The fingers, wrists and shoulders get a lot of attention from golfers and teachers. But what about that other key joint, the elbow? It plays an important role, too.
Let's look specifically at the right elbow (for a right-handed golfer, same as the left elbow for a lefty). In order to place the club on plane, supply power and route the club on an inside-to-out path into the ball, the right elbow should be tucked against – or very close to – the golfer's right side during the backswing and downswing.
Achieving correct elbow positions requires proper rotation of both arms on the backswing, with the right arm folding naturally as the club goes higher. At the top, the classic “waiter” position finds the arm bent 90° at the elbow. From there, the key is to pull the elbow down, tucking it against the body. The arm unfolds as the club approaches impact, keeping the clubhead inside the target line and unleashing a powerful blow as it straightens into and through the shot.
Jason Dufner, the 2013 PGA Championship winner, is one of golf's finest ballstrikers thanks to his textbook right elbow work. On the other hand, Jack Nicklaus' infamous “flying right elbow” proves you can succeed without a proper tuck.
Here's a great drill to develop and maintain a tucked right elbow:
- Place a folded golf towel or clubhead cover under your right armpit, holding it gently in place between the bicep and chest. The object should be secure but not tightly squeezed.
- Make a few light practice swings, with the goal of holding the towel in place to the top, into the downswing and follow-through.
- If you can keep the object from falling, your right elbow and arm are correctly “connected.”
By all means, work on your shoulder turn, forearm rotation and hand action. Just remember, the right elbow plays a vital part in the golf swing, too.
How and Why to Tuck Your Right Elbow in the Golf Swing
In some ways, assembling your golf swing is like bringing together an orchestra. In order for the music to sound great, an orchestra has to have all of the various instruments playing their own role. In the same way, all of the different parts of your golf swing need to be playing their role properly. There are a number of moving parts in the swing, and each of them has a job to do. When each part of the swing holds up its end of the bargain, you will be able to hit quality golf shots. It only takes one bad instrument to ruin the performance of an orchestra, and it only takes one faulty element in your swing to lead to a poor shot.
One of the key elements in your swing is the position of your right elbow (for a right handed golfer). When used correctly, your right elbow can help to lead the club down into the ball with tremendous power and accuracy. When used incorrectly, however, that same elbow can cause all sorts of trouble in the golf swing. In fact, if you are a player who has struggled with a slice, there is a good chance that your right elbow is to blame. It is important that you understand exactly how to use your right elbow in the golf swing so you can guide the club directly to the back of the ball time and time again.
If you take the time to watch some professional golf on TV, you will quickly notice one thing – the pros hit the ball tremendous distances, but it doesn't look like they are swinging very hard. They are able to generate power efficiently, creating high swing speeds while staying under control and on balance. That is exactly the kind of power you should be looking for, and a tucked right elbow will help you reach the goal. Efficient power comes from rotation in the golf swing, so keeping your right arm in tight to your body will help promote a faster turn – and more distance. If your arms were to get out away from your body, you would be slowing down your ability to rotate toward the target in the downswing. Even if you hit the ball solidly with your right elbow away from your body, you would never achieve the same power as if you had kept it tucked in tight.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
What is a Tucked Right Elbow?
Making a good golf swing requires having a very clear picture of what you are trying to do with your body before you ever take the club away from the ball. There is no room for confusion or indecision in the swing – you need to have a plan, and then execute that plan over and over. Most amateur golfers don't really know what they are trying to accomplish with their swings, so they wind up just swinging hard and hoping for the best.
Using a tucked right elbow in your swing means that you are going to keep your right elbow down and close to your side throughout the swinging motion. This applies to both the backswing and downswing – although that elbow will begin to move away from your body as the club reaches impact and your arms straighten in front of you. Your right elbow should be consistently tucked throughout the backswing and downswing, because that arm position will help you trace the proper swing path with the club. If you let the right elbow get away from your body early in the swing before trying to recover later on, it will be too late. The club will be out of position at that point, and your shot will likely be a poor one.
To successfully keep your right elbow tucked to your side, you should begin folding your right arm almost as soon as the club starts to move away from the ball. Many golfers believe that they are supposed to maintain 'extension' into the backswing by holding both arms straight for as long as possible. That is a myth. While it is a good idea to keep your left arm straight as you turn away from the target, your right arm should begin to fold against your side early in the swing. If you were to keep that right arm straight longer into the swing you will create an extra-wide swing arc that will be hard to control. In order to develop consistency in your ball striking and that easy power that was mentioned earlier, you will want to focus getting your right elbow tucked as quickly as possible.
