I think it’s important that you understand the role the left arm plays in the golf swing. I think people have been misled forever on how the left arm travels and what it does.
Through teaching golf over the years you always try to find the simplest ways that people relate best to the golf swing or to a field, and one of the fields that I found really helps people to understand the golf swing is the feeling of keeping the left elbow always pointed down to the ground.
In Ben Hogan’s five fundamentals, he drew a picture of the left arm and how it worked. He described that it’s a feeling like you thumb a ride, and I thought that was a really good way to describe it and what I want you to understand is that the clubface is actually controlled by your left elbow.
If my left elbow rolls, look how that changes the clubface, look at the angle that is created. When the left elbow rolls, it not only changes the clubface, but it also changes your radius and it changes your arc.
Retain The Arc, Keep the Clubface Square
So the idea is if you keep your left elbow down, look how your arc stays the same, look at how the face of the club stays the same and the radius of the golf swing stays the same.
This can be done by simply connecting the left arm to your shoulder, feeling that you hold a handkerchief under your left arm/armpit, and by the simple feeling of keeping your left elbow down going back, and your left elbow down going through.
That’s exactly the way Hogan drew in his book the way the left arm traveled and any time the left arm changes, it changes your radius, it changes your arc and it creates an angle. We don’t want any angles in the golf swing. We want to always maintain the club square to square, and it can’t do that if the elbow comes out or the arm changes.
So, this is one of the fields that we use in our teaching all the time to help students understand connection in the left arm. Once you’re set up, it’s the constant feeling of the left elbow down. We never want the left elbow out.
What Does Ballard Mean By "Elbows Down"
To gain a firm grasp of what Ballard means when he emphasizes the importance of keeping the elbows down, it is helpful to use the thumb of your left hand.
If you stick your left arm out, and point your thumb up toward the sky, your left elbow will face directly toward the ground.
Conversely, if you stick your arm out, and point your left thumb toward the ground (turning the elbow inward rather than outward), your elbow will face the sky.
When you play around with this idea, you will quickly realize that Ballard wants minimal elbow rotation during the backswing. Instead of turning the elbow in such a way that it faces toward the sky, Ballard wants you to retain the angle established between the left thumb and the left elbow at address (where the left thumb points up and the left elbow faces down), during the backswing and the first part of the downswing. After impact, it is entirely natural (and desirable) for the left elbow and arm to fold.
In other words, don’t “roll your elbows” during the backswing. Instead, aim to minimize elbow rotation during the backswing. This makes it much easier to keep the clubface square going back and square going through.
Jimmy Ballard Elbows Down Visual Explanation
In the images above you can see Ballard demonstrating how to keep your elbows down during the backswing and the follow-through. Doing this makes it relatively easy to achieve a ‘square-to-square’ golf swing, which doesn’t rely on hand manipulation.
In the image above, Ballard is demonstrating what happens to the clubface if you roll the elbows out during the backswing.
Instead of being square to the arc of your swing, the clubface falls into an extremely “open” position. This is problematic because you will have to use a large amount of club manipulation in order to get the club back into a square position at impact.
Said differently, rolling the elbows out is a massive red flag for an amateur golfer. It makes it far more difficult to keep the club face square, which in turns makes it harder to make solid, reliable contact.