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The simple exercises that fixed a complex golf swing problem

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I’m very lucky to work in a world class location; the combination of swing analysis technology, practice facilities, gym equipment and great weather here at the PGA Tour’s Performance Center at Sawgrass is hard to beat. The case study that I’m presenting to you today is interesting because it really could have happened anywhere. The improvements demonstrated are due to collaboration of coaches, an open-minded approach to self betterment and a bit of consistent effort.

The People

  • Our Hero: Nat Findlay, 63, CEO of Wellbox Inc, 9 handicap.
  • The Golf Coach: Andrew Lanahan, LSU Team, Mini Tour Pro, Short Game expert.
  • The Trainer: Alex Bennett (me), Flagler College Team, Mini Tour Pro, Corrective Exercise Specialist.

The Place

PGA Tour’s Performance Center at Sawgrass

The Problem

Nat initially came to Andrew for help with his game and presented with a very flat swing, hands way behind the body and lots of early extension.

Andrew quickly realized that Nat’s move wasn’t going to be easy to shake and that a muscle imbalance or limitation could be physically holding him back from improving his swing.

As the trainer, I work hand in hand with the instructors, watching what they are trying to achieve from a technical perspective. I also observe whether the student has the physical capabilities to perform what the the coach is asking of them. Being on-site full time meant that it was easy for Andrew to send Nat to see me for an assessment. During the golf specific physical screening, I found Nat had the following limitations:

  • Restricted T-Spine rotation
  • Limited upper back/scapula control
  • Restricted internal hip rotation range
  • Tight lats, restricting horizontal flexion at the shoulder (lead arm across the body)

This didn’t surprise me at all. After seeing Nat’s swing and hearing Andrew’s explanation, the assessment results made total sense. The combination of rotational restrictions and lack of scapula control went a long way to explaining what was holding Nat back.

The Solution

We had four key things to improve in Nat’s body in order to make improved swing mechanics possible, so we got straight to work and attacked each one with a combination of mobility and stability exercises:

Area 1: T-Spine Rotation

We are using light resistance and encouraging Nat to rotate from his mid/upper back and hips. This kind of dynamic movement encourages improved mobility under load and is also specific to golf posture.

Area 2: Upper Back/Scap Control in Rotation

Using the GravityFit TPro, we were able to deliver both postural awareness and stability stimulus to the upper back and shoulder girdle while rotating. This has been somewhat of a game changer for me and my clients. It helps produce amazingly quick improvements in postural control and rotation quality.

Area 3: Internal hip rotation range

The ball holds your ankles and feet in place, while the hands are pressing your knees inward. This helps to gain precious degrees of increased hip rotation — absolutely essential for allowing quality loading into the right side.

Area 4: Tight Lats

This move achieves two things. First, it stretches the muscles and connective tissue of the lats and back of the shoulder. Second, it helps improve upper and lower body disassociation by turning the hips away from the shoulders.

The Outcome

Fast forward a few months. Nat diligently applied himself to the simple, yet targeted exercise program. We were starting to see some really cool things happen in his golf swing.

“I’ve worked with Alex for the past year consistently, and I have seen a huge improvement in my strength, posture, swing speed, stability, and flexibility,” Nat says. “My handicap has also dropped from 15 to 9, which is no coincidence!”

To summarize, making small physical changes can have a big effect on your game. As you’ve seen with Nat, it doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated… or even very hard work. If you want to move better and hit it longer and less offline, then it’ll be well worth seeking out your nearest golf center with a collaborative team.

Editor’s Note: “This article was co-written with GolfWRX Featured Writer Nick Randall. Nick is a former PGA Tour trainer who now works for GravityFit in Australia. 

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PGA Tour's Performance Center Fitness Specialist, Alex Bennett, found a love for fitness and injury prevention after suffering various injuries throughout his college and professional golf career. Growing up in Michigan playing hockey, baseball and golf in high school, he quickly learned the importance of fitness specific to one’s sport. His goal is to help students get fit to perform their best on and off the golf course. Alex is a certified Athletics and Fitness Association of America Personal Fitness Trainer with a degree in Corrective Exercise Specialization from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He is a TPI Certified Fitness Level 3 and Junior Level 2 instructor.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. sid

    May 9, 2018 at 10:33 am

    You can’t swing a golf club if you are pregnant with fat…. lose 50+ lbs. and your swing will improve immeasurably.

    • Brad

      May 10, 2018 at 10:10 am

      It’s not ideal but it can certainly be done (see Champions Tour). I do agree that I can’t think of a single fat golfer who wouldn’t be helped by being more fit, some of them get fit and go back to fat and play just as well (see Jason Dufner). But fit golfers do have an advantage, IMHO.

  2. Louise doyle

    May 8, 2018 at 9:44 pm

    Wonderful tips
    Look forward to applying them to help improve my game

  3. Rma

    May 8, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    Never thought to work on golf specifics in the gym. Great food for thought to improve my game and swing.

    • ~j~

      May 9, 2018 at 12:30 pm

      makes a big difference. I’ve unfortunately been withdrawn from the gym due to work a life in general, golf games taken a hit because of it. When I DO go now I slide in a couple golf related cable moves, helps bring back the swing.

      Stopped by a Lifetime Fitness in Scottsdale while vacationing once, damn near ev ery guy in there was working on some golf-related motions…

  4. Hamachijohn

    May 8, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    Good article to remind me to keep stretching and increase my ROM. Looks like the guy also lost considerable weight, which I’m sure also helped.

