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Opinion & Analysis

4 Critical Fitness Tests to Compare Yourself to the Pros

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We’ve all seen a slow-motion swing analysis of a PGA Tour golfer on TV; inevitably, the commentators say something about how flexible the player is, which is why they can make that huge turn and generate so much speed. They almost always follow it up with something like, “This ability to turn is what separates these guys from most amateurs.”

What does this even mean? Where do the pros turn from that we can’t? Don’t they have the same anatomy as us amateurs? Do they have special joints that allow them to do this?

We are going to answer all these questions. By the end of this article, you will know and understand how pros create that much turn. You’ll also learn what 4 major areas you can test yourself on to see where you can improve, as well as how you compare to the pros on Tour.  

All the research done on the best golfers in the world has led to some very interesting findings, the most important of which for us are these four statistics:

  1. Most professionals can turn their thoracic spine (most instructors call this a “shoulder turn”) at least 60 degrees
  2. Most can rotate their hip internally at least 45 degrees
  3. Most can externally rotate their shoulder beyond spine angle when in golf posture
  4. Most can touch their chin to their collarbone

I intentionally use the qualifier “most” because there are some professionals that struggle in some of these areas, but they’re are able to overcome deficits with compensations. Just because you can pass these tests doesn’t mean you’ll play on Tour, but if you can pass these tests it means you have the flexibility and mobility to achieve the positions necessary in the golf swing for it to be repeatable, consistent, powerful and pain-free.

If you fail any of the following tests, I would strongly recommend you be careful when taking your next lesson to make sure that the professional working with you knows your restrictions. If they do not and they try to get you into certain positions, it often ends poorly for both of you. You can end up hurting yourself… and the professional loses a potential repeat client. Not to mention your golf swing and scores will probably not get much better.

Test 1: Seated Trunk Rotation

Seated in a chair, cross your arms across your chest so that your hands are resting on your shoulders. Rotate your torso to the right and then the left keeping your knees together. Your goal is to rotate 60 degrees in each direction.

If you cannot reach 60 degrees, the absolute minimum to swing safely is 45 degrees. If you are at 45 or below, you are in serious risk of injury and are going to have a very hard time getting into the most efficient and effective positions in the golf swing. The most common swing faults seen with people who have this limitation are loss of posture and standing up in the backswing. There are others, but these are the most common. The most common injury associated with golfers who fail this test are low back pain because the body tries to use the low back to make up for the lack of motion in the upper back.  

Test 2: Seated Hip Rotation

Seated in a chair with feet flat on the ground and knees bent to 90 degrees, rotate your lower leg out to the side attempting to have your shin angle reach 45 degrees without shifting, lifting or leaning of the body.

Common swing faults with golfers who fail this test are swaying and sliding (aka lots of lateral movement in the swing), as well as all of the loss of posture issues. If you cannot reach the 45 degrees seated, then you likely are not achieving full hip rotation in your swing. You need — at a minimum in our experience — at least 35 degrees on both sides to have a chance at swinging safely and efficiently. At 35 degrees, setup changes such a flaring your feet out sometimes are enough to make up for the tightness. 

As above, make sure your instructor knows if you fail this test so they can help you make the technical adjustments necessary. It is also VERY important to note that failing this test is the No. 1 predictor for low back pain in golfers. Just as with the upper back, if the hip is not rotating, the body often resorts to the low back to make up for the lack of rotation.

If you are seeing a trend here, you are smarter than most doctors. Low back pain in golfers is rarely an actual back problem when it starts. It’s most often caused by other areas in the body being limited and the body overusing the low back to compensate. If you can improve your rotary ability, you can GREATLY reduce your chance of injury.

Test 3: Shoulder Rotation Test in Posture

Standing in golf posture with elbows raised to the side to shoulder height, attempt to rotate your arms backward as shown in picture. Your goal is that they rotate past spine angle without your lower back arching. 

The low back arching is the most common compensation seen (again demonstrating that if your back hurts, you probably don’t have a back problem, but an issue somewhere else in your body that is increasing stress on the back). Common swing faults seen with failed shoulder tests are chicken winging and flying elbows, as well as poor posture and difficulty being on the proper plane. In addition to back injuries, elbow and wrist pain are very common injuries with origins in the failure of this test.

