from time to time is to test arm tension this way: I tell the student to hold out their arms and hands in front at chest level. I then put my arms under their arms, supporting them and asking if they believe they're relaxed (they tell me, yes). Just as they say this, I quickly remove my arms by pulling them down. The player's arms may lower slightly, but they stay well up in the air.
I say, "If your arms were truly relaxed, they would have fallen to your sides due to gravity." This is the level of relaxation we're seeking.
When you can achieve this degree of softness, you'll be amazed how much better your shot making becomes. Remember, don't play golf to relax, relax to play golf.
Yours for better golf.
Del Starks is a PGA teaching professional at Abacoa Golf Club in Jupiter. Contact him at (561) 262-0708, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.delstarks.com.