  5. ogo

    May 8, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    All of Nat’s “limitations are indicative of a sedentary lifestyle that creates a stiff torso, rigid legs and struggling arms. All he is capable of doing is sitting down and standing up and walking straight ahead only.
    Just look at his torso rotation … the hips and shoulders rotate in unison in both directions. The guy is a stiff duffer… sooo obvious

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If you want to make playing golf easier, you need to take a look at how you train.

Dropping down unlimited golf balls on the range simply isn’t like what we face on the golf course. When you look at other sports, their practice and training is very difficult. They make the training physically exhausting and mentally challenging so that when it’s game time, it seems easy. Listen into this episode so you can learn how to do that for your golf game.

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

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Club Building 101: Understanding epoxy

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There are three main components to a golf club: head, shaft, grip–but what keeps the head from flying off while traveling over 100 mph?  One of the most under appreciated pieces of every club, epoxy!

This video explains a few simple things to pay attention for when using, mixing, or adding things to epoxy as well, as a few tips for those looking to put a few clubs together.

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How well do you really know the Teeing Ground rules? Here’s a refresher…

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There are a few things you need to know 18 times every round if you want to stay on the right side of the law, and some of them are quirky. They all surround the Teeing Ground, a very specific area defined by the Rules which is different from the larger (undefined) flat area upon which the tee-markers are placed and rotated.

One might think that putting a peg in the ground to start your hole is stupid-simple, but let’s reserve that judgment for a while. I recently had a discussion about this with a friend, and crudely sketched out some scenarios.  Please look at Illustration No. 1, and hold off on looking at Illustration No. 2 further below for the moment.

In the first illustration, you will find the depiction of two haphazardly-placed (square) tee-markers; five golf balls; and a representation of the depth of two club-lengths. Which of the balls has been placed in a position to legally start the play of the hole?

Decide, then read on.

While it may seem simple, irregularly shaped tee-markers and tee-markers which “aim” you in an off direction relative to the fairway actually require careful analysis in order to accurately determine where the Teeing Ground begins and ends. Here is the explicit Definition:

The “teeing ground” is the starting place for the hole to be played. It is a rectangular area two club-lengths in depth, the front and the sides of which are defined by the outside limits of two tee-markers. A ball is outside the teeing ground when all of it lies outside the teeing ground.

When square tee-markers are positioned in such a way that their sides are not parallel to each other, the precise rectangular area of the Teeing Ground can have a surprising outline. And the fact that a ball may be partially outside the Teeing Ground and still considered technically within it can add to the possible confusion.  

Moving on to reviewing Illustration No. 2, you’ll see the rectangle of the Teeing Ground superimposed over the haphazardly placed tee-markers per the Definition. Ball A, C, and D are partially within the Teeing Ground and therefore legal to play, and Ball B and E are completely outside of it. So if you’re one of those players who wants to get every last inch closer to the hole when you tee it up (or on occasion want to be almost two full club-lengths away from the front of the Teeing Ground) take heed!

The exact place the tee-markers are positioned takes on critical importance in another way, too. Rule 11-2 forbids you from moving the tee-markers to assist you before you make your first stroke from the Teeing Ground. So unless you have already made a stroke (in which case the tee-markers have become movable obstructions which you may temporarily move) don’t intentionally move them — even to “straighten” them for groups behind you. Decision 11-2/2 gives you the fairly complicated details on when you may or may not touch them without penalty, but it’s way easier to just remember to leave them alone!

In wild contrast to the prohibitions against changing the position of the tee-markers, the Rules are downright liberal in terms of what you may do to the surface of the Teeing Ground before you play. While Rule 1-2 generally prohibits you from altering physical conditions with the intent of affecting the play of a hole, Rule 11-1 lets you go hog-wild in changing the surface of this particular area. You’re free to create or eliminate any irregularity of surface you wish: stamp on the ground with your foot, create a divot hole or tuft of turf with your club, pull out a hunk of grass or a weed — have at it if you’re so moved. In addition, Rule 13-2 allows you to remove dew, frost or water from the Teeing Ground. In all cases, make sure you’re doing this landscaping only to the ground within the two club-length deep official Teeing Ground. Do it to the surrounding area and you might be in trouble. (In particular, note that Decision 13-2/14 makes it clear that you may not break a branch off a tree near the Teeing Ground that might interfere with your swing.)

If you’ve got the nerve, there’s a way to sort of expand the Teeing Ground for yourself: Rule 11-1 assures us that a player’s stance may be outside the Teeing Ground when he or she plays a ball from within it. So if you’re looking to get a better angle to a dogleg fairway or to avoid some overhanging branches out there, feel free to tee it up anywhere you wish between the tee-markers and deal with your stance afterward. Just be sure your concentration skills allow you to ignore that tee-marker which may now be between your toe and the ball!

Finally, what do you do if you inadvertently tee off outside the Teeing Ground? Rule 11-4 covers this, and it’s dramatically different in Match Play vs. Stroke Play. In Match, you are fine unless your opponent immediately requires you to cancel your stroke and start again. There is no penalty in either case (other than the possible misfortune of having to cancel a good shot). In Stroke, teeing off outside the Teeing Ground is a critical mistake: You get a 2-stroke penalty for having teed off from an incorrect location and you must re-tee correctly and start again before you tee off on the next hole (or before you leave the 18th green without declaring your intention to re-play) or else you’ll be disqualified from the competition.

In either Match or Stroke Play, you may warn your opponent or fellow-competitor that he or she is about to play from outside the Teeing Ground. If you have the occasion, it’s a nice thing to do. Take care, play well!

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