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The top-two mistakes by golfers over 50

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As golfers get older, the body tends to change, which causes several golf swing problems that we see over and over again. Most golfers older than 50 experience the same problems and it is likely that you may be struggling with these issues as well (although you may not realize it).

No. 1 Mistake: Lack of Weight Transfer into Impact

The No. 1 mistake that we find in golfers as they get older is a failure to transfer their weight forward enough through the impact zone of the golf swing.

Failure to transfer weight forward at impact leads to:

  1. Releasing the club too early.
  2. Ascending impact: loss of distance, spin and consistency.

The reason this is such a problem is that when your body and weight hang back, your swing will bottom out behind the ball. This will increase the odds that you will hit the ground before the ball, or blade the golf ball as your club face ascends through the impact position.

However, we see many golfers who have poor weight shift and still hit the ball flush. This is difficult to accomplish consistently, but even if you do consistently hit the ball with poor weight shift, you will be hitting the ball on the upswing. The effect this will have on your shots is that you will hit the ball higher, but with less distance and less spin. If you rarely take a divot with your irons, you may be striking the ball this way. Analyzing your weight shift is a good place to start looking.

How to Analyze Your Weight Shift

In our practice, we have our golfers stand on two separate scales or a force plate to determine weight shift. However, you can test yourself at home fairly easily by using either an impact bag or a duffle bag filled with towels.

impact-bag-and-golf1

To perform this drill, make your NORMAL golf swing at HALF SPEED (half speed is still pretty fast). Give the bag a good “pop,” and hold the position. In this position, you should feel 70 to 75 percent of your weight on your lead foot and you should be able to just barely lift your trail foot off of the ground for a split second.

How to Fix Your Weight Shift

I like to use the following drills/exercises to effectively train your body to aggressively shift your weight into the golf swing.

Drill No. 1: The Walkthrough Drill

Golf-Walk-through-drill

[youtube id=”60aG-QgAKKA” width=”620″ height=”360″]

The key to performing this drill correctly, is to allow your trail leg to be pulled forward by your forward momentum instead of using your muscles to lift the leg forward. This is a sign of a good weight shift.

Exercise No. 1: Resisted Follow Through

The best way to train the body to learn the movement you want it to make is to resist that movement. Using this method, your body is forced to use the correct muscles and patterns to ingrain the movement into your golf swing.

Golf Resisted follow through

[youtube id=”RtwKiV_V5Cs” width=”620″ height=”360″]

Purpose: Train the body to explosively transfer weight.

Setup: Begin by attaching your exercise band and anchor to a doorway at around belly button height. Wrap the band around you to the left around your belt line.

Golf Action: As if you were hitting a golf ball, take your normal backswing and follow through. Your follow through will be against resistance so turn strong, quickly and under control to a full finish.

Parameters: Perform one to three sets of eight repetitions.

No. 2 Mistake: Wrist Release is Much Too Early

The second mistake that we commonly see in golfers older than 50 is releasing the club too early in their downswing. This may be connected to poor weight shift but that is not always the case.

The biggest problems that you will face if you release the club too early in your downswing will be:

  1. You will reach peak acceleration well behind the ball and will be decelerating into the ball which results in poor contact and loss of distance.
  2. As in mistake No. 1, your swing will bottom out behind the ball.

How to Analyze Your Release

I like to use two different tests to measure your release.

1. Using the Impact Bag to Test Release

To perform this test, you will follow the same exact directions as the above test with the impact bag. However, when you hold the impact position, instead of analyzing your weight shift you are simply going to look and see if your lead wrist is flat or if it is bent.

The correct position is that your lead wrist is flat and your hands should be in front of the club face (your shaft should be leaning toward the target). If the shaft of your club is not tilted forward, this would indicate that you released the club too early.

2. The Swoosh Drill
This is one of my favorite drills for golfers older than 50 and senior golfers. To perform this drill you are going to use a mid-iron, turn it upside down, and use your normal golf grip on the bottom of the shaft of the club as shown below.

Setup for swoosh golf drill

When you swing the club aggressively, you will hear a “swoosh” sound, but the key to this drill is WHERE you hear the swoosh sound. The swoosh sound will be the loudest at the point of maximum acceleration (usually where you release, or unhinge, your wrists).

