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Opinion & Analysis

Two physical tests every golfer should ace

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The golf swing is a reflection of how your body moves. If you are generally a tight and stiff person, your golf swing is most likely tight and stiff as well. Amateur golfers love to buy new golf equipment and spend money on swing lessons. Neither of these things are bad by any means, but golfers tend to neglect to work on the way their body moves to improve golf performance.

When I work with golfers, I run them through an extensive screening process to determine their physical limitations and how they manifest in their golf swing. The screening process includes looking at trunk rotational mobility, hip rotational mobility, shoulder mobility, core stability and strength, glute strength, forearm/wrist mobility, and more.

There are two specific tests that every golfer should ace. These two tests have been shown to be correlated to some pretty serious swing faults, causing a leakage of power, decreased accuracy, and poor consistency. These swing faults can also contribute to experiencing low back pain by placing excessive stress on the lumbar spine with each swing.

There is no new golf club out there that can promise you pain-free golf. There are few golf coaches out there that can coach you into a good position if your body physically cannot get into that position. Therefore, a high priority should be placed on improving your movement quality.

The Toe Touch Test

The test is simple: Can you touch your toes?

Keys to a passing score:

  • Finger tips at least to your toes
  • Knees stay straight
  • Feet stay together
  • No pain or discomfort

Failing the toe touch test can have many contributing factors. The most common limiting factors include:

  • Limited hamstring flexibility and/or length
  • Impaired lumbo-pelvic control
  • Decreased core stability and strength
  • Inadequate ability to shift weight posteriorly
  • Increased neural tension

How Does This Impact Your Golf Game?

What we are essentially looking at is your ability to hip hinge. Most golfers set up in a bit of a hinged position, bending at the hips with their shoulders over the balls of their feet. In order to maintain posture throughout the swing, golfers must be able to maintain a hip-hinged position. If not, golfers will tend to lose posture and stand up in the backswing or in the downswing. This can lead to some serious compensations on the downswing, and make it difficult to generate clubhead speed, strike the ball well, and have consistent accuracy. A research study by Gulgin et al showed that a failed toe-touch test is strongly correlated to early extension in the downswing.

Single Leg Bridge Test

The single-leg bridge test looks at the ability of a golfer to extend through the hip by activating and maintain a contraction of the gluteus maximus muscle.

Keys to a Passing Score:

  • Hips remain off the ground for 10-15 seconds
  • Hips remain level to the ground
  • Minimal compensation through the lower back
  • No feeling of hamstring cramping

Failing the single leg bridge test can have many contributing factors. The most common limiting factors include:

  • Lack of hip extension mobility
  • Lack of hip extensor strength
  • Motor control/ability to isolate glutes vs hamstrings

How Does This Impact Your Golf Game?

The glutes are probably the most important muscle group for golfers. Collectively, they act to extend the hip, stabilize the pelvis, and generate club head speed through pelvic rotation. Weakness or difficulty controlling the glutes has been shown to be correlated to early extension. Other faults that are related to weak or inactive glutes during the swing are swaying in the backswing and sliding through the downswing. Overall, the glutes enable a golfer to create power by stabilizing the pelvis and allowing for dissociation of the upper body and lower body. This helps generate torque and leads to increased club head speed.

How to Improve These Two Movements

Toe Touch/Hip Hinge

Touching your toes is such a basic movement that nearly every person was able to do at one point in their life. I often see middle-aged amateur golfers who work 40+ hours a week sitting at a desk fail the toe touch test. They certainly aren’t the only ones who fail this test, but I would say it is the majority in my experience.

In order to improve this movement, we need to work on a few things including hamstring flexibility, core control, and allowing for a posterior weight shift. The following drills utilize components of each of these principles to help a golfer improve their toe touch.

Single Leg Bridge/Glute Strength

Initiating and maintaining a contraction of your glute max muscle is another seemingly simple movement that I see many golfers fail. In most cases, it isn’t a pure strength issue that leads to a failed test. Typically, it is a combination of a lack of strength and difficulty isolating a contraction of the glutes.

That being said, we typically have to “retrain the brain” to use the glutes to produce the desired movement. The following exercises are meant to be a progression, so if you have difficulty with the first two, master those before moving on to the rest.

