The Arm Swing Illusion - Golf's Missing Link

The Arm Swing Illusion – Golf’s Missing Link – Jim Waldron

Quick Thoughts: After discovering Jim Waldron’s content on Youtube, I went out and shot 2 under par at my local course. The conditions were perfect and I putted like a professional, but even before the round started, I knew I was going to go low. 

In my particular case, Waldron’s ideas on uncocking the wrists downwards served as the missing link in Joe Nichols’s swing theory, which I consider to be the easiest way to swing a golf club efficiently. I now consider myself a student of Jim Waldron, Mike Malaska and Joe Nichols. In my opinion, Waldron’s basic swing philosophy is filled with golden swing thoughts, and many of his ideas are symbiotic with Joe Nichol’s approach to swinging a club.

What Is The Arm Swing Illusion?

This is quite a long post, but to get to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible, I’ve taken a bunch of screenshots from Jim Waldron’s explanation of the Arm Swing Illusion in this video

In essence, there are three primary components to the Arm Swing Illusion.

  1. Understanding how the arms actually move in a golf swing
  2. Understanding how the torso moves in a golf swing
  3. Learning how to blend these two movements together

What The Arms Actually Do During A Golf Swing

1. Take Away

11-09 Arm Swing Illusion Takeaway

2. Backswing

3. Transition

4. Impact

11-11 Arm Swing Illusion Impact

5. Follow Through

11-13 Arm Swing Illusion - Follow Through

6. Finish

11-14 Arm Swing Illusion - Finish

Steps 1 to 6 Combined

Arm Swing Illusion Gif

What The Torso Does During A Golf Swing

1. Torso Rotation Backswing

11-17 Arm Swing Illusion - Torso Rotation

2. Torso Rotation Follow Through

3. Torso Rotation Finish

11-17 Arm Swing Illusion - Torso Rotation Image 3
Torso Rotation

In my opinion, these images capture Jim Waldron’s ideas on the Arm Swing Illusion quite nicely. 

The end goal is to combine the correct arm movement (vertically), with torso rotation. It’s basically like you’re rotating around your spine (Tom Watson’s secret) with your torso, and moving your arms up and down, almost like you are trying to split a piece of wood with an axe. 

If you can learn how to combine these two movement patterns, you can potentially become a very good ballstriker.  

Arm Swing Illusion Gif
Torso Rotation

What People Think The Arms Do During A Golf Swing (The Illusion)

1. Arms At Addres

9 35 Sideways Arm Motion

2. Sideways Arm Movement During Backswing

9 36 Sideways Arm Motion - Image 2

3. Sideways Arm Movement Follow Through

9 37 Sideways Arm Motion - Image 3

The key to understanding the illusion is to recognize that it looks like you are independently moving the arms sideways during the backswing and the follow-through.

However, in reality, good players actually move their arms up and down during the backswing and follow-through. They simply turn their torso while doing so. This makes it looks like the arms are moving sideways when it is actually torso rotation that moves the arms horizontally.  

Jim Waldron's Explanation of the Arm Swing Illusion

The arm swing illusion is a mistaken perception deeply held in both the intellectual conscious mind as well as the subconscious mind, which is even more important because it has much more influence on how your body moves in the golf swing. The Arm Swing Illusion is the mistaken perception that when you watch a pro swing (or any good ball striker) what you’re seeing is independent sideways arm motion.

The illusion is that you see the arms move across the chest, cross midline this way (away from the target) and then around the body. The illusion continues from the transition to the follow-through, with the club then reversing out from behind you, in front and then across midline through impact and around the body to the finish.

If you’re seeing this motion from down the line view it would look like this: You’re seeing this motion of course blended in with a pivot.

11-09 Arm Swing Illusion Takeaway
11-17 Arm Swing Illusion - Torso Rotation

Now one reason it’s such a powerful illusion is yes indeed there is sideways movement of the arms in the horizontal dimension from the pivot, but there is very little sideways motion in the horizontal dimension from the arms independently.

In other words, that is the arm muscles moving the arms independently of the pivot. This is the concept I’m probably most well-known for in the golf instruction world.

