How Should Your Right Elbow In The Golf Swing Work?

In this video, PGA pro Ben Emerson discusses how the right elbow in the golf swing should work

Right elbow in the golf swing
(Image credit: Future)

How the right elbow in the golf swing works might not be something many people have considered, so it might surprise you to learn it can play a pivotal role in determining success. In the video and article below, PGA pro and Golf Monthly Top 50 Coach Ben Emerson discusses the different ways in which it can help you play better golf...

How should your right elbow in the golf swing work?

To clarify, this is based on a right-handed golfer, so would apply to the trail arm - for left-handers, that would be your left arm. And we’re concentrating on the takeaway in the golf swing up to the top, as well as what it does on the way down. 

First of all, it’s important to check how much range of motion you have in your trail arm. To do this, stand nice and tall, with your arm forming a right angle parallel to the ground. From there, rotate your forearm backwards (like the picture below) around the elbow and see how far it stretches. Some people will find that it moves 90° or more, while others will struggle to achieve this position. 

Right elbow in the golf swing

Don't worry if you can't get all the way to the 90° position (left)

(Image credit: Future)

If you can get to around 90°, where your elbow is pointing straight down to the ground, you’ve got a solid foundation because your body is physically able to support the club using the elbow at the top of the swing. It should look like the picture (left) above.

Those who can achieve this 90˚ position should aim for a top of backswing position that looks something like the image below. Your upper body is nicely coiled and ready to drive through the downswing. Crucially, to deliver as much clubhead swing speed as possible through impact, you should try to retain this angle in your elbow as your body starts to unwind in the first part of the downswing.

Right elbow in the backswing

This is quite an orthodox backswing position for someone with good range of motion in their arm

(Image credit: Future)

In fact, your right elbow should drop slightly as your weight distribution moves back towards the target. This will create lag in the golf swing - one of the key elements to power that doesn't cost control. 

Then as you continue to unwind towards the ball you should release the angles in your wrists and elbow to inject that little bit of extra speed when you need it most. 

Why A 'Flying Right Elbow' Isn't Always A Bad Thing 

If you’re someone that lacks golf mobility and can only move your right elbow to say, 45°, it’s important not to force it any further - letting the elbow ‘fly’ is still an effective method. A certain Jack Nicklaus had what is termed ‘the flying elbow’ and won 18 majors, so there are ways of using it to your advantage.

Right elbow in the golf swing

Many golfers have found great success with 'the flying elbow' 

(Image credit: Future)

One of the faults I see from people who try and force it is that they early extend in the backswing and come out of posture in a desire to achieve a more 'orthodox' action. The almost start to stand upright at the top of the backswing to create the illusion that the right elbow is in a more orthodox position. But this can do more harm to your strikes than good!

While it has become popular in recent years to keep the elbow more tucked, try to see the positives of the flying elbow. At the top, the club will likely be pointing across the line, so feel like the elbow works straight back towards the ball, and you'll be able to shallow the club effectively and get your golf swing on plane. You'll then be in a great position to his crisper and cleaner shots. 

If it's good enough for greats of the game like Nicklaus, Fred Couples and Jim Furyk, it's good enough for the rest of us. So, check your range of motion and see which category you fit into. Then, work on using this to your advantage rather that seeing it as a negative. Good luck!

Ben Emerson
Top 50 Coach

Location: Sand Martins GC 

Ben’s modern approach to golf coaching has seen him become one of the most sought-after coaches in the country and teaches none other than Robbie Williams. His honest, modern and fun style of coaching has help thousands of golfers of all ages and abilities and he has been coaching for over 20 years.

Advice for practice:

Start with slow, small swings. If you can’t do it small and slowly there is not a hope in hell of doing it at full speed with a full swing! In other sports such as rugby or martial arts they slow learn new moves/plays before making them at full speed. 

Teaching philosophy: 

‘Why guess when you can access’ Ever new student goes through a full TPI movement screen, 3D motion capture and pressure plate analysis as well as TrackMan and 2D video analysis. Coaching is based on facts and not guess work. 

Most common problem:

A lack of clubface understanding and awareness. I get golfers to aim the clubface directly at the target and get them to make a slow swings and deliver the club to the ball with an open face, then repeat the same thing again but with a closed face, followed by one at the target. Giving them full awareness based on feelings errors to find a happy middle ground.