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 10.38.23 AM

The key to moving your “swoosh” sound forward is to keep your wrists hinged longer and releasing your wrist hinge as the hands pass the ball at the impact position. Performing this correctly will maximize your distance because you will reach your maximum acceleration as you hit through the ball.

If you are a golfer older than 50, take a quick moment and run through these tests. In my experience, golfers do not know that they are making these mistakes until they test for them. If you struggle with distance and/or consistency, these small changes will make a substantial difference in your golf game, help you hit shorter irons into greens, and score much better this summer.

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Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Golf Performance Specialist, Dr. Ryan York has been working exclusively with golfers between the ages of 50-75 since 2008. York co-directs Age Defying Golf at http://agedefyinggolf.com/ which is dedicated to improving Golf Performance, reducing the effects of “age”, and resolving golf related pain in golfers between the ages of 50-75.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Gerry

    May 26, 2017 at 7:40 am

    The abstract below pretty much speaks for itself . Older individuals generally have weaker foot muscles and this may cause reduced postural stability . In my view this would lead to poorer quality of shot particularly with longer clubs .

    ABSTRACT
    Foot muscle morphology is related to centre of pressure sway and control mechanisms during single-leg standing

    Xianyi Zhang
    ‘Correspondence information about the author Xianyi Zhang
    Email the author Xianyi ZhangEmail the author Xianyi Zhang, Kurt Heinrich Schütte
    Benedicte Vanwanseele

    OI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gaitpost.2017.05.027
    showArticle Info
    Abstract
    Highlights
    •Larger abductor halluces(A MUSCLE IN THE FOOT) is related to smaller COP (CENTRE OF PRESSURE) sway.
    •Abductor hallucis affects open-loop and closed-loop control mechanisms.
    •Larger peroneus muscles are related to larger COP sway.
    •Training intrinsic foot muscles may benefit balance.
    Abstract
    Maintaining balance is vitally important in everyday life. Investigating the effects of individual foot muscle morphology on balance may provide insights into neuromuscular balance control mechanisms. This study aimed to examine the correlation between the morphology of foot muscles and balance performance during single-leg standing. Twenty-eight recreational runners were recruited in this study. An ultrasound device was used to measure the thickness and cross-sectional area of three intrinsic foot muscles (abductor hallucis, flexor digitorum brevis and quadratus plantae) and peroneus muscles. Participants were required to perform 30?seconds of single-leg standing for three trials on a force plate, which was used to record the center of pressure (COP). The standard deviation of the amplitude and ellipse area of the COP were calculated. In addition, stabilogram diffusion analysis (SDA) was performed on COP data. Pearson correlation coefficients were computed to examine the correlation between foot muscle morphology and traditional COP parameters as well as with SDA parameters. Our results showed that larger abductor hallucis correlated to smaller COP sway, while larger peroneus muscles correlated to larger COP sway during single-leg standing. Larger abductor hallucis also benefited open-loop dynamic stability, as well as supported a more efficient transfer from open-loop to closed loop control mechanisms. These results suggest that the morphology of foot muscles plays an important role in balance performance, and that strengthening the intrinsic foot muscles may be an effective way to improve balance.
    uscles and so reduced ability to control postural stability .

  2. Gerry

    Sep 18, 2016 at 5:33 am

    Hi Ryan
    Below is a link to some trial generated information on toe flexor strength and some associated possibilities .
    link
    Toe training may help keep elderly upright | Victoria University …
    https://www.vu.edu.au/news…/toe-training-may-help-keep-elderly-uprig…
    9 Aug 2016 – Victoria University researchers are investigating if toe and foot exercises can help reduce falling.

  3. Gerry

    May 14, 2016 at 4:54 am

    Hi Ryan
    With regard to my previous post might it be the reduction in intrinsic foot muscle strength ,which accompanies aging and some age related medical conditions, which is at the root of detrimental swing changes .
    For example a reduction in foot muscle strength has been shown to reduce dynamic balance in a two foot stance .
    It makes sense to me that if the body is less able to control weight shift a subconscious effort might be made to reduce the magnitude of such shifts .

    I would greatly appreciate any comments on the above .