When Waldron Discovered The Illusion

I discovered the illusion on 6th of September 1996. It just happened to be my wife’s birthday and I’ll tell you how I discovered it and of course, in the ensuing years it’s been continually updated and my understanding of it now 18 years later is much better than it was then, so you’re getting the most updated version in this video program.

I was struggling with this insight my whole life with too much of an inside take away you know too much there a lot of this by taking it inside my arms because I was taught as a youngster and you know young people my idols were Byron Nelson and Bobby Jones. All these great players talked about swinging the arms sideways this way independently, blended in with a pivot, but whenever I swung my arms this way with a good pivot I would end up inside the plane.

The Missing Link - How To Get The Club On Plane

I knew the importance of keeping the club on plane, but I couldn’t seem to get there. If I did any kind of a pivot at all you know you wanted basically it’s the half point halfway point of the backswing you want to rotate to around 90 degrees so you want to go about halfway there around 45-degree chest turn that ended takeaway. If I did that 45-degree chest turn and also moved my arms sideways even a little bit I was way inside.

Basically, if I moved the arms sideways during the backswing, I was either a little bit or way inside the ideal plane. I couldn’t figure out how you get there. I can get there like this without moving my body but that’s not going to work. You’ve got to rotate your body.

So anyhow I was doing some mirror work on this one day in 1996 and I just had this brilliant insight. It was like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. I started seeing the swing for the first time my life in true three-dimensional space instead of two dimensions and I instantly saw through the illusion.


I came to realize that the only way I can turn my body like I need to for all kinds of legitimate reasons around 45 degrees and get the club shaft on plane, is to push away with my lead arm on a 45-degree angle. That was the big key.  It was the missing piece. That’s why I called my book the arm swing illusion, golf’s missing link.

It’s partially titled a missing link part because I really think that this 45-degree angle push away explains a lot. When you really get this piece, it really does explain a lot of conflicting information in the traditional golf instruction world view.

I instantly got that the only way to get here with an on-plane club shaft with a 45-degree chest turn was to make that motion (arms pushing away at a 45 degree)

4-39 - That Motion

at the same moment time I made this motion (rotating torso away from the target)  

4-41 This Motion

You are effectively combining the wedge this way (arms pushing away) and turning the torso that way and when you do both at the same time, blended together with good timing you’re making an on-plane takeaway. That was the big light bulb and it expanded after that.

I didn’t quite believe it at first it was I was so excited I thought wow this is this explains a lot and I instantly got the ramifications for the rest of the golf swing particularly through impact:

  • Why did I struggle with flipping
  • Why did I struggle with disconnected arms

I thought you were supposed to move your arms with your arm muscles across the chest but I also knew that you could do it too much too early but I was still trying to do this sort of moderate disconnection of the arms. I didn’t quite understand that piece, I didn’t understand what Hogan was talking about so (when I finally cottoned on) it just set off a number of huge supernova-sized light bulbs for me so I was pretty excited about it.

It was the beginning of my journey to explore in-depth what that Arm swing illusion is all about and what several related illusions that support the arm swing illusion were all about. I was so excited I literally didn’t sleep for two nights.

I was taking notes, looking at video, reading books going back and look at my notes from the past, and notes in the margins of books I read. I recall the interview with Bob Bush who was the head of the team of Design at iron Byron talking about how the most shocking discovery was the RPM speed from here to just after impact of the shoulder girdle the arms and the clubhead were identical in the horizontal dimension. I finally understood what this meant.  

I instantly got the propeller tip of the propeller hub that rpm mph illusion. I got the related lever illusion, how a small arc small degree arc of rotation at the pivot and the core of your body makes the clubhead move several feet. That came to me too.

These light bulbs were going off like supernovas in my mind. As a lifelong amateur scientist, I know that you’re supposed to try to disprove your hypotheses to see if they can take the heat and withstand more critical analysis. So, I looked at the arm swing illusion from a lot of different ways to see if I could disprove it.  I focused a lot on videotape of professional swings and while there were some people on Tour who were violating the arm Swing illusion to some degree, they would have to make compensations to their swing in order to make good contact.

But with the modern swing, the ones where the club is moving on the original plane from you know from here to here and then raising up to a higher plane more vertical plane but the plane angle staying the same throughout the swing.

