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Pay Attention To Your Back Knee For Better Golf

w/Kevin Haime, PGA of Canada Class A Professional, Kevin Haime Golf Centre

If you want to transfer your weight onto your front leg through impact properly so you compress the ball like the pros do, you need to start paying more attention to your back knee.

Your back knee is sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of the golf swing…”it gets no respect, no respect at all.” And that’s too bad because it’s a really important part of balanced, powerful backswing. As a matter of fact, it has a lot to do with why better players move so effortlessly to their front leg so that they smash the ball on their way to a full finish. I literally consider the movement, or lack of movement, of the right knee one of the real secrets for a better swing. 

In all my years on the lesson tee I can tell you that very few good golfers have poor backswing leg action. Good golfers use their legs properly. Their legs support and stabilize them during the swing, and, during the backswing, their legs actually resist against the turning of their upper body and hips. That’s really how better golfers wind up properly. They coil their upper body against their lower body which builds the leverage and torque they need to unwind with power and speed. And the back knee is a critical component to building up that torque properly. The back knee must maintain its position and integrity or the whole backswing breaks down.

Higher handicappers, on the other hand, usually have poor backswing leg action. The majority of newer golfers tend to move around too much and that’s never a good idea in golf. Excess movement leads to poor balance and a lack of consistency, and if the back knee moves too much, it makes for a clumsy, out-of-sequence downswing that lacks power. 

Setting yourself up into a powerful delivery position at the top of your backswing is a real secret to better ball striking. If you coil your upper body against your back knee and foot, you’re all set to move into the ball properly. It’s important to understand though that the back knee must accept the weight as your hips turn back. If you can turn back in sequence so that your weight moves to the inside of your knee and foot while maintaining flex in your back knee, you’re in the right position.

There are really three common back knee issues that I see all the time on my lesson tee that prevent higher handicappers from playing better golf. Here they are:

  1. Back knee sway or collapse: There’s no question that many golfers sway or allow the weight to get to the outside of their back knee and foot, when they swing the club back. That’s a killer move and it literally makes a proper downswing sequence all but impossible. This is by far the most common back leg problem in golf because newer golfers feel like moving around more will create power. Think about it though. You can’t push off or drive your legs properly if the weight gets to the outside of the back knee and foot. It’s just like losing an edge when you skate or ski. Nothing good can happen if you lose your weight to the outside of your back foot. 
  • Back knee straightening: Allowing your back leg/knee to straighten during the backswing is just about as crippling as allowing it to sway to the outside. How can you move forward if your leg has straightened up? Lots of high handicappers allow this to happen though. It’s usually a result of the golfer focussing too much on swinging the arms up so the body lifts up out of posture too. Other, better players also straighten the back knee because they try to over rotate their hips for a bigger wind up. In the end, it really doesn’t matter why the leg straightens, just understand that an athlete can’t push off of a straight back leg, so once again, your downswing will be out of sequence and lack power.
  • Frozen back knee: This last back knee issue is definitely the least common, but I still see it on my lesson tee every week. Some golfers are so concerned with staying still while they swing or so full of tension that they barely turn their hips, so their back knee never budges during their backswing. To these players I always ask, “how can you unload if you never load?” In golf you need to wind up so that you can unwind and generate speed, power and weight flow. Allowing the weight to turn into and up against your back knee is a critical part of that concept. 
Top of swing

My back leg has accepted but resisted against my hip turn in this photo. Notice that the back leg and knee have maintained the same angle relative to the ground even at the top of my backswing. That indicates a lack of sway or shift to the right. Also, notice how the white tape on my knee has shifted to the right from its position on my set-up photo (below). This tells me that I’ve turned my weight into my back knee successfully. I haven’t moved too much or too little here. The weight is loaded against my back knee right where it should be.

Set-Up