Should the rear knee remain flexed or straighten during the swing?
One thing I love about teaching golf for a living is watching players making golf swings that look totally different, yet each work effectively in their own right. As Homer Kelley stated in his book, The Golfing Machine, there are 24 component motions that make up the golf swing with a total of 144 variations. Thus, there are more than 446 quadrillion ways to swing a golf club (seriously). All you need to do is figure out the one that works for you.
One of the most controversial aspects of the golf swing is the action of the right knee (for right-handers) to the top. Should it straighten or stay flexed? In this article I would like to examine the pros and cons of both in efforts to figure out which one may work best for you.
Holding the flex of the rear knee
As you can see, the rear knee here has maintained the flex it started with at address, and you should note several things:
- Holding the flex will restrict the hips from turning on the backswing.
- The hips will rotate in a more level condition.
- This causes the backswing to shorten for most people.
- The hips have turned around only 45 degrees.
- The backswing will tend to be a touch shorter.
- There will be a slight “lean over the right leg” at the top.
- Some players have a slight lateral head motion to the right when using this style.
Straightening the rear knee
The rear knee here has lost its flex that it started with at address. Because of this, you’ll want to note several things:
- As the right knee straightens, the hips will rotate more on the backswing.
- The right hip will rise above the left hip at the top.
- The backswing will tend to be a touch longer with this type of hip action.
- As the rear knee straightens, it becomes easier to get the left shoulder “behind” and “under” your chin to the top.
- Weight will stay a touch more centered or even slightly left while the head stays very stable laterally to the top.
- The forward knee will move more toward the ball en route to the top, not behind it as in the flexed position.
The cons of both positions
The biggest flaw for the “flexed rear knee” player is the issue of spinning out during the transition. This will cause the rear shoulder to move outward, and the swing path will shift too far to the left — the classic “over the top” move we all know and love.
As you can see above, the left hip has not moved back on top of the forward foot. Therefore, the weight is hanging back and center of gravity is more centered over the rear leg. The solution is to make sure the left hip “bumps” over the left foot a touch longer before the hips begin to spin. This will allow the rear shoulder to drop more downward instead of outward.
On the other hand, whenever the rear knee tends to straighten, most golfers will tend to “lean out in front” of the ball on the way down. As this happens, your Angle of Attack tends to move too much downward making the driver more difficult to hit. That’s the reason why “stack and tilt” golfers were generally better with their irons than their driver. What will happen with your irons, however, is that your low point will tend to shift further forward giving you better contact.
So which one is better for your game? Personally, I teach it both ways depending on the natural motions of the player. However, if I had to suggest one way or the other I would say that if you battle over the top, I would allow the knee to straighten a touch and if you tend to get out in front of the ball, I would work on slightly more flex to the top.
But remember, everyone has a different golf swing; it’s all about making your swing work for you!
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The Wedge Guy: 5 indisputable rules of bunker play
Let’s try to cover the basics of sand play – the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers – and see if we can make all of this more clear.
First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver – excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.
All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play. I’ve always challenged the old adage, “bunker shots are easy; you don’t even have to hit the ball.” I challenge that because bunker shots are the ONLY ones where you don’t actually try to hit the ball, so that makes them lie outside your norm.
Let’s start with a look at the sand wedge; they all have a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force will affect the shot. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.
The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.
So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”:
- Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
- Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
- The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
- On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
- Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).
So, there you go – the five undisputable rules of bunker play.
As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game – just send it in. I need your input to keep writing about things you want to know.
The Wedge Guy: Making the short ones
One of the most frustrating things in golf has to be missing short putts. I’m talking about putts under six feet for the most part here, but particularly those inside of four. You hit a great approach to set up a short birdie…and then miss it. Or you make a great pitch or chip to save par — or even bogey — and it doesn’t go in.
When we face any short putt, several things happen to get in the way of our success. First, because we feel like we “have” to make this, we naturally tense up, which mostly manifests in a firmer hold on the putter, maybe even the proverbial “death grip” (appropriately named). That firmer hold is generally concentrated in the thumbs and forefingers, which then tightens up the forearms, shoulders and everything else. So the first tip is:
- Lighten up. When you take your grip on the putter, focus on how tight you are holding it, and relax. Feel like you are holding the putter in the fingers, with your thumbs only resting lightly as possible on the top of the putter. To see the difference, try this: while you are sitting there, clench your thumb and forefinger together and move your hand around by flexing your wrist – feel the tension in your forearm? Now, relax your thumb and forefinger completely and squeeze only your last three fingers in your hand and move it around again. See how much more you are able to move? Actually, that little tip applies to all your shots, but particularly the short putts. A light grip, with the only pressure in the last three fingers, sets up a smooth stroke and good touch.
The second thing that happens when we have a short putt is we often allow negative thoughts to creep in… “Don’t miss this”…“What if I miss it?”…“I have to make this”…all those put undue pressure on us and make it that much harder to make a good stroke.
