The knees are an integral yet often-overlooked part of the golf swing.
The knee of the back leg (right knee for right-handers, left knee for lefties) plays a critical role in creating a powerful, fluid motion.
The right knee, like the left, should be flexed at address. (Think of a shortstop's stance in baseball.) From there, proper right knee action looks like this:
• On the backswing, the knee remains flexed to keep the right hip level with the left.
• The knee is flexed yet stable at the top of the backswing. A knee bowing outward (away from the target) causes poor balance and a loss of coil – i.e. power.
• When transitioning from backswing to downswing, the right knee shifts toward the target as the right hip turns in that direction.
• At impact, the right knee should point at the target while the outside of the right foot lifts slightly off the ground.
To ingrain proper knee action, practice with a basketball between your knees. Squeeze the ball just enough to keep it in place throughout the golf swing.
Back Leg Keys a Powerful Golf Swing
Power is not everything in golf. Unlike many other sports, where power and strength are keys to success, control and precision are the most important factors when on the golf course. If you can control your ball consistently from the first hole to the last, you are almost certainly going to come away with a good score. With that said, power – when combined with control – can be a big help, especially on long golf courses. The ability to blast a long drive can set up short approach shots, and hitting long iron shots can bring the green within range even from 200+ yards away. Simply put, power is an advantage when playing golf, as long as it doesn't come at the expense of your accuracy.
In this article, we are going to look at the way your back leg influences the power that is created in your golf swing. For a right-handed golfer, the back leg is the right leg. Obviously, your left leg would be the back leg if you play left-handed. While there are a number of variables that come into the picture when determining how much power you can create, the back leg certainly is one of the leading components. When you use your back leg properly, you will be creating a foundation on which a powerful swing can be built.
Of course, before we get into the specifics of how your back leg can make you a more powerful player, it is worth pointing out that plenty of other things can help you gain power as well. For instance, an improved level of overall physical fitness would be a big step in the right direction. By keeping yourself in shape, you will make it easier to make an athletic, powerful swing time after time. Golf might not be the most physically demanding sport in the world, but having a reasonable level of fitness as a base for your swing is a big advantage.
Another element that plays into the power picture is your ability to lag the club down into the ball. When you lag the club properly, the club head hangs back behind your hands for as long as possible in the downswing. Only at the last possible moment will the club head release toward impact in a swing with great lag. This is something that professional golfers do beautifully, yet many amateurs struggle to replicate. If you are serious about adding power to your game, improving on your lag should be a top item on your to-do list.
As one last point before we get started talking about the back leg, you need to remember that power is never going to be the most important part of your game. Head to any local driving range and watch other people practice for a few minutes – most likely, you will see at least one or two golfers who can launch the ball miles down the range. So why aren't those players out on Tour, playing for prize money? They can't control the golf ball. The ability to control the ball is much harder to master than the ability to hit long shots. Keep control and precision as your top objectives and add power around those points as you can. In the end, you just might be left with a powerful swing that sends the ball on target all day long.
All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Why the Back Leg is Important
You should always take time to understand what it is that you are working on in your golf swing. If you simply start to work on your back leg positioning without learning why this piece of the puzzle is important, you won't have much motivation behind your effort. You may stick with it for a day or two, but you will quickly be distracted by another idea. If you invest some time in learning about the technical importance of this part of your swing, however, you will be more likely to stick with it over the long run.
With that in mind, this section is going to outline some of the key benefits that can be gained from a solid back leg during the golf swing. Check out the list below to improve your understanding of what your right leg has to offer your golf game.
- Offers resistance for the backswing. A great shoulder turn is one of the keys when trying to create power in the golf swing. However, you can't achieve a great shoulder turn only by moving your shoulders. It might be surprising, but the lower body actually plays a big role in the success of your shoulder turn. By using your right leg to provide resistance, you can keep your lower body mostly in place as your shoulders turn to the right. This will allow you to develop a differential between your upper and lower body. It is that differential which is going to promote the development of power later in the swing. Turning your shoulder way back away from the target would do you little good if your lower body turned right at the same time. A stable right leg will keep your hips in place while your shoulders turn – and you will be set up for a powerful strike once the downswing begins.