Test 4: Neck Rotation Test

Seated in a chair, rotate your chin to touch your collar bone. Keep your mouth closed and do NOT shrug your shoulder.

What if you failed this test? What swing problems could you see? Perhaps the most common swing deficit with a failed neck rotation test is trouble not swaying and sliding laterally during the golf swing. Other possible swing issues that arise are standing up out of posture or having to use other body parts excessively to compensate.

While neck limitations are not common with golfers under 50 unless there is a history of traumatic injury, they are a LOT more common that you would think in the senior population. If you try to increase your “shoulder turn” in your golf swing but have an undiscovered lack of neck rotation, you are setting yourself up for potential disaster in terms of injury and most definitely performance. Neck limitations are probably one of the least-talked-about issues plaguing the majority of our senior golf population, yet they’re so easy to discover.

What Next?

This is a logical progression in your mind. You took the above tests and figured out you have some problems. Now you want to know what to do to fix them, right? Let us know how you did by emailing us at info@par4success.com with your results and we’d be happy to send you a simple fix or two for any tests you had issues with. We’re looking forward to helping you play better, swing faster and hurt less.

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Chris Finn is the founder of Par4Success and a Licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Titleist Performance Institute Certified Medical Professional and trained to perform Trigger Point Dry Needling in North Carolina. He is regarded as the premier Golf Fitness, Performance & Medical Expert in North Carolina. Since starting Par4Success in 2011, Chris has and continues to work with Touring Professionals, elite level juniors & amateurs as well as weekend warriors. He has contributed to numerous media outlets, is a published author, a consultant and presents all over the world on topics related to golf performance and the golf fitness business.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Ian

    Jan 16, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    Hiya
    One of the best wrx articles I’ve seen in a long time.
    There is a trend, recently, to a lot of “here’s what the pros do” instruction. Shoulder tilt angles, hip rotation, weight shift etc.
    This is all based on observation and probably decent information.
    When I am at the range, however, “what the pros do” is the last thing I see. I see all ages, all body shapes and all athletic abilities except “what the pros do”.
    This is article is great advice to get yourself in shape before attempting anything that the guys that spend 10hrs a day, every day, training, do.

  2. Rodger

    Jan 8, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    I wish you would create a printable option so that we could print out exercises, drills, and such. Impossible to remember these without referring to a print out.

  3. emil

    Jan 7, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    So, how does the average slightly obese soft bellied recreational golfer compensate for his failures?
    Simply by rotating his hips and shoulders in near unison with little to no X-factor differential between the hips and shoulders in both back and down swings.
    In the backswing this means the lead foot comes off the ground to release the hips so they follow shoulder rotation.
    In the downswing the hips and shoulders rotate in near lockstep and the torso has little kinetic core power output and the belly sags forwards and whips around to just before impact. Then the torso rotation blocks to stall the belly from being flung around and threatening the spinal column.
    There is a delayed weight shift even after the lead heel is replanted and the swing can easily degenerate into a reverse shift that promotes an OTC swing.
    The commercialized “Natural Swing” promotes compensations for this recreational swing. In his later years, Moe Norman had this kind of ‘windmilling’ style of swing and couldn’t generate enough clubhead speed to get drives over 200 yards. I saw it in person at his live demoes.

    • allan

      Jan 8, 2018 at 12:37 pm

      “OTC swing”? Over The Counter swing? 🙂

    • Chris Finn

      Jan 10, 2018 at 8:37 am

      Hey Emil, This is a great question, I see a lot of golfers just like you described. Size of the belly aside, the golfer still needs to have full rotation (or as much as possible) in the 4 areas described above. If they have limited motion in any of these areas and improve just simple that, 90% of them see swing speed gains.

      Once that is cleared (they can come close to or do pass the tests above) the next step from a sport science perspective is sequence training as well as anti rotational core training to increase the amount of “x-factor” or separation at impact increasing the amount of stored energy to be released.

