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Should the rear knee remain flexed or straighten during the swing?

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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

RightKneeFlexRightKneeFlexGolf

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

RIghtKneeStraightStraightKneeRight

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. 

KneeFlexGolfBad

The danger of a flexed rear knee.

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.

HipSlide

The danger of a straight rear knee.

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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Tom F. Stickney II, is a specialist in Biomechanics for Golf, Physiology, and 3d Motion Analysis. He has a degree in Exercise and Fitness and has been a Director of Instruction for almost 30 years at resorts and clubs such as- The Four Seasons Punta Mita, BIGHORN Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera, The Promontory Club, and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. His past and present instructional awards include the following: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, Golf Digest Top 50 International Instructor, Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor, Best in State (Florida, Colorado, and California,) Top 20 Teachers Under 40, Best Young Teachers and many more. Tom is a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 25 people in the world. Tom is TPI Certified- Level 1, Golf Level 2, Level 2- Power, and Level 2- Fitness and believes that you cannot reach your maximum potential as a player with out some focus on your physiology. You can reach him at [email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. John Krug

    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.

  2. JB

    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.

  3. Pingback: Should the right knee stay flexed or be straight on the backswing? | GolfJay

  4. Robert

    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.

  5. Stretch

    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.

    • Paul

      Oct 23, 2015 at 4:51 pm

      Thanks Stretch, Hope someone will bring these guys together with TM et al

  6. birly-shirly

    Oct 23, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Nice article. No dogma – just options and consequences. More like this please.

  7. Stefan

    Oct 23, 2015 at 3:10 am

    Hi Tom,

    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 ?

  8. Mat

    Oct 22, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    If you straighten the right knee, you have no flex to “fire your glute”! 🙂

  9. Rick

    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?

  10. Alien

    Oct 22, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Flexed but firm and held on enough, I should think

  11. Robert

    Oct 22, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    Do you do video analysis Tom?

  12. Paul

    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.
    Paul

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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo

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One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.

Why?

If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots

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You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?

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As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.

  

  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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