- Supports the upper body. It is a common misconception that you need to 'shift' your weight onto the right foot during the backswing. Too many amateur golfers fall into this trap, and it causes them a great deal of difficulty. In reality, you want to remain nicely balanced throughout the backswing before you shift onto your left side in the downswing. However, you will wind up with slightly more weight on your right foot than the left at the top of the swing – so having a solid right leg is going to help support your swing. Your right knee should be slightly flexed throughout the swing, and you should feel the big muscles in that leg remain engaged from start to finish.
- Start the downswing correctly. The transition from backswing to downswing just might be the single most important moment of the swing. You might be tempted to give that crown to the moment of impact, but impact is never going to be achieved properly without a great transition. It is the job of the lower body to start the downswing with a rotational move to the left. In order to move left properly, you need your right leg to be planted and ready to work. To illustrate the importance of the right leg at this juncture of the swing, take notice of what happens to your swing when you have poor footing. If playing on a wet day, you may find that your right foot slips out from under you during the transition from backswing to downswing. Why does that happen? Simple – the force of your swing comes from your right foot as you start the downswing. As long as you have good traction, that force is going to move its way through your body and you will wind up with a powerful strike.
When you use your right leg properly during the swing, everything gets a little bit easier. You will find that your swing is instantly more powerful when your right leg behaves properly, and your strike should be more consistent as well. Using the back leg correctly isn't going to solve all of the problems you have in your swing, but it sure is a key piece of the overall puzzle.
How to Use Your Right Leg
In the section above, we highlighted all of the benefits you can enjoy when you use your right leg correctly during the swing. But what does that mean? What does it look like – and feel like – to use your right leg properly? In this section, we will examine those very questions. Before you can head off to the practice range to work on using your back leg properly, you need to have a clear picture of what it is you are trying to accomplish.
If you can hit on all of the points listed below, you can be confident that your right leg is doing its job during your swing.
- Maintain flex throughout. This is the most important job of the right leg in the golf swing. You need to start with your right leg in a slightly flexed position at address, and it needs to remain flexed throughout the rest of the swing. It is common for amateur golfers to start with their knee flexed – only to allow it to straighten during the backswing. Straightening the right leg in the backswing can cause a number of problems, including the dreaded slice. It may take some time to get comfortable with the idea of making a swing where you stay down into that right leg, but you need to conquer this challenge if you wish to make a powerful swing. You can practice this concept without even visiting the driving range. At home, stand in front of a mirror (with no club in your hands) and make pretend swings by rotating your body back and through. Watch your right leg and make sure it is holding its flex properly. When you return to the course for practice, you should be much more comfortable with this fundamental thanks to your at-home practice session.
- Watch the position of your right knee. The way your right knee works during the golf swing can tell you a lot about your technique. If your right knee stays steady and stable as you swing, you are doing a good job of remaining balanced. However, if the right knee tends to drift to the right (away from the target) during your backswing, you will know that you are sliding in that direction. The swing should be rotational rather than lateral, so you need to take that slide out of your technique as soon as possible. At address, focus on the position of your right knee and work hard to keep it as still as you can going back. Only when you transition into the downswing should your right knee begin to move, as it will need to drive left as your lower body rotates through the shot.
- Drive through the shot. As was mentioned earlier, you need to have plenty of traction under your right foot during the golf swing. This is important because the right leg is going to play a big role in driving your swing toward the target. Use your right leg for leverage as the downswing begins, pushing against the turf to aggressively rotate your lower body to the left. Most amateur golfers fail to understand this part of the swing, as they simply 'throw' their arms down toward impact rather than driving first with the lower body. There is an incredible amount of power to be unlocked in your swing if you are willing to use your right leg from the transition all the way down through impact.
When you look at it on the whole, the way your right leg works in the swing is not at all complicated. During the backswing, it essentially needs to do nothing. It needs to remain firm in its position from address, holding steady and providing you with a solid base. Only when you reach the transaction does the leg jump into action, driving the swing forward by helping the lower body to rotate quickly to the left. Although these positions and movements are not necessarily complicated, they do take practice to master. Set aside some time in your next practice session to work specifically on the performance of your back leg. This will be time well spent, and your golf swing should be more powerful in the end.
