What Common Physical Characteristics Do Low Handicap Golfers Have?

As presented —> HERE, highly proficient golfers tend to have greater club head speed and increased driving distance.  This is such a desirable goal that researchers looked at how performance in specific low tech tests correlate to club head speed.  As expected, more power in the legs, arms, and trunk equals more CHS and driving distance.  I wrote an entire post on that topic —> HERE.  However, until somewhat recently no research has examined physical performance characteristics and their relationship with handicap differences.

In 2007, Sell et al. examined whether strength, flexibility, and balance in specific areas of the body are common in different groups of handicap. The authors believed that understanding these trends and improving them would facilitate the design of a golf specific strength and conditioning program, and that lower handicap golfers (<0-9 handicap) would have better strength, balance, and flexibility scores overall than higher handicap golfers (10-20).

They evaluated over 250 golfers that were split into 3 groups, <0 handicap, 1-9 handicap, 10-20 handicap, and were put through common strength, flexibility, and balance testing.  Their findings were not shocking, but very interesting in that scientific research is suggesting what we probably should have known all along.

Strength Results

The authors found that “core” strength, especially around the hips, pelvis, and low back is essential to performance in golf because an effective swing requires the golfer to maintain a stable lower body while rotating the torso, upper extremities and head. The faster the torso rotates the greater the strength of the lower quarter needs to be, and golfers with a lower handicap had consistently greater lower body and core strength than the high handicappers. Interestingly, the authors also found low handicappers to have greater shoulder strength (especially in the rotator cuff).  This is important not only in the delivery of the club head, but also in the prevention of injuries.  Check out an article on shoulder injuries in golf —> HERE.

Stable lower body, mobile trunk, stable shoulders....I feel like a broken record.
Stable lower body, mobile trunk, stable shoulders….I feel like a broken record.

Flexibility Results

Range of motion and mobility is obviously important in the golf swing.  The authors discovered that the shoulders, hips, and torso are consistently more flexible in lower handicap golfers.  Specifically, right shoulder external rotation (think back swing), right shoulder extension, left shoulder flexion and abduction (again think backswing).

This is why we perform the Shoulder 90/90 Test —> HERE, and the Lat Test —> HERE.

As for the hips, the most notable was right hip extension (which makes sense because optimal glute function is achieved if you can get into extension), and left hip extension.

This is one reason for why we perform the Bridge with Leg Extension Test —> HERE.

Right torso rotation range of motion was higher in golfers with lower handicaps.

This is a great reason to get screened specifically by the Torso Rotation Test —> HERE, as well as the Seated Trunk Rotation Test —> HERE.

Balance Results

Interestingly, the only difference here is that the golfer’s with better handicaps performed better on the Single Leg Stance Test on their right leg.  There was no statistically different findings on their left leg.  However, other studies have shown otherwise.  In my opinion, it is important to achieve good balance during single leg stance especially due to the fact that the golf swing requires a large weight shift to the right leg on the back swing and left leg for the down swing (for a right handed golfer), as well as occasional requirements to hit from an uneven lie (downhill/uphill/ bunker/ awkward stance/ etc.).  Remember, the average PGA TOUR professional can maintain single leg stance with their eyes closed for 16 seconds.

Try the Single Leg Balance Test —-> HERE.

Balance Required.
Balance Required.

Hopefully you enjoyed this post and are beginning to realize that major differences in performance are of physical qualities, not just skills.  Just like the difference between NBA players and college players are attributes like speed, ability to jump higher, stronger, bigger, more endurance, more coordination; golf is no different.

 

Resources

Sell, T. C., Tsai, Y.S., Smoliga, J. M. Strength, Flexibility, and Balance Characteristics of Highly Proficient Golfers. J. Strength Cond. Res. 21(4), 1166-1171. 2007.

 

 

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The Team Approach to Golf Training

The team approach is something that is at the forefront of healthcare in the United States.  Even in physical therapy school we were encouraged to co-treat with other members of the healthcare team such as nurses, physicians, pharmacists, social workers, etc.  This, in theory, should maximize patient care by employing what I refer to as “division of labor”.  Every member of the healthcare team has a specialty, and should the patient need that specific division of service, the outcomes will be improved. Everyone is happy. Everyone wins.

This same model is the hallmark of the Titleist Performance Institute and is a new wave, cutting edge approach to golf training. No matter how high or low the handicap, I believe that this approach should be part of every golfer’s training regimen.

Before I discuss the modern team approach and what it means for the potential improvement of every golfer, let’s discuss “the old approach” of the 1990’s.  As described by TPI, the PGA of America would teach their instructors that the best way to fully serve their golfer was to have them consult with three professionals:

  1. The Golf Coach/ Instructor
  2. The Sports Psychologist/ Psychiatrist
  3. The Golf Club Manufacturer

Then, in 1996 something happened that would change the game as we know it.  Perhaps a more appropriate phrase is that someone happened.

