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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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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro

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Would Woodland have won the U.S. Open if he had to hit driver on the 18th hole? Knudson doesn’t think so. Steve loved the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really love the commentator crew. Also, Steve tees it up with the new second assistant pro at the club, how did he do?

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

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The Wedge Guy: What’s your short game handicap?

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Well, that was a U.S. Open for the ages, in my book. Hallowed Pebble Beach held its own against the best players in the world and proved that small greens can really give these guys fits. Kudos and congratulations to Gary Woodland for putting on quite a show and outlasting all the others. And to Brooks Koepka for giving us reason to believe a three-peat could really happen.

To me, of course, what stands out is how Woodland elevated his short game for this event. Coming in he was ranked something like 165th on tour in greenside saves but went 16-for-20 last week. Of course, that also means he hit 52 of those small greens in regulation, which certainly outdistanced most of the field. Justin Rose was putting on a scrambling clinic for three days, but his inability to hit fairways and greens finally did him in. So that brings me to today’s topic – an honest assessment of your own “short game handicap.” Regardless of skill level, I have long believed that the key to better scoring is the same for us as for these tour-elite players – improving your ability to get up-and-down.

Almost all reasonably serious golfers have a handicap, just to allow us to keep track of our overall improvement with our golf games. But wouldn’t it be more useful if that handicap was such that it told us where we could improve the most? Unfortunately, that’s not the purpose of the USGA handicap program, so I’ve devised my own “Short Game Handicap” calculation to help golfers understand that this is where they are most likely going to improve their scoring.

The premise of my short game handicapping formula is the notion that once we get inside short iron range, the physical differences between golfers is increasingly neutralized. For most of us, our physical skills and abilities will never let us hit drives and longer approach shots like the best players. But I believe anyone can learn to execute good quality chips and pitches, and even full swing wedge and short iron shots. It really doesn’t matter whether your full-swing 9-iron goes 140 or 105, if you can execute shots from there on into the green, you can score better than you do now.

So, the starting point is to know exactly where you stand in relation to “par” when you are inside scoring range…regardless of how many strokes it took you to get there. Once your ball is inside that range where you can reach the flag with a comfortable full-swing 9-iron or less, you should be able to get up and down in 3 strokes or fewer almost all the time. In fact, I think it is a realistic goal for any golfer to get down in two strokes more often than it takes more than three, regardless of your skill level.

So, let’s start with understanding what this kind of scoring range skill set can do for your average score. I created this exercise as a starting point, so I’m encouraging you guys and ladies to chime in with your feedback.

What was your last (or typical) 18 hole score? ______

_____ Number of times you missed a green with a 9-iron or less
_____ Number of times you got up and down afterward
_____ Number of other holes where you hit a chip or pitch that ended up more than 10’ from the cup

Subtract #2 from #1, then add 1/2 of #3. That total ______ is your short game handicap under this formula. [NOTE: The logic of #3 is that you can learn to make roughly 1/2 of your putts under 10 feet, so improving your ability to hit chips and pitches inside that range will also translate to lower scores.]

I believe this notion of a short game handicap is an indication of how many shots can potentially come off your average scores if you give your short game and scoring clubs the attention they deserve.

I would like to ask all of you readers to do this simple calculation and share with the rest of us what you find out.

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Hot & Cold: Where strokes were won and lost at the U.S. Open

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In “Hot & Cold,” we’ll be focusing each week on what specific areas of the game players excelled and disappointed in throughout the previous tournament. On Sunday, Gary Woodland claimed victory at the U.S. Open in spectacular style, and here’s a look at where some of the most notable players gained and lost strokes over the four days of action at Pebble Beach.

Hot

Gary Woodland produced a masterclass both with his irons and flat-stick all week long at Pebble Beach to claim his first major title. The 35-year-old gained 8.4 strokes over the field for his approach play and a monstrous 7.2 strokes over the field on the greens at Pebble Beach. Check out the clubs Woodland used on his way to victory last week in our WITB piece here.

Brooks Koepka continues to impress on the biggest stage, and the American’s play tee to green was once more outstanding in California. Koepka gained 14.4 strokes tee to green last week, which was the best in the field in this area.

Viktor Hovland has just about every golf fan excited after watching his brilliant display at Pebble Beach. Hovland was second in the field for strokes gained: tee to green at the U.S. Open, gaining a whopping 12.6 strokes in this area. All that was holding the amateur back was his putting, where he lost almost four strokes to the field

Cold

Justin Thomas continues to struggle after his comeback from his wrist injury, with the American missing the cut at last week’s U.S. Open. Thomas lost 2.7 strokes to the field on the greens at Pebble Beach, and worryingly for the 25-year-old is the fact that he has now lost strokes with the flat-stick in his last six consecutive events.

Dustin Johnson’s performance on the greens cost the 34-year-old dearly at last week’s U.S. Open. Johnson came into the event as one of the favorites, but a poor performance with the putter, where he lost 6.1 strokes, put paid to his chances. It was the worst performance for Johnson on the greens since 2017.

Bubba Watson continues to struggle, and last week it was his short game which was woefully misfiring. Watson dropped a combined 10 strokes to the field for his play on and around the greens at Pebble Beach for the two days he was in town.

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