    Gerry

  4. Gerry

    May 5, 2016 at 5:20 am

    Hi Ryan
    How big a role do you think the intrinsic muscles of the feet play in producing a consistent golf swing ?

    The reason I ask is that research has shown that toe flexor strength falls away by up to 30% in older individuals but also that this can be reversed .

    Gerry

  5. Pingback: Live Happier | Five Reasons Why Golf is Good Exercise for Over 50s

  6. Pingback: Most Common Mistake in the Follow Through - Begin Better Golf

  7. Alan

    Oct 22, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Good drills. There is another that helped me with early wrist release.
    It is a chip, pitch, punch routine. Start off chipping the ball with it 8 inches in front of the front foot, do 10 of these then switch to the pitch, a swing to knee height with the ball in the same front position. Ten of these. From there go to the punch shot at waist height with the ball similarly placed, do 10 of these. Go back to the beginning and repeat. If these are done every day for at least three Weeks the early wrist release will disappear. It will help the lag factor in the swing also.

  8. charles brown

    Aug 22, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    I can hardly wait to practice the weight-shift drills so as to impress Wie and Gulbis in the next golf pro-am soon.

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Tip of the week: Let the left heel lift for a bigger turn to the top

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In this week’s tip, Tom Stickney gives a suggestion that would make Brandel Chamblee proud: lift the left heel on the backswing for a bigger turn.

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How I train tour players

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There is a lot of speculation about how tour pros train, and with tantalizing snippets of gym sessions being shared on social media, it’s tempting to draw large conclusions from small amounts of insight. One thing I can tell you from my time on tour is that there isn’t just one way that golfers should train, far from it. I’ve seen many different approaches work for many different pros, a strong indicator is the wide variety of body shapes we see at the top level of the game. Take for example Brooks Koepka, Mark Leishman, Ricker Fowler, and Patrick Reed. Put these four players through a physical testing protocol and the results would be extremely varied, and yet, over 18 holes of golf there is just 0.79 shots difference between first and last.

This example serves to highlight the importance of a customized approach to training. Sometimes common sense training programs backed by scientific evidence simply don’t work for an individual. One of the athletes I work with, Cameron Smith, over the course of a season recorded his slowest club-head speed when he was strongest and heaviest (muscle mass) and fastest club-head speed when he was lightest and weakest. That lead me to seriously question the widely accepted concept of stronger = more powerful and instead search for a smarter and more customized methodology. I’ll continue to use Cam and his training as an example throughout this article.

Cam working on his rotational speed (push band on his arm)

What I’m going to outline below is my current method of training tour pros, it’s a fluid process that has changed a lot over the years and will hopefully continue to morph into something more efficient and customized as time goes on.

Assessment

I have poached and adapted aspects from various different testing methods including TPI, GravityFit, Ramsay McMaster, Scott Williams and Train With Push. The result is a 5-stage process that aims to identify areas for improvement that can be easily compared to measure progress.

Subjective – This is a simple set of questions that sets the parameters for the upcoming training program. Information on training and injury history, time available for training, access to facilities and goal setting all help to inform the structure of the training program design that will fit in with the individual’s life.

Postural – I take photos in standing and golf set up from in-front, behind and both sides. I’m simply trying to establish postural tendencies that can be identified by alignment of major joints. For example a straight line between the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle is considered ideal.

Muskulo Skeletal – This is a series of very simple range of motion and localized stability tests for the major joints and spinal segments. These tests help explain movement patterns demonstrated in the gym and the golf swing. For example ankle restrictions make it very difficult to squat effectively, whilst scapula (shoulder blade) instability can help explain poor shoulder and arm control in the golf swing.

Stability and Balance – I use a protocol developed by GravityFit called the Core Body Benchmark. It measures the player’s ability to hold good posture, balance and stability through a series of increasingly complex movements.

Basic Strength and Power – I measure strength relative to bodyweight in a squat, push, pull and core brace/hold. I also measure power in a vertical leap and rotation movement.

At the age of 16, Cam Smith initially tested poorly in many of these areas; he was a skinny weak kid with posture and mobility issues that needed addressing to help him to continue playing amateur golf around the world without increasing his risk of injury.

