Jack Nicklaus

This golf article examines a signature, much-studied move by the greatest golf champion of all, Jack Nicklaus.

Unconventional move: The “flying right elbow”

Who does it: Jack Nicklaus (also Fred Couples, John Daly)

What it looks like 

Jack Nicklaus Flying Right Elbow BVS

Photo 1: At the top of the backswing, there’s a wide separation between the right elbow and the golfer’s side, while the elbow points behind him rather than toward the ground. The clubface is slightly open (toe pointed downward), though this may be more pronounced in other golfers’ swings.

Jack Nicklaus Flying Right Elbow SVS

Photo 2: Looking face-on, notice how the right elbow bows outward instead of folding against the body on the backswing. Unless the golfer compensates by over-rotating the hands and arms, the clubface will be closed (toe pointed in front of the golfer) at the top. Also, note that the arms are lifting the club while the torso and hips fail to rotate sufficiently – a common cause of flying right elbow. 


Why it’s a problem for amateurs: If your right elbow is out of place at the top, it’s difficult to get it into proper position – in front of the body – on the downswing. You’ll either hit the ball to the right, or compensate by flipping the hands and sending shots left. 

Flying right elbow can also cause a slice-inducing, over-the-top swing path

How the greats get away with it: Nicklaus manages to drop his right elbow into proper position as he starts the downswing, nullifying the effects of his unusual backswing. His powerful body rotation pulls the arms through with perfect timing. 

The cure: The best exercise for grounding a flying right elbow is the towel drill. Simply place a towel across your chest and under each armpit. Swing while holding it in place, with light pressure applied by keeping your elbows and biceps close to the body. Make sure you rotate the shoulders, torso and hips in unison, rather than swinging the arms only. 

A left arm that bends on the backswing can cause flying right elbow, so try to keep the left arm straight (but not rigid) all the way to the top.