If you would like to monitor the position of your right elbow in the swing, you can do so by taking a quick video on your cell phone that you can watch later for review. Ask a friend to record a video of you hitting some shots on the driving range with both your driver and one of your mid-irons. When watching the video, follow the path of your right elbow and make sure it isn't running away from your side at any point in the swing (until impact). It should only take a quick review to determine how your elbow is performing during the swing, and you can then go on to make any necessary adjustments to your technique.
The Ultimate Tucked Elbow Drill
Sometimes, when working on a specific part of your golf swing, it can be difficult to find just the right drill. That is not the case when it comes to the tucked right elbow. When you want to work on this part of your swing, there is really only one drill that you need to use. This drill is simple, easy to learn, and provides you with instant feedback if something goes wrong. There might not be a 'perfect' golf drill, but this one is as close as it gets.
To complete the drill and quickly learn how to keep your right elbow tucked during the golf swing, follow the steps below.
- Head to the driving range with your set of clubs and a bucket of golf balls. You can do this drill while using any of your clubs (other than the putter, obviously), so it is a good idea to take them all with you.
- The only other piece of equipment you will need for the drill is an extra golf glove. If you like to wear a glove while swinging, you will need a total of two gloves - one to wear on your hand, and one to use to perform the actual drill.
- To start, choose one of your wedges and pick a target out on the range. It doesn't matter which wedge you use, but start with one of your wedges so you can make some short and simple swings. Your target is important because it will provide you with an aim point and a way to evaluate the quality of your shots. Make sure you pick a target that is within a comfortable distance for the club that you are holding.
- Set the first ball down in front of you and take your stance. Just as when you are hitting any kind of practice shots, you need to take the time to work through your pre-shot routine and be sure to get your address position just right. Only when you are confident that you are standing over the ball in a balanced, athletic fashion should you move on to the next step.
- Now that you are in a good stance, there is one more thing to do before starting the swing. Take the extra golf glove and place it under your right arm, so that it is pinned in your armpit. Obviously, you will need to lift up your arm slightly to put the glove in place. When you return to your address position, the glove should be trapped under your arm so that it will not fall to the ground.
- At this point, you can go ahead and make a swing. The beauty of this drill is that you don't have to think about anything other than making your swing because the glove will tell you the whole story. If you are able to hit the shot without the glove falling to the ground during the backswing or downswing, you will know you have kept your right elbow tucked properly. It is okay if the glove falls to the ground during impact or in the follow through, but it needs to stay firmly in place prior to the club striking the ball. When the club stays under your arm, you will know your elbow is down – it's just that simple. If the glove falls to the ground prematurely, you know there is an issue in your swing that needs to be addressed.
- After hitting a few shots with your wedge, feel free to move on to longer clubs. You can use this drill with any club in your bag, and you can even hit all of your shots throughout the whole practice session while keeping a glove under your arm. Since this drill provides instant feedback, it is a great way to make sure your right elbow is staying under control without distracting too much from the rest of your swing.
This is a great drill to add to your practice routine because it is so simple, and so effective. Where some drills require extensive set up or even other equipment to complete, this one only uses things that are already in your bag. As far as working on the tucked position of your right elbow, you simply won't find a better drill than this one. Add it in to your next practice session and you can expect the positioning of your right elbow to quickly improve.
Fixing Right Elbow Problems
The drill outlined above is great for working on your elbow position - but what do you do if you find that you keep dropping the glove early in your swing? If you can't complete the drill successfully, you will need to make adjustments to your technique to get the right arm in its proper place. To make the fixes you need to tuck your right arm successfully, try using the tips below.
- Turn your right hand under the grip. The position of your right hand on the grip will say a lot about how you end up swinging the club. If your right hand is turned too far on top of the club at address, you will be naturally inclined to move your right arm up and away from your body in the takeaway. To correct that problem, try turning your right hand under the grip slightly to change the path that the club takes away from the ball. With a stronger right hand grip, you will have an easier time keeping the club head low to the ground in the takeaway - which will go a long way toward positioning your right elbow against your side throughout the swing.