An example scoring profile

Report

From these 5 areas of assessment I write a report detailing the areas for improvement and set specific and measurable short terms goals. I generally share this report with the player’s other team members (coach, manager, caddie etc).

Training Program

Next step is putting together the training program. For this I actually designed and built (with the help of a developer) my own app. I use ‘Golf Fit Pro’ to write programs that are generally split into 3 or 4 strength sessions per week with additional mobility and posture work. The actual distribution of exercises, sets, reps and load (weights) can vary a lot, but generally follows this structure:

Warm Up – foam roll / spiky ball, short cardio, 5 or 6 movements that help warm up the major joints and muscles

Stability / Function – 2 or 3 exercises that activate key stability/postural muscles around the hips and shoulders.

Strength / Power – 4 or 5 exercises designed to elicit a strength or power adaptation whilst challenging the ability to hold posture and balance.

Core – 1 or 2 exercises that specifically strengthen the core

Mobility – 5-10 stretches, often a mixture of static and dynamic

An example of the Golf Fit Pro app

Cam Smith has followed this structure for the entire time we have been working together. His choice would be to skip the warm-up and stability sections, instead jumping straight into the power and strength work, which he considers to be “the fun part.” However, Cam also recognizes the importance of warming up properly and doing to his stability drills to reduce the risk of injury and make sure his spine, hips and shoulders are in good posture and moving well under the load-bearing strength work.

Training Sessions

My approach to supervising training sessions is to stick to the prescribed program and focus attention firstly on perfecting technique and secondly driving intent. What I mean by this is making sure that every rep is done with great focus and determination. I often use an accelerometer that tracks velocity (speed) to measure the quality and intent of a rep and provide immediate feedback and accountability to the individual.

Cam especially enjoys using the accelerometer to get real-time feedback on how high he is jumping or fast he is squatting. He thrives on competing with both himself and others in his gym work, pretty typical of an elite athlete!

Maintenance

The physical, mental and emotional demands of a tournament week make it tricky to continue to train with the same volume and intensity as usual. I will often prescribe a watered down version of the usual program, reducing reps and sets whilst still focusing on great technique. Soreness and fatigue are the last thing players want to deal with whilst trying to perform at their best. It’s quite the balancing act to try and maintain fitness levels whilst not getting in the way of performance. My experience is that each player is quite different and the process has to be fluid and adaptable in order to get the balance right from week to week.

Equipment

Aside from the usual gym equipment, resistance bands, and self massage tools, the following are my favourite bits of kit:

GravityFit – Absolutely the best equipment available for training posture, stability and movement quality. The immediate feedback system means I can say less, watch more and see players improve their technique and posture faster.

Push Band – This wearable accelerometer has really transformed the way I write programs, set loads and measure progression. It’s allowed the whole process to become more fluid and reactive, improved quality of training sessions and made it more fun for the players. It also allows me to remotely view what has happened in a training session, down to the exact speed of each rep, as demonstrated in the image below.

Details from one of Cam’s recent training sessions

Examples

Below are some of the PGA Tour players that I have worked with and the key areas identified for each individual, based of the process outlined above:

Cam Smith – Improving posture in head/neck/shoulders, maintenance of mobility throughout the body, increasing power output into the floor (vertical force) and rotational speed.

Jonas Blixt – Core stability, hip mobility and postural endurance in order to keep lower back healthy (site of previous injury). Overall strength and muscle growth.

Harris English – Improving posture in spine, including head/neck. Scapula control and stability, improving hip and ankle mobility. Overall strength and muscle growth.

Recommendations

My advice if you want to get your fitness regime right, is to see a professional for an assessment and personalized program, then work hard at it whilst listening to your body and measuring results. I’m sure this advice won’t rock your world, but from all that I’ve seen and done on tour, it’s by far the best recommendation I can give you.

If you are a golfer interested in using a structured approach to your golf fitness, then you can check out my online services here.

If you are a fitness professional working with golfers, and would like to ask questions about my methods, please send an email to nick@golffitpro.net

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Me and My Golf: Top 5 putting grips

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In this week’s Impact Show, we take a look at our top 5 putting grips. We discuss which grips we prefer, and which putting grips can suit you and why.

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