Love him or hate him, he changed the game.
Love him or hate him, he changed the game.

Tiger’s game was different than anyone had seen before.  Power, strength, flexibility, and a chip on his shoulder.  These attributes began to affect the way competitors were preparing for the game,  and with that, the “team” became larger.  The newest addition was what was termed “physical conditioning” and included improving aspects of the body that influence performance.

The Modern Approach

The Modern Approach to the team has all of the members that were included in the old approach including golf coach, club manufacturer, and sports psych.  Now, several new members are on every tour pro’s team including business manager, strength and conditioning coach, and the medical professional (usually a physio).  This post will detail three of members of the modern team and how the communication between these three professionals can improve the performance of the golfer.  It is also important for each member to understand the “division of labor” and know when to consult another team member.  The three team members that will be detailed include:

  1. The Golf Coach/ Swing Instructor
  2. The Medical Professional (Physiotherapist/ Physical Therapist)
  3. The Fitness Professional (Strength and Conditioning Coach)

The Team

  1. The Golf Coach/ Swing Instructor
    1. It goes without saying how important the swing instructor/ golf coach is to the golfer.  Understanding the swing and implementing drills and exercises with the use of modern technology to optimize the player’s grip, stance, backswing, downswing, spin, launch angle, etc. is paramount.  However, I would like to propose something that many golf instructors may not consider. I believe that optimizing movement (improving flexibility, strength, balance, and other physical characteristics) so that the golfer is capable of performing the tasks that are instructed by the coach and to have durability to endure hours of practice will allow the player to rapidly improve their game.  Likewise, a coach should know if there is a significant flexibility limitation or previous injury so that they can appropriately coach and put the golfer in a position to succeed.  This, in a way, is building a swing around the golfer, not trying to make every golfer perform the “ideal swing”.  These reasons, among others, are why the golf coach should build a team around themselves and their student.
      1. Maybe his swing truly is "ideal."  But, perhaps his flexibility and balance is as well!
        Maybe his swing truly is “flawless.” But, his ideal flexibility, power and balance allow him to have that swing!
  2. The Medical Professional 
    1. The final two are what has adapted from the original “physical conditioning” team member in the 1990’s.  The medical professional obviously would lead the way when the athlete is in pain or recovering from injury. However, they also should take the lead in regards to the functional movement assessment.  The physiotherapist (physical therapist) can offer something that no other team member can – manual therapy and therapeutic exercises.  If the golfer is in pain or needs to correct muscle imbalances that are effecting his/her strength or flexibility, the physical therapist can use specific manual techniques to alleviate the dysfunction.  I may be biased, but PT’s are experts in evaluating and treating human movement, and understand where stretching or strengthening can be added to optimize movements specific to the golf swing.  This can be done with the Selective Functional Movement Assessment – a systematic approach to assess fundamental movement patterns to isolate the specific area of the body causing the limitation.  That does not mean that they should write strength and conditioning programs for the golfer.  That is the job of the fitness professional.  But, if the athlete does not have the competency to perform movements related to golf or training, the physio should be consulted.  There is a second key job of the medical professional.  As stated previously, the best coaches understand their athlete’s strengths and weaknesses and build unique to them.  So, another innovative model by TPI is that the medical professional can assess the golfer using the TPI Golf Specific Screen, then consult with the golf coach to allow them to know where their main deficits reside.  This will allow the coach to understand positions and movements that the golfer will have difficulty performing at that time.
  3. The Fitness Professional
    1. Once the athlete has the competency required to partake in a strength and conditioning program (no pain, no major ROM restriction), the fitness professional will evaluate the golfer and implement a physical conditioning program. Strength, balance, flexibility, power, and endurance are all important characteristics for golf performance and injury prevention, and the fitness professional is the best team member for the job.  With the expert knowledge of performance, strength and conditioning and programming to optimize human movement, the strength and conditioning coach is of utmost importance in the training of a golfer.
    2. Don’t just take my word for it, check out this quote from Brad Faxon in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, “A lot of the old guard still blame equipment for the increased distance on Tour, but so much more of it is the quality of the athletes,” Mr. Faxon said. “You don’t have to work out to play on Tour, but if you don’t, you get passed, because you’re not strong enough. And the stuff we do these days is all full-body, functional movement.” The entire article can be found —> HERE.  I encourage you to read it as it piggy-backs this post.

There is not one member of the team that is more important.  They all work in unison to maximize potential by correcting flaws that limit a player’s swing, and improving performance and durability to keep the athlete healthy and strong.

So, if you want yourself, your son/daughter, or your student to reach their full potential in the game of golf, I believe that surrounding him/her with a great team can help to streamline their success.

team