- Use your shoulders in the takeaway. A common mistake made by amateur golfers is to use the arms instead of the shoulders to initiate movement in the golf swing. When you are swinging properly, your shoulders will star the swing while your arms will simply hang down in a relaxed position. If you get that backwards, as so many players do, you will run the risk of lifting your right elbow up and away from your side. To correct that problem try focusing your mind on your left shoulder at the start of the swing. As long as your left shoulder get things going by turning gently to the right, you should be able to keep your arms in a wonderful position.
- Don't swing too hard. This is a common cause of a golf swing that gets too long, which in turn allows the right elbow to get away from your side. Golfers frequently swing too hard, whether it is in an effort to reach the green from a long distance away, or just in an effort to impress friends with a long drive. Sheer distance should never be your goal on the golf course. Instead you should be focused on making quality swings that are under control and well-balanced. If you can avoid over-swinging on the course, you will have a far easier time keeping your right elbow tucked in close.
- Avoid the reverse pivot. A reverse pivot occurs when you move your body to the left in the backswing, and the right in the downswing. This is the opposite of the motion that you should be making, and it can cause a number of problems in your game. One of those problems in losing control of your right elbow position. If you allow your body weight to move to the left during the backswing, you will likely lift the club up too high to compensate – meaning your right elbow will come untucked. From that position, there is no way to save the shot. In this case, fixing the right elbow position will come down to fixing the reverse pivot. Get your balance and weight transfer under control prior to working on the movement of your right arm.
- Lead with your lower body. Even if you navigate the backswing properly, you can still lose your tucked position during the transition to the downswing. This happens mostly when golfers fail to use their lower bodies correctly. Ideally, you want your lower body to lead the way into the downswing, turning left as you bring the club down toward the ball. If you fail to use your legs correctly, however, your arms will have to move away from your side simply to have room to make a swing. When that happens, the club moves across the intended swing path, and a slice is the likely result. Engage your lower body earlier in the transition and you should be able to correct this frustrating problem.
If you are having trouble with the position of your right elbow in your golf swing, you may be able to fix the problem using one of the five tips above. Think specifically about your game and which of the tips above will apply most directly to your situation. It may take some time, but working your way to a tucked right elbow is a process that can lead to the best ball striking of your life.
What to Expect
Once you have successfully made the adjustments needed to put your right elbow into a tucked position, you are going to start to notice some changes in your game. Mostly, these will be changes to the types of ball flights that you are capable of creating. While these will be good changes, it may take some time before you can convert them into lower scores. To help you with that process, consider the three tips below.
- Plan on a lower launch. A tucked right elbow is going to lead to an aggressive, descending blow into the golf ball, which means the ball will come out lower off the club face. That doesn't mean, however, that your shots will be lower overall. In fact, they are likely to reach a higher peak, since you should be imparting more backspin than ever before. As you work on your swing on the range, pay attention to the launch angle so you can plan accordingly on the course. This is particularly important information to have if you need to get your ball under or over an obstacle such as a tree.
- Added distance. One of the best things about improving your right elbow position is the opportunity to add distance to your game. Even without trying to hit the ball any harder, you will likely add yards simply because your swing is now more efficient and compact. You want to transfer as much of your swing energy into the ball as possible, and a tucked right elbow is going to help you do just that. Don't be surprised if your iron shots fly 5-10 yards farther, and the gains with your driver could even be more impressive.
- Fliers from the rough. As a potential downside to keeping your right elbow in tight, you may find that you are hitting more fliers from the rough than ever before. A flier occurs when the ball sails over your target on an approach shot coming from the rough – usually because the ball didn't come out with enough backspin to push it up into the air. Since your swing is now doing such a good job of covering the ball at impact, your odds of hitting a flier will go up. To counter that problem, pick smart targets that won't punish you for hitting the ball too far. Also, you can work on swinging through the rough with 'soft hands' to lessen the likelihood of creating a flier.
All in all, putting your right elbow into a tucked position should be a great thing for your golf game. Will there be some growing pains along the way? Most likely. That doesn't mean, however, that you should give up on this pursuit. Almost every accomplished golfer does a great job of keeping their right elbow down tight to their side, and you should have the same goal for yourself.
Don't expect improvements to come quickly or easily, because they never do in this game. Instead, you will have to spend plenty of time working on your swing only to see incremental improvements. Fortunately, those improvements will add up over time and pretty soon you will be left with a compact and powerful golf swing that is capable of sending your ball directly toward the target time and time again.