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The benefits of maintaining flex in your rear knee during the backswing

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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.

TigerWoodsRearKnee

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! 

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 60 people in the world.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Bob Pegram

    Jul 30, 2017 at 1:43 am

    Contrary to a number of comments, it is possible to keep the right leg bent and still turn the hips. You just have to be flexible. Regular stretching helps a lot. Swinging a heavy club a number of times every day also increases flexibility and strength.

  2. Jerry

    Jul 25, 2017 at 6:28 am

    If you look at Tiger’s swing in slo mo, you can tell that he DOES extend the rear leg a limited amount. So do not keep the rear leg static as it was at address.

  3. Jerry

    Jul 25, 2017 at 6:20 am

    I’ve looked at a lot of vids of PGA pros and you DO see their rear leg straightening but it is not straight at the top of the swing. The amount of extension varies. Look at old vids of Palmer, Nicklaus, Hogan – the rear leg extends a certain amount. Look at vids of current players – in many it extends. Look at the ones who don’t – back issues eventually, especially if the front leg does not bend invwards a bit. In sum, don’t kill your back. It’s fine to extend the rear leg a bit. Older golfers may straighten it more to free up the rear hip and make a full term (their flexibility is limited).

  4. asugrad1988

    Jul 21, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    I’ve just returned from volunteering on the range at an LPGA event. I have noticed a lot of the S. Koreans keep the right leg flexed.

    • Ude

      Jul 21, 2017 at 6:56 pm

      the slender girls or the stumpy girls, or both? You can see the bare legs of most LPGA players but none of the panted men on the PGA. Watch the LPGA if you want to see the golf swing from the ground up.

  5. acemandrake

    Jul 21, 2017 at 9:07 am

    What is “GRF”? (I struggle with acronyms 🙂 )

  6. AceW7Iron

    Jul 21, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Golf magazine has an article this month that says the opposite…it says you should NOT keep a bent rt knee but rather straighten it by pushing your hip back behind you. Claims a bent knee robs you of power and backswing width.

    • TR1PTIK

      Jul 21, 2017 at 1:03 pm

      Depends on the player which is exactly what the author stated at the beginning of the article. If you have the requisite flexibility to keep the right knee bent AND need to because your backswing is too long causing you to lose control of the club path, by all means do so. It’s something I’ve worked on and it helps. BUT, if you have poor flexibility in the torso and shoulders, feel free to straighten the right leg a bit more which will help you push the hips around and create a bigger swing. It fully depends on the needs of the player. There is no one-size-fits-all in golf.

      • JEC

        Jul 21, 2017 at 5:48 pm

        Poor flexibility or great flexibility…..it will eventually destroy your back. The human body is not meant to move is a such a fashion.

        • Ude

          Jul 21, 2017 at 6:53 pm

          and that’s why 95% of all golfers worldwide cannot break 100, without cheating.

  7. JEC

    Jul 20, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    Golf coaches destroying the average players backs one lesson at a time.

    • Nathan

      Jul 20, 2017 at 7:48 pm

      Agreed, brutally poor advice that will lead to injury…but hey, gotta keep pumping out the articles…

      • Ude

        Jul 20, 2017 at 7:51 pm

        Best advice for the average golfer is GET RID OF YOUR BEER BELLY IF YOU WANNA SWING A GOLF CLUB!

        • Someone

          Jul 21, 2017 at 7:01 pm

          Jb Holmes, Jason dufner, John daly, Andrew johnston, and many more would disagree with your comment.

  8. emb

    Jul 20, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    although tigers swing is a great model, the fact that he’s had numerous knee/back surgeries would point to some of his positions wearing excessively on his body. Maintaining trail knee flex is a move for a very very small percentage of golfers as most do not have the flexibility to successfully execute this move as it restricts hip and shoulder turn. Decent article but 95% of amateur should be losing flex/straightening their trail knees for more turn and less injury

    • prime21

      Jul 22, 2017 at 6:26 pm

      so you’re saying Tiger’s issues with his knee/back point back to him maintaining flex in his right knee during his backswing? You can’t truly believe that.

      • Jerry

        Jul 25, 2017 at 6:14 am

        Think about it. You are creating a lot of torque to your back if you do not extent the rear leg and free up the back hip while making your turn – will lead to back issues. If you look at a lot of pros, you will see some extension of the rear leg to free up the hip – the rear leg is not straight, but it extends.

  9. Samwise G.

    Jul 20, 2017 at 11:48 am

    So, in your recommended model. The backswing should feel almost as if the legs don’t do anything but hold their position in the backswing (all upper body backswing feel)?

    I tend to keep weight on the balls/toes if my rear foot when I try to maintain rear knee flex—it leads to strange problems (notably, right leg straightening in the transition/downswing and shifting my whole upper body forward and causing at last second flip to hit the ball straight) that took me a long time to trace back to how my rear foot was bearing weight.

    If I let my rear leg straighten (hip feels like it goes straight back (not a sway / reverse tilt) then my weight naturally loads in my rear heel BUT, as you mentioned, the swing tends to get longer. My hands get deep in the backswing and it feels more “natural” (repeatable).

    So, I guess my question is: Do all players who load correctly really few weight on the “inside” of their rear foot? Or, can some successful players feel weight loss in their rear heel (with rear hip going back, not sliding)?

    • Jerry

      Jul 25, 2017 at 6:16 am

      You can extend the rear leg but not straighten it completely to free up the rear hip and still feel weight on the inner side of the rear heel at the top.

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