Don't Lose Your Legs
Golf is not a particularly physical game. Golfers don't get beat up the way that players do in other sports, such as football or basketball. Most people play golf in dress clothes, which is a strong indication of how much physical exertion is required during the average round. However, with that said, golf still does place some physical demands on your body, especially if you choose to walk the course. To make sure you are still playing your best golf even at the end of a long day, it is important to pay attention to the stamina remaining in your legs.
To walk an average 18-hole golf course requires that you cover approximately five miles, maybe more depending on the layout of the course and the distance between holes. Walking five miles might not be a huge challenge, but it isn't to be taken for granted, either. If you add in a number of hills throughout that distance, or perhaps some warm summer heat, you will have a recipe for tired legs at the end of the day. And, of course, tired legs will make it very difficult to perform your golf swing properly. Your back leg will no longer be able to hold up its end of the bargain, and you might find yourself making an arms-only swing on the last few holes.
So, what can you do to avoid this kind of fatigue? Following are a few tips that you can use to make sure your back leg is able to do its job all the way through the final shot of the day.
- Stay hydrated. This is an important tip for a number of reasons. Hydration is important to your overall health, so you don't want to allow yourself to run low on fluids while playing golf under the hot sun. As it relates to your legs specifically, you may start to experience muscle cramps if you become dehydrated late in your round. Cramping will prevent you from getting down in your stance at address, and it will make you uncomfortable as well. Sports drinks and plain old water are great options for hydration, so make sure to have something in your bag at all times. When the drink carts rolls around, do your best to avoid sugary drinks or alcohol – neither will do much for your overall hydration level.
- Take a direct path. Walking the golf course is an enjoyable experience, but you don't want to add miles to your walk by zig-zagging back and forth throughout the round. Walk in a straight line (as much as possible) from where you hit your shot to where the ball landed. If you follow another golfer over to his or her ball before making your way back to your own, you will quickly add a significant amount of distance to your overall walk. Think about conserving energy when possible and only walk in a direction that you really need to go.
- Limit practice swings. Amateur golfers are addicted to practice swings. Despite the fact that most professional golfers don't bother with practice swings, amateurs make them time after time throughout the day. These swings not only waste time, but they waste energy as well. To save your legs – and to speed up the pace of play for everyone else on the course – put away your practice swings and simply step up to hit your shot.
Consider a cart. If your physical condition is such that your legs are certain to be worn out by the end of the day, consider taking a cart. While you will miss out on the experience of walking down the middle of the fairway, you will have a chance to play better golf at the end of the round since your legs will be fresh. If you still want to walk some of your rounds, pick and choose when to ride based on the layout of the course. Ride on long, hilly courses and save your walking rounds for the flatter, compact tracks.
It is almost impossible to finish up a round properly when your legs are gone. You need to save leg strength for the end of the day, which is why the tips in the list above are so important. Take those points to heart and make sure you are ready to make quality swings even in the 18th fairway.
Back Leg in the Short Game
When playing short shots like chips and putts, you obviously don't need to worry about power. You are only hitting the ball a short distance, of course, so building speed is not something which will be on your priority list. However, that doesn't mean you can ignore the importance of your back leg. On the contrary, the back leg is just as important in the short game as it is when making full swings.
The key job of the back leg in the short game is to keep you balanced and positioned for an accurate strike. Once you set up at address, your back leg should not move at all while putting. When chipping, it is okay to have just a tiny bit of right leg movement along with the forward swing, but there should still be no motion while swinging back. When you have a steady right leg under your short game, the prospect of hitting accurate putts and chip shots will become much easier to manage.
Every part of your body plays an important role in the swing, and the right leg is no exception. To create power and to keep yourself properly balanced, you must use your right leg correctly. Use the advice provided above to guide your upcoming practice sessions, and pay close attention to how your right leg works as you swing. The results might not be immediate, but improving the performance of your back leg should eventually lead to more powerful, more consistent ball striking – and power and consistency are two things that all golfers can appreciate. Good luck!