      Once should also test the golfers ability to generate power from the lower and up body as well as their total rotational power. This gives you insight into what your body can create in terms of raw power and these three areas correlate extremely closely to club head speed. *be on the lookout for an article here omg golfwrx on this coming soon for more details*

      If there is not interest in changing the size of the belly, these are the areas to start. Once you’ve cleared all that..let me know and happy to guide further.
      -chris

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Opinion & Analysis

Golf in Korea, Gangnam Style

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Greetings from South Korea, a small country in terms of landmass but large in its unbridled enthusiasm for the game of golf.

Koreans’ love for the game is evident in the fact that six of the current top 10 players on the Rolex Women’s World Ranking (including the top two) are Korean born players, and Y.E. Yang remains the only Asian player to win a major championship. And we all know who he had to stare down over 18 excruciating holes…

Not only are Koreans obsessed about playing golf, but the numbers also show that we like to buy things. Lots of golf things.

For example, despite having a little over 3 million active golfers (less than 6% of the country’s population), Korea is the third-largest golf consumer market in the world, only after the USA and Japan. It means we spend more on golf and golf-related things than all of Europe combined.

What’s more surprising is that golf hasn’t even been around for very long in Korea. It was said to be first introduced in 1897 when, to pass the time, a group of Englishmen employed by Korea’s Maritime Affairs and Tourism Organization built a makeshift six-hole course next to the Korean Customs Office.

But until Se-ri Pak’s win at the 1996 U.S. Women’s Open almost a hundred years later, most Koreans had no time in their lives for what they considered a hobby for the rich and the powerful elite.

So just how did South Korea go from a disinterested third party observer to a golf world-superpower in a single generation? How is it that its golfing population is actually on the rise while those in the U.S., Japan, and Europe are declining?

Rise of the Machines

With the ever-increasing number of video games and mobile phones, golf faces an uphill battle in getting youngsters away from the tiny screens and onto a golf course. Korea is no exception to the digital peril.

But in Korea, another type of digital revolution has also been responsible for growing the game of golf among people in their 20s and 30s, and even in their 50s. This growth in the unlikely age groups is credited to the burgeoning golf simulation game generally referred to here as “screen golf.”

Many of you have probably heard about golf simulation systems or have even played a few rounds on them. There are a good variety of systems now available in the U.S., and most do a decent job of “simulating” playing golf by calculating ball speed, launch angle, rate of spin and direction.

But to make a long story short, the current Korean golf industry owes a lot to the rise of the Screen Golf culture, which was first introduced in the late 1990s. As I said earlier, not only was golf expensive back then (still is!), but access to golf courses was also extremely limited.

Although screen golf didn’t quite catch on until about 2005, golfers and non-golfers alike gradually realized that it was an acceptable substitute for the real thing, especially in bad weather and during winter months.

Also, it was easy to access and cheap. You didn’t have golf clubs or shoes? No problem. The rental fee is even included with the modest “green fee” of about $15-$25 per person.

Overall, this new way of golfing allowed more people to experience this great game. Soon, people who were curious but could not readily access golf were eagerly lining up to see what the big deal was.

Today, a screen golf facility be found practically on every city block and many are open 24/7. You or your foursome can enjoy a competitive round or leisurely practice in a private room with hundreds of virtual courses from all over the world.

With millions of virtual rounds being played across the country each week, it was only a matter of time before those who experienced the game first-hand were motivated to further invest in their own clubs and venture onto the golf course.

What began as a means of practice in foul weather and largely derided by serious golfers, screen golf is now firmly rooted as an integral part of the Korean golf culture.

Some simulation systems even utilize an AI-assisted voice recognition software as digital caddies, while others analyze your swing or rank your skill level alongside millions of other golfers across the country and keep track of all data.

The popularity of screen golf has also lead to the creation of its own television channel, along with professional men’s and women’s tour participating in weekly tournaments for hefty prize money and sponsors.

Best of all, it proved that one is never too old to learn the game and that golf can be enjoyed by almost everyone, as it was always meant to be.

Be sure to check out the videos below to see just what the big hubbub is all about.

 

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Bogey Golf

Bogey Golf: Great father and son sports stars

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Pat and Larry talk about Charlie Woods and his chances of being great. The guys then get into the NFL playoffs and if Brendan Steele choked.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Host Michael Williams remembers the great Pete Dye with guests Robert Trent Jones Jr. and award-winning author Bradley Klein.

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Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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