Perform these exercises 3-4 times per week for 2-4 weeks and you should start to see some noticeable improvement in these two screening scores.

Once the movement dysfunction has improved, it is time to start working on getting into better positions in your golf swing. Working with a golf instructor on improving your particular swing faults is the best way to see significant results. Again, you can’t put the cart before the horse when it comes to physical restrictions. Working with a golf coach will be most successful once the movement dysfunctions have already been cleared and your movement quality improves.

If you’ve been struggling to see any improvement in your golf game in the past, do yourself a favor and work on any current physical restrictions you may have. When golfers invest in their body first, they often find that they spend less money on lessons because they have more meaningful lessons and are able to make the changes the coach is asking them to. By improving your movement you will also begin to feel better and play better, more consistent golf!

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Mike Scaduto is a physical therapist who is passionate about educating educating golfers of all skill levels about performance enhancement and injury prevention. He currently works as a PT at Champion Physical Therapy and Performance in Waltham, MA, where he supports high-level and youth athletes on a daily basis.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. TommyMaysHayes

    Jul 5, 2018 at 3:18 am

    Mike,
    Kudos for presenting so.e useful metrics and solutions. Also for putting up with some snide comments with good humor. I hope you aren’t dissuaded from future contributions!

  2. Frank Xavier

    Jul 3, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    Thank you for the excellent article. You have got to the core of many/most golfers swing issues in a very targeted, thoughtful and constructive manner. Look forward to more like this.

    • Mike Scaduto

      Jul 5, 2018 at 7:21 am

      Thank you Frank! All swing “issues” are typically multi-factorial but I think working on movement quality is a fantastic place to start, especially for the amateur golfer.

  3. JJD

    Jul 3, 2018 at 7:10 pm

    Doing a simple 5×5 program (my current favorite is ICF 5×5 [side note: blaha is an idiot but this program that he essentially stole is solid]) is a great way to be in shape for golf. I’m not a subscriber to the philosophy that amateurs need to do “sports-specific” programs. In fact, I think most would benefit more so from doing a generalized total-body program when considering the lack of any kind of fitness of the majority of the public.

    • Mike Scaduto

      Jul 5, 2018 at 7:24 am

      JJD– I totally agree. The majority of amateur golfers would see tremendous benefit from a “general” strength and conditioning program. Focusing on movement quality, strength, power, speed, agility, etc is a great way to feel better and improve your game. Exercises in the gym do not need to mimic the golf swing, sticking to fundamental movement patterns is typically the way to go for amateurs!

  4. Bob

    Jul 2, 2018 at 1:21 am

    the test was failed when you chose to wear high black socks to the gym… My God what were you thinking.

  5. Jamie

    Jul 1, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    So golf is doomed then. Tip to the author: Suggest these exercises as a means of making an athletic and comfortable swing rather than saying someone will never succeed at the game unless …..

    • ogo

      Jul 1, 2018 at 4:40 pm

      Yup… 99.5% of all 50 million golfers worldwide will fail these tests. Why? Because maintaining fitness ain’t ffuunn …. 😛

    • Mike Scaduto

      Jul 2, 2018 at 8:05 pm

      Jamie– thanks for the comment. I’m sorry that that was your take away from this article, it wasn’t my intention.

      The purpose of the article was to highlight that physical restrictions may impact your golf swing. I’m not sure where I made it seem like golf is doomed because of this? Plenty of golfers can be successful even if they can’t touch their toes or hold a glute bridge. There are also plenty (maybe even more) golfers who are trying to improve their game but are frustrated by their progress. My intention was to show that for some people, working on their movement quality may lead to more meaningful improvement and better play.

      I’d be happy to discuss this further if you have any questions!

      Mike

  6. Sean

    Jul 1, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    I know scratch golfers that can’t do any of those things

    • Ryan

      Jul 1, 2018 at 4:03 pm

      I know about 5 guys that cant do either and shoot par easily

    • Mike Scaduto

      Jul 2, 2018 at 8:13 pm

      Sean–

      No doubt. I’m sure there are millions of golfers who are scratch or better who can’t pass these tests. These tests are in no way meant to be predictive of a golfers handicap or skill level.

