The golf swing has many moving parts. Some are more important to success than others. Count the role of the right elbow (for right-handers) as part of the critical list. If you don't keep the right elbow in the proper position through the swing, it is far more difficult to hit a good shot.
The Proper Form
A fundamentally sound golf swing has the right elbow close to the body all the way through contact with the ball. Once the ball has been struck and the swing transitions into the follow-through, the right elbow will rise up and away from the body as the club continues over the left shoulder and into the finishing position. The right elbow position is so important because when it is not in place, it has the potential to throw the club off the correct plane and to disrupt the desired spine angle. To maintain a balanced posture and ideal swing path, it is best for a player to keep the right elbow passive and close to the body.
Potential Problems in the Backswing
If the right elbow drifts very far from the body as the club is drawn back, it will become difficult for the player to keep the club on the proper swing plane. This will make it much harder to reach the proper position at the top of the backswing. It is not uncommon for a golfer intent on making a powerful swing to pull the right elbow away from the body in the backswing.
Potential Problems in the Downswing
If the right elbow remains in the proper position during the backswing, it may still come away from the body going into the downswing. In that event, the club cannot stay on the proper plane through impact with the ball. What results is an over-the-top swing, which keeps the club above the desired swing plane and cuts across the ball through the hitting zone. This often results in a pulled shot.
When the right elbow separates from the body during the downswing, the physical result can be undue stress on the right shoulder and elbow. It's not uncommon for a golfer who consistently allows his right elbow to drift during the downswing to develop soreness in those areas. This can become serious enough over time to require medical attention.
One approach to maintaining the proper right elbow position is to practice hitting shots while keeping the left and right elbows as close together as possible. If the right elbow can be held close to the left, it is virtually impossible for the right to drift from the body. Another training drill involves practicing the backswing with either a golf glove or club-head cover tucked under the right arm. If the right elbow remains in place, the glove or head cover will not fall to the ground.