The more efficient looking swings you know, players like:

  • Justin Rose
  • Billy Horschel
  • Jason Day
  • Adam Scott
  • Martin Kaymer

The ones that had really pretty looking swings, I sort of got what they were doing right and they were actually matching what my research was showing about the illusion even more than some of the older great ball strikers from earlier eras.

So, it held up. I tried to disprove it and it held up.

Keeping The Club In Front Of Your Chest

I could see it clearly that the arms were staying in front. Now when we say in front it’s often thought in front means midline, but that’s actually a common misperception. In front means away from your chest, like this (see image below). 

8-36 Arms In Front Of You - Away From Your Chest Image 1

This is called the width dimension right away from your chest, away from where your chest is pointing.

So, with my backswing, I want width dimension that’s important.

8-41 Arms In Front Of You - Away From Your Chest Image 2

Teaching It To All My Students

That’s a little bit about the background and then I spent that fall of 96 you know furthering the research and just basically trying to learn more about it what the overall ramifications were from my teaching practice and I started teaching it with of just a few students and the handful of students and got spectacular results, literally like right away and they all got it.

Then in January of 97 in Hawaii I started teaching it (to all my students) and I’ve been teaching it ever since and it’s gotten better my own understanding has got better every year.

Up until about five years ago there were moments in time where I could let my brain sort of go back into I in to the old-style mold where the illusion was operative and I could switch back and forth.  I could watch a tour pro on TV or in person and I could see sideways arm motion

By the way again if I haven’t already made that point clear that’s the illusion that looks like when you watch a good player swing it looks like you’re seeing independent arm motion:

  • Sideways around the chest on the backswing
  • Then back out in front in transition and
  • Then across in front of the chest to impact
  • Then around behind the chest to the finish

That’s the simplest way of explaining what the illusion is. It’s operative when you think about your own swing. Looking from your own first-person visual through your own eyes even when you’re not doing that those things a good player does. When they’re keeping the club in front it looks to them like their arms are going sideways. We’re going to explore why further on in this module in depth why that’s so.

After I discovered the illusion until about five years ago I could literally switch back and forth watching a tour pro especially in person and see reality see that see them pushing away, the club staying in front of their chests and then see the illusion operative, seeing sideways around the chest motion.

Then five years ago I was attending the Pro Junior clinic at Waialae Country Club at the Sony Open and I was standing about the distance from here to the camera (so like 15 feet) away from Davis Love hitting sand wedges into the green as part of this clinic and I saw this motion, you know the arms in front motion. 

I’ll just do it I saw this take away second half a backswing transition impact follow-through finish I saw that happening while this was happening at the same moment time and I haven’t been able to see it I haven’t been able to see a pro golf swing or any golf swing without the illusion in my mind ever since, so in my mind, the illusion is completely uprooted at least at the conscious level.

Arm Swing Illusion Gif

I mean I think it’s still in there I still tend to pull in a little bit on the backswing I don’t get quite in the perfect waiter’s tray position, sometimes I swing my arms across my chest. Usually, it’s when I’m not healthy. I’ve got some low back issues so sometimes when my back is spasming or tight I’ll get a little armsie, but for the most part, it helped my ball striking a lot right away and it helps my student’s ball striking as well.

So the arm swing illusion was a pretty exciting insight and we’re going to explore it in depth in this module.

Videos Explaining The Arm Swing Illusion

To close off this post, I’m simply going to post 3 Youtube clips that further explain what the Arm Swing Illusion is all about. 

My hope is that this post and these videos should help you achieve a pretty clear understanding of what Waldron really means, when he talks about the Arm Swing Illusion. 

It has definitely helped me become a better ballstriker. My hope is that it can help you too. 

Video Explanation 1

This is the longest video explanation on Youtube right now. It’s definitely worth a watch. 

Video Explanation 2

I actually think this video offers the best explanation of the Arm Swing Illusion. Waldron’s words are a bit easier to follow. 

Video Explanation 3

In this video, Steven Bann essentially condenses Jim Waldron’s ideas on the Arm Swing illusion into a few minutes. I highly recommend having a look. 

Resources Used In This Post