Head Down, Left Arm Straight

I listen to a lot of podcasts. Golf Podcasts. Towards the end of the majority of them there will normally be a short Q&A session where invariably the presenter will ask,

“Name the worst bit of advice that you could give to a golfer”

After a brief pause, the interviewee will pretty much without fail quip…

“Head Down. Left Arm Straight”

Now, the fact that the golfing public in general has tended to somewhat overstate the importance of keeping your left arm straight and head down has long been a point of derision for many coaches. Once seen as a common staple of a stable swing, it has now regressed into nothing more than cannon fodder. 

I, myself, would agree with the notion that the reason that the person in front of you didn’t hit a good shot probably wasn’t because they lifted their head or bent their left arm.

Yet, the fact still remains…

Most good players DO keep their head down and left arm straight

Don’t they?

I mean, they do.

In riposte to this, most people will then say…

“Duval turns his head. So does Sorenstam and Stenson. And as for the left arm, Goosen and Westwood bend their left arm”.

You’re right. They do. But as some people only go looking for aesthetics anyway, why go looking for a flexed lead wrist when Els and Simpson don’t? Why try keeping the pressure on your left foot when prime Tiger didn’t? What’s the difference between that and “head down, left arm straight” in that regard?

It’s not that I’m saying that it’s a great bit of advice (it’s not) nor that it explains every mis-struck shot (it doesn’t) but why is it so much worse than any other bit of advice that doesn’t keep the ball flight in front of you in mind?

What’s more, it is very tempting to not only think that it is a poor bit of advice but actually TELL the person in front of you that it is. To grab the club off them, hit one shot keeping your head down and top it and another shot keeping your head down and rip it. And then do the same with the left arm. Then look back at them quizically.

Don’t do this (hands up, I have).

It does nothing but completely alienate them, make them feel stupid and make you seem like a know-it-all.

Besides, if they feel it helps them then does it really make a difference? Who are we to judge or to tell them not to?

You might also be fighting against past experiences. Tennis players, for instance, will often get taught to watch the ball onto the racquet face. If that same tennis player tries their hand at golf, you telling them to not do the same in golf goes against years and years of an ingrained way of thinking. You don’t have much hope.

With all of this, though, if you feel that them keeping their head down and/or keeping their left arm straight (and likewise if they’re not) is affecting the ball flight then please DO address it. Both things if done to the extreme can absolutely affect the quality of the shot. But, especially if focusing on these two points is helping them, there could be worse things for them to be thinking of.

Little Yellow Book

You start on Chapter 7.
A Boeing engineer wrote it.
A lot of what’s written won’t make sense.

Not your typical golf book.

In 2023, golf’s little yellow book, Homer Kelley’s The Golfing Machine turns 54 years old. 54 years  is a long time. 54 years as a golf book especially so. 54 years to stay relevant in the golf industry? Practically unheard of.

But more than relevance what is the most striking is the respect that Homer Kelley and The Golfing Machine carries.

Foley is a disciple. Mark Blackburn too. Even though he has denounced certain elements of it, Manzella still speaks fondly, especially of his mentor and Golfing Machine master Ben Doyle.

Even Bryson, guided by coach Mike Schy, still exhibits many of the guidelines outlined within.

Embed from Getty Images

I myself dabbled in it early on in my coaching career but admittedly only scratched the surface, using it more as a rite of passage. Now it just collects dust on my bookshelf, like so many who can’t really penetrate into the actual application of what is being described.

But it wasn’t through want of trying. One time when I was in the Pro Shop I was going through a particular section that peaked my interest. At that moment my boss and Pro at the time, half eating a sandwich, saw one of the diagrams I was perusing and spluttered,

“What the f*** is that!?” (it still makes me laugh).

I couldn’t answer him. I still wouldn’t be able to.

And I suppose that’s what differentiates the Golfing Machine from pretty much everything else. It undoubtedly is an instructional book and would absolutely fall into the category of a “method” philosophy, as much as it’s practitioners would probably deny this.

But it is so much more than than just a swing book. It is an ideology in its truest form. It’s a way of thinking about golf.

Rather than just the information within, you are purchasing a symbol of the value of invention. You are buying into the notion that with great toil, such as that of Kelley and all those who go through the Golfing Machine training process, that we as coaches can grow nearer to unlocking some of the secrets of this game that previously would be out of reach. That we can progress and evolve and so can our players with it.

This is why the Golfing Machine and its practitioners garner so much more respect than other “methods” and how it continues to stay relevant some 54 years later.

So, with all that being said, would I recommend the Golfing Machine? It’s hard to tell. For some it’s just too much. Too much science and not enough artistry. Too many diagrams and not enough application.

But for others, for a book that most of the definitions of concepts literally came from Websters Dictionary, it may just speak your language.