A point of contention in the golf swing is whether the rear knee (the right knee for right-handed golfers) should straighten or remain flexed in the backswing. I personally believe it completely depends on the player, but in this story, I’ll discuss the benefits of keeping the flex in your rear knee throughout the backswing.
To gain a better understanding of the rear knee, let’s start where any good golf-instruction article starts; with photos of Tiger Woods.
As you can see, I’ve highlighted Woods’ rear knee in both a down-the-line and face-on view. You can see that he maintains flex in his knee at the top of the backswing, and I’ve noted where the majority of his weight has shifted, as well (highlighted by the yellow dot on the right). Now, as stated earlier, I don’t personally care what the rear knee does because it’s completely player-dependent, however, it’s an important move to comprehend as it can help you sort out a few different flaws.
In this swing, Tiger has kept the address position of his rear knee constant from address all the way to the top, and if you examine the photo closely you will notice several things.
1) When the rear knee holds it flex to the top, you will find that it will cause the hips to have a more restricted motion on the backswing.
You can see that Tiger has very little hip turn to the top, and, in most cases, the overall shoulder turn will also be shortened; unless, of course, you have Tiger’s flexibility! Therefore, you should understand that if you hold the flex in your rear knee to the top, it will likely shorten your swing and tighten your hip turn. In general, the more flex you have, the greater you’ll restrict your turn. This is great for players who over-rotate or lose control of their weight during the transition.
2) When the rear knee holds its address position to the top, the weight will stay on the inside of the rear foot.
Restriction of the hips is one thing, and we as teachers can argue that point until we’re blue in the face. Few teachers, however, would advocate allowing the weight to shift to the outside of the rear foot on the backswing. When this happens, your rear hip will slide out, setting up a reverse weight shift. This will cause you to “hang back” through impact, meaning there is too much weight on the rear foot during impact.
So if you go back to the photo of Tiger above and look at the yellow dot, you’ll see Tiger has maintained his weight on the inside of the rear foot. This gives him something to push off on during the downswing and provides him the stability he needs to use the ground most effectively. Whenever I have an amateur sliding around on the backswing, I tend to see poor pivots and over-the-top transition. So if you are having trouble coming over the top, I would suggest you make sure you do not have your rear knee sliding out from under you to the top.
I would suggest using a mirror to audit these motions, and you will begin to see and feel how the rear knee affects your backswing motion. Experiment to see what is best for you and remember that there is NO wrong answer for your game once you understand what really happens when you control the rear knee to the top.
Look out for my next article, where I’ll address the benefits of keeping your rear knee straight, instead of flexed!