How the Legs Work on a Golf Backswing
Legs provide stability in the golf swing, especially the backswing. Amateur golfers tend to move their legs too much and are under the mistaken impression that more leg work leads to longer shots. In fact, the opposite is true. In his book “Simplified Golf,” teaching professional and trick artist Peter Longo says 90 percent of amateurs make this mistake. Instead, leg stability allows the body to coil, creating the potential for more power and distance.
Common Errors and Myths
A common mistake is sliding your legs away from the target – to the right – rather than turning your shoulders. Sliding moves your entire body away from the golf ball and reduces the chances that you’ll be able to return the club to the ball consistently on the downswing. Another common error is straightening the right leg or pushing the knee forward in an attempt to create a longer backswing and, ultimately, gain distance. The opposite is true. Any excess movement of the legs prevents consistent ball striking and therefore negatively affects the flight of the ball and distance. Lifting your left heel in the backswing is not an error in itself but allows your legs the freedom to move more than is necessary.
For accuracy and consistent ball striking, remain centered during the backswing and do not move laterally away from the target. From the perspective of a right-handed golfer, the right knee should be flexed and remain that way throughout the backswing. The left knee also should be flexed but can move slightly to the right as you begin the backswing – about 2 inches. If your hip flexibility allows, keep your left heel on the ground. Doing so will help you remain centered and balanced, rather than moving laterally to the right.
Golf instructors don’t agree about the weight distribution when you address the ball. Some pros say your weight should be evenly distributed between your right and left legs. Others say you should start with most of your weight on your right side. All agree, though, that most of your weight should be on your back leg by the time you complete the backswing. As you turn your shoulders, shift your weight to the inside edge of your right foot. If you perform this move correctly and keep your right knee flexed, you will feel the weight on the ball and left side of your right foot. You’ll also feel tension along the inside, or left edge, of your right knee and along the outside, or right side, of your upper thigh and hip. You will have coiled in the backswing, just as you do when you wind up a toy. When you uncoil on the downswing, you create clubhead speed and distance.
You can feel the importance of leg stability during the backswing with the simple feet-together drill. Stand with your feet together and hit balls with a 7-, 8- or 9-iron. Tee up the balls until you get comfortable with the drill; then you can hit the balls off the grass. This drill keeps you balanced and centered over the ball and prevents you from using your legs incorrectly.
- Simplified Golf; Peter Longo; 1980
- Golf Digest's Book of Drills; Jim McLean; 1990
- PGA Teaching Manual; Gary Wiren; 1990
Kim Kleinle is a PGA/LPGA professional and a member of a select group certified in instruction by the Professional Golfers' Association. She began writing in 1980 after earning her degree. Her work has appeared online, in "Northeast Golfer" and in newspapers, including the "Scranton Times." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Point Park University, Pittsburgh.