In my article last week, I discussed the benefits of maintaining flex in your rear knee (the right knee for right-handed players) during the backswing. This week, I’d like to provide a counter-argument, and tell you about the benefits of keeping the rear knee straight.

As I’ve previously discussed, there’s no “right” way for your rear knee to behave during the swing. I simply want to empower you with the knowledge that both behaviors can be beneficial, especially when working to solve a problem with your ball striking.

To support the “rear-knee flexed” argument, I used photos of Tiger Woods’ backswing. This week, to support “rear-knee straight” argument, I’m employing video of Tommy Armour III on the Senior Tour (above). He’s had great success with his ball striking using a mostly straight rear-knee swing. Let’s examine how straightening the rear knee can benefit your golf swing in three key ways.

1. A Better Low Point

A straight rear knee allows you to keep your head more stable, and most players tend to have their low point more forward as a result, creating better impact conditions.

Personally, I find that for players who tend to sway and/or slide off the ball and never “get back” through the ball, it is much easier for them to allow the knee to straighten. It keeps them more on top of the ball, and, subsequently, they hit the ball first more often than not. Whenever you get a player to actually feel the proper low point of the swing, and therefore the proper compression of the golf ball, it’s easier for them to replicate that. I believe straightening the rear knee is one the best ways to get golfers to compress the golf ball for the first time, and more consistently afterward, too.

2. A Better, Unrestricted Turn

A straight rear knee allows less-flexible players to make a fuller turn to the top since the hips are not restricted, and the tilting of the pelvis and shoulders will put the hands in a “higher” position, leading to more speed being generated. 

Older, bigger-built, and less-flexible players just cannot generate the necessary speed they need when their rear knee stays flexed to the top; when they do so, something has to give. Usually the arms tend to lift, causing an over-the-top motion during the transition. Thus, I feel that allowing the rear knee to straighten gives them the necessary turn to get into a more playable position. Brandel Chamblee preaches this type of swing model for the average player, and I could not be in more agreement for this type of golfer. You just cannot play from a flexed position when you don’t have flexibility or speed.

3. Staying On Top

A straight rear knee allows some players to feel that it’s easier to stay “on top of the ball” using this type of knee action to the top, leading to a better weight transfer.

We all know about that the Stack-and-Tilt trend, and the now common Centered-Pivot players need to allow their rear knee to straighten in order to stay stable and over the top of the ball. When they do so, it puts them in a better and more playable position, especially with the irons. Hitting shots from 175-225 yards is the key for lower scores on the PGA Tour, according to Mark Broadie, and players employing the techniques listed above are having great success with their iron play.

Closing Thoughts

For you at home, I encourage you to examine your game, your golf swing, and your general swing flaws, and then develop a plan that either incorporates either a flexed or straight rear knee. Remember, it doesn’t matter whether your knee is flexed or straight. Both styles have their own benefits, but it’s imperative that your rear-knee behavior meshes with your physical capabilities. You want to feel both comfortable and powerful in your golf swing. Experiment and make sure you are using the correct knee action for your game.

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  1. The flex of the rear leg is a balance – you don’t need to be straight or keep the flex at address – if you see most PGA Pros, you see a straightening or extension of the rear leg on the backswing – does not straighten completely, does not remain static. Each individual finds their balance.

  2. Tom, what does the foot loading look like between a flexed and straight rear knee swing? I mean on force plates that show the pressures under your feet when you load and unload your feet in the swing.

  3. I’ve adopted the straight left knee (I’m a Lefty) and have found that at impact, I’m able to
    more consistently load weight on the front leg which has greatly improved my impact consistency.
    This straight knee flex was also a result of my attempt to pre-load a bit more weight on my front
    leg prior to initiating the backswing. Great treatment of both methods, however.

  4. I used to have a straight back leg but it lead to hip thrust rather then a turn of the hips. I am not knocking the article these are just what happened in my case. It was a difficult change to incorporate a flexed knee into my swing as straightening the right leg provided a lot of support and consistency but in my case I was to far over the ball and hit irons and woods with to much spin. I am sure for amateurs that have issues keeping their weight back behind the ball this would be a good swing change or even simply an exercise to put yourself over top of the ball.

  5. Speaking for myself—someone who straightens the rear (right) leg in the backswing—it is the rotation of the rear HIP that determines success… If my rear hip slides laterally away from the target (feels like the hip slides over the outside of my foot) then it’s a reverse pivot disaster. However, if my rear hip turns behind me (feels like my hip goes straight behind me, over the inside of my foot), then I usually hit a great shot AND allows me to feel like I can really levarage my arms for power without feeling off balance.

    Keeping my rear knee flexed definitely allows me to hit super crisp shots but my swing feels very weak (power) almost like I can’t fully leverage my arms. Who knows, probably a lot of other issues I don’t see/feel to work out first. That’s why I love this game, always something new to try and improve.

    Thanks for the follow up article, though I wish you went a bit more in-depth, maybe could’ve used examples of the old school swingers like Sam Snead or Bobby Jones. Players who straighten their rear legs with deeper turns. The OTT but on-plane swings probably could work for more people who lack the freak athleticism of today’s tour pros.

  6. For most amateurs, when the right knee straightens the hips tend to level out as they rotate into the backswing. This action tends to set the trend of level shoulders, which equates to an outside in swing path from the top. The more level a player gets going back the more separation they require to initiate the downswing, and most amateurs simply do not separate very well. For this reason, the spine never returns to its origin, causing an inconsistent delivery of path, face position, and bottom of the swing arc. Tom’s advice is always great, simply because he presents each potential option with great detail & then allows the player to figure out what “method” will work best for them. Whether your right knee straightens or remains flexed, there is a position that will work best for you & finding it will not only provide more consistent results, it will also provide a more efficient motion. None of us will ever find “perfect” but we can all become more efficient!