To be a great golfer – particularly a standout iron player – you need to be a solid, consistent ball-striker.
One thing many amateurs overlook, or have no idea about whatsoever, is the role maintaining side bend throughout your golf swing has on your ability to compress the ball better, hit it straighter and launch it longer.
Often, beginner and high-handicap players, in their pursuit of extra distance and fixation on ‘hitting at the ball’ rather than through it, will tend to stand up out of their posture, stall their hips and throw their clubhead at the ball (otherwise known as ‘flipping’).
The problems this movement creates are many, but include poor compression, off-centre strikes and weak ball flights that are easily affected by the wind and inconsistency.
While you may not have the flexibility of Chilean star Joaquin Niemann (pictured above), staying in your side bend as best as possible from the start to finish of your swing will alleviate most, if not all, of these issues and get you flushing shots far more regularly.
In this article, I’ll explain exactly what side bend is and why this simple, but important move can completely transform your swing and get you striking the ball better.
What is side bend in the golf swing?
Side bend in the golf swing is best described as taking the spine angle you created at address and maintaining it as you move through impact. Visually, your right shoulder should be as close as possible to your side when you strike the ball; your right elbow should be bent; and your hips should be open.
A great ‘feel’ to focus on is making sure your right shoulder (for a right-handed player) moves down and under your chest in the downswing, with your left shoulder moving up and around as your hips also clear.
Doing these things will ensure your side remains ‘bent’ at impact (and if you’re unsure you’re doing it right, try recording your swing and compare it to the pros).
One of the best training aids you can use to mimic this sensation is the Snitz Golf Swing Motion Trainer, which keeps your elbow tucked and right shoulder working down and under. I’d definitely recommend you take a look at it.
As mentioned earlier, many golfers are plagued by early extension, which is another way for saying they lose their posture when moving from the top of their backswing and into impact.
Side bend is a great way to combat this and the benefits are many – keep reading, as I’ll explain what they are in greater detail below.
I’ve also written extensively on the importance of maintaining your spine angle in the golf swing here, which I’d suggest you read.
What does side bend do in the golf swing?
Maintaining side bend has many positive effects on your golf swing including increased shaft lean and hence better compression of the ball; a more downward attack angle with irons; improved clubface control; and better rotation and clearing of the hips.
You’re probably thinking: ‘how could side bend possibly lead to all those things?’ Well, it certainly can.
Let’s take a look at why.
Benefit one: More shaft lean equals better compression
PGA Tour players, on average, deloft the club by around 30 percent with their irons at impact, which is how they create those flushed, penetrating ball flights.
They do this by increasing the lean of their club shaft, with their hands ahead of the ball at the moment of contact.
Side bend encourages greater shaft lean as the motion of driving your right shoulder towards the turf in the downswing – while your left shoulder moves up and around – will decrease your angle of attack and cause you to hit it fat if you don’t get your hands ahead of the ball.
If you’re someone who picks or scoops at the ball with your wrists and hands, focusing on maintaining side bend will definitely train your body to move better in the downswing and improve compression through increased shaft lean.
Benefit two: More downward attack angle with irons
If you want to leave those dollar bill-like divots with your irons just like the pros do, then staying in your side bend as you strike the ball will definitely help you do this.
Keeping that right shoulder moving down towards the ball and tucked into your side will increase your downward attack angle, meaning you’ll create a solid, descending blow at impact – rather than a sweeping, picking motion seen in players who stand up out of their posture.
Benefit three: Improved clubface control
Creating greater shaft lean at impact, as mentioned above, and hence removing the need to ‘flip’ your clubhead at the ball is one of the easiest ways to improve your clubface control.
It makes sense then that staying in your side bend and using your hips and chest to initiate the downswing, rather than your hands, will hold the clubface far more stable as it moves throughout its swing arc, right up until it strikes the ball.
The longer you can keep the clubface stable and square, the greater chance you have of consistently hitting straight shots.
Benefit four: Better rotation and clearing of the hips
If you freeze every PGA Tour player at the point of impact, you’ll see their hips are nice and open – this is a biproduct of staying in side bend.
By keeping your right shoulder working down and under, and tucked in close to your side with a bent right elbow, the only way to physically strike the ball is to get your hips out of the way so your arms can swing through the hitting area.
Players who ‘flip’ the clubhead at the ball do so because they stand up out of their posture and lose their side bend – this stalls their hips, leaves no room for their arms to move around their body, and means the only way for them to hit the ball is by throwing the club at it.
If you freeze these players at the point of impact, their hips will usually be square and their arms locked straight.
This is why maintaining side bend is so important in helping the hips clear correctly in the golf swing.
How important is side bend in golf?
Side bend is an extremely important part of the golf swing. It helps increase shaft lean at impact and improve compression with irons; it gives you greater clubface control; it stops you early extending and losing your posture; it allows you hips to clear easier; and it generates more consistent ball-striking.
The benefits of maintaining your side bend – and I detailed in the section above – are so many that it would be remiss of any golfer to overlook its importance.
Instead of worrying about clearing your hips individually (which I’ve written about more extensively here) or what the club is doing in your backswing, if you solely focus on staying in side bend until you strike the ball then you will definitely improve your golf swing.
Only after you strike the ball should you come out of side bend, and hold that follow through pose.
How to maintain side bend in the golf swing
Now that you know exactly what side bend is and why it’s good for your swing, let’s talk about some simple feels and drills you can work on to practice it.
Drill one: The feeling of side bend
The best way to physically feel what it’s like to be in side bend is to stand up perfectly straight in front of a mirror, without a golf club in hand.
Without moving your hips and legs, bend your upper body to the right and try and get your right shoulder as close as possible to touching your right side.
In the mirror, you should see a stable base with your lower body, while your chest and head should be tilted behind centre.
Maintaining that bend in your right side, move your upper body into an impact position as if you were just about to strike the golf ball – that is what it’s like being in side bend.
Drill two: Side bend with a club
This is another great way to practice what it feels like to be in side bend as you strike the golf ball.
Take a 7-iron and set-up in your usual address position over the ball, and hold the club across your chest.
Slowly make a full backswing, ensuring that the clubhead is pointed down towards the ball and pause at the top.
Ensure your hips are open and your weight loaded into the inside of your trail foot.
Then, pretend to make a downswing, feeling that the grip of the club is then pointed down at the ball (mimicking your impact position) without standing up out of your posture or spine angle.
Practice this motion 50 times without hitting the golf ball – once you have done this, try hitting some easy, three-quarter shots focusing on maintaining that feeling of side bend at impact.
Doing this over and over at the range or at home on a practice net – ideally, you should record yourself doing this so you can watch the video back and check you’re doing it correctly – will, in time, groove this feeling so it becomes automatic next time you’re on the course.
Side bend is a crucial but often overlooked part of the golf swing.
While most amateurs will fixate on perfecting their grip, takeaway or hip movement, what they don’t realise is many of their problems can be solved simply by staying in side bend until they’ve struck the ball.
Follow some of the advice and drills above and you’ll soon be hitting the ball better than you ever have.