So, the second tip is:
- Chill out. Just allow yourself a break here. You have hit a great shot to get it this close, so allow yourself to believe that you are going to make this. Relax, shake out the nerves, and think only positive thoughts while you are waiting your turn to putt. And you know what? If you do miss it, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just one shot. So chill out and have fun…and make more short putts.
Finally, we often tend to get so focused on “just make a good stroke” that we get all wrapped up in mechanical thoughts. Forget those. Focus your vision intently and completely on the target. Most short putts are pretty darn straight, or maybe just on or outside the high side. My favorite thought on these putts comes from a favorite movie, The Patriot.
- Aim small, miss small. Early in the movie, Gibson’s character took his two very young sons and several rifles and went to rescue his older son. He coached them to “Remember what I told you?” and the son replied “Yes sir. Aim small, miss small.” That’s great advice on short putts. Instead of focusing your eyes on the hole, pick a specific spec of dirt or grass in the back edge, or inside one lip or the other – on whatever line you want the putt to start. Don’t just look at the hole…focus intently on that very specific spot. That intensifies your visual acuity and allows your natural eye-hand coordination to work at its very best.
So, there you have the three keys to making more short putts:
- Lighten up
- Chill out
- Aim small, miss small
I hope this helps all of you make more of them.
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Oct 28, 2015 at 3:13 pm
The worst swing of all is the modern swing where the upper half of the body turns to the right while the lower half remains fixed and on the downswing results in the left leg remaining rigid and pressure being placed on the spine. This has resulted in numerous Tour pros suffering knee and back problems, best illustrated by Tiger’s 4 knee surgeries ans back problems.
The left foot should be flared out to the left, not be square. The head should be over the right knee. The left knee should flex forward and the right leg shoud straighten. The swing is initiated by turning the left hip to the rear.
Oct 28, 2015 at 3:05 pm
I have a different experience.
With (somewhat) bent knees, my upper body rotation is less restricted than with straight knees. This is especially critical during the last phase in the backswing (of the full swing), where the straight knees position makes me get into position by moving the arms instead of the upper body.
Pingback: Should the right knee stay flexed or be straight on the backswing? | GolfJay
Oct 25, 2015 at 12:53 pm
Very interesting. I have the opposite problem. If I let my knee straighten, I tend to get too far back and feel like I have to throw my body out ahead of everything to get the timing right. If I keep the knee flex, then my lower body stays in sync through impact and I don’t come out of it. Thanks for confirming that I’m the weird one. I’ve always thought I was a bit strange in regards to the consequence of both.
Oct 23, 2015 at 12:43 pm
Great idea Paul. Instruction seems to be going forward to working with a student’s unique biomechanics. EA has taken TGM and translated it into how it can be referenced into model swing groups.
Oct 23, 2015 at 4:51 pm
Thanks Stretch, Hope someone will bring these guys together with TM et al
Oct 23, 2015 at 10:52 am
Nice article. No dogma – just options and consequences. More like this please.
Oct 23, 2015 at 3:10 am
thanks for that interesting article.
Actually, being a mid handicapper i never really worried about my right knee during the swing. I do the straightening move.
I think we still need to discuss the topic of flexibility in this concern. Keeping the right nee flexed and restricting hip motion i think is fine if you’re able to turn far enough with your shoulders.
Is straightening the knee a valid move to detour this lack of flexibility for big blokes like me ?
Oct 22, 2015 at 11:04 pm
If you straighten the right knee, you have no flex to “fire your glute”! 🙂
Oct 22, 2015 at 9:48 pm
I have been experimenting with keeping my right knee bent as a way to prevent early extension ( I’ve found when my right knee straitens at the top of the back swing, it usually doesn’t bend back on the downswing causing my weight to shift to my toes). I also have kind that “lean out in front motion” I’m trying to correct. Is keeping the right knee bent a good solution for an early extender?
Oct 22, 2015 at 9:19 pm
Flexed but firm and held on enough, I should think
Oct 22, 2015 at 2:28 pm
Do you do video analysis Tom?
Oct 22, 2015 at 1:34 pm
Another great article Tom, my simple observation is that a right-handed player with a natural front-anchor pivot will have less flex in their rear knee than one who has a rear-anchor pivot. But you have nailed it, it depends on the player’s bio-mechanics and natural motions. So you could say that in this regard everyone is unique.
Those people who believe that the same position whatever it might be applies to everyone, they are mistaken. That is why I believe it is important that when the swing of the student is compared to a tour player, there is a reasonable match with that student bio-mechanically, otherwise it is comparing apples with bananas. I have discussed this with my Trackman contact, asking him and his colleagues to consider classifying their library of model swings into groups according to the player’s bio-mechanics. I’m sure yourself, EA Tischler, Mike Adams and others between you could come up with a suitable classification which I feel would add considerable value to the golfing community.