Keeping the back knee bent through the entire backswing is important for added power and accuracy. If the right knee (for a right handed golfer) straightens from its slightly bent position at address as a golfer begins the backswing then the golfer will lose the natural coil potential that would otherwise be generated into the right hip and leg. This coiling force is what helps accelerate and drive the golfer’s hips to the left during the downswing and produces greater explosive power through the ball at impact. Furthermore, if the back knee straightens during the backswing, a golfer can overswing with his/her arms and reverse pivot at the top contributing to the common swing errors during the downswing of coming over the top and casting. This outside to inside swing path and early release of the club causes a weak fade or slice so both distance and accuracy are lost.
The two most typical physical reasons for a golfer being unable to maintain an appropriately bent back knee during the backswing is either hip tightness and/or weakness. If the right hip is tight and/or weak then it will not properly and completely rotate during the backswing. Restricted or inhibited hip motion causes the knee to straighten so the golfer can still make a full backswing. This straight knee compensation movement, however, prevents the proper resistive coil in the right hip at the top of the backswing and is essential in a golfer’s effort to avoid the upper body from reverse pivoting during the backswing and transitioning to downswing with the over the top and casting motions that produce a slice.
Here are two very helpful exercises that can help golfers known to have a problem keeping their back knee straight in their backswing. The first exercise is to help improve hip rotation flexibility. It is called the “Prone Hip Rotation Stretch”. If you are a right handed golfer and want to improve the flexibility of your right hip then start this exercise by getting on your hands and knees and cross your left leg across your right leg (see picture #1). Then slowly slide your right leg back and drop down to your elbows until you begin to feel a comfortable stretch in the back of your right hip and outer thigh (see picture #2). Hold this stretch for 3-5 minutes or until you feel the stretch feeling completely release in your hip.
The next exercise is called the “Lateral Lunge and Twist”. It is an excellent strengthening exercise for the right hip and leg. Begin this exercise by standing in front of a full length mirror with your feet wider than shoulder width apart (3-4 feet) and bend into your golf address posture with a golf club held across the front of your shoulders (see picture #3). Maintain this starting spine angle and lunge and twist your upper body to your right until your head, left shoulder, right hip, knee and foot are all in a vertical plumbline (see picture #4). Hold this position for one full breath, slowly move back to the starting position and repeat lunging and twisting to the right only for up to 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
Perform both of these exercises at least once daily for 2-3 weeks in combination with continued swing drills from your teacher and you will experience rapid gains in your ability to make a complete turn around a stable right knee.
Paul Callaway, PT, PhD was the first PGA Tour Director of Physical Therapy and is creator of the Body Balance for Performanceâ complete golf health and fitness training program. To find out more about Body Balance for Performanceâ and/or to locate a Body Balance for Performanceâ center near you please visit www.fitgolf.com or call 1-888-FIT-GOLF (348-4653).