      The article is written for golfers who are looking to improve their game but are frustrated by their lack of progress. The goal was to educate golfers that working on movement quality can have a positive impact on their game. Also, even scratch golfers (and professional golfers) are constantly trying to get better. This may be a great way for these great golfers to improve their game and take it to the next level.

      I’d love to hear your opinion on this. I think we could have a great discussion on this.

    • David

      Jul 12, 2018 at 12:11 pm

      That would be me. LOL

  7. Jay

    Jul 1, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Mike, I haven’t been able to touch my toes since forever. I think I couldn’t do it even back in high school.
    Do you think the drill will help, or should I start taking Yoga classes to increase basic flexibility first instead?

    • Mike Scaduto

      Jul 2, 2018 at 8:25 pm

      Hey Jay– Thank you for the comment.

      Without knowing much about you, I would suggest that you find a qualified physical therapist, etc who can fully assess your particular situation and come up with a game plan tailored to your needs.

      I’d be happy to connect via email or phone if you’d like to discuss this further!

      -Mike

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The 19th Hole: Mark Rolfing and architect David Kidd on Carnoustie’s challenges

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It’s Open Championship week at Carnoustie! This week, Michael Williams hosts NBC and Golf Channel analyst Mark Rolfing and award-winning architect David Kidd (Bandon Dunes) to talk about how the pros will try to tame “Car-nasty.” It also features Jaime Darling of Golf Scotland on the many attractions around Carnoustie outside the golf course.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

How often should you actually get “Up-and-Down” based on your handicap?

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‘Up and Downs’ have long been the accepted measure of skill in the short game. The chart below shows average performance in this area for the PGA Tour and an array of handicap levels. How do you fit in?

A few points of definition: The above refers to short game shots around the green, other than from the sand. [Stay tuned: sand shots will be my next article.] I consider the short game to be all shots from within 50 yards of the hole. This distance was a topic of debate 30 years ago when I was developing my golf analysis program. I was fortunate to be working with Golf Digest Golf Schools and some of the top instructors were good enough to embrace the better form of game analysis that I was creating. In particular, I owe a great deal to Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson. Their help and encouragement in my early stages gave me a much needed boost of momentum. Little did we know that what I then called “Strokes Lost and Saved” would ultimately become the accepted standard of analysis on the PGA Tour — now know as “Strokes Gained.” Anyway, we agreed that 50 yards was the right distance range for the short game for two reasons:

  1. It represented the short game for virtually every handicap level, men and women.
  2. It was a short enough distance that it didn’t need to be sliced even further.

That said, I do NOT believe that “Up and Downs” are an appropriate or accurate measure of short game skill for two reasons:

  1. It represents the combination of two skills: Short Game and Putting.
  2. It ignores the ERRORS or shots that actually miss the green.

In my 30+ years of studying performance at all skill levels, I have found that it is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of bad shots (errors) that do more to influence a player’s scoring level than do all the good shots. Accordingly, I built the ability to capture data on the common errors in the game into ShotByShot.com.

The true measure of a player’s short game skill is their Strokes Gained in that facet. BUT, that is simply a number — a positive number is good and a negative number, not so much. But how then to best display the skill that is associated with the Strokes Gained number? I believe the combination of three stats to be the correct way to display short game skill:

  • Average putting distance, when the green is successfully hit.
  • Percent shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole
  • Percent errors, or shots that miss the putting surface.

Where does your game fall in these two important categories?

Note, that the two lines cross at about a 16 handicap. That is actually a better than average golfer yet for every Chip/Pitch shot that they successfully get to within 5 feet of the hole, they are also chunking or sculling one and missing the green altogether. Work to dramatically reduce the errors and that 16 will drop to 12 or 13?

You might ask: How can the PGA Tour make more errors than the scratch golfer? Good question! I have two explanations:

  1. They really are that good! Regardless of the relative difficulty of the shot, Tour players will go for it. They have the confidence that when they miss they will get the next up and down. At the same time, the amateur that has reached the lofty level of Scratch has generally done so thru rigorous consistency and the avoidance of errors. At the low handicap levels, a bogey can be acceptable but a mistake that results in a double is NOT.
  2. The tour Shotlink data considers the fringe of the green to be a miss whereas I recommend that players count the fringe as a green hit and a putting opportunity. Your long game has been efficient enough to get there and should be rewarded with the GIR. At the same time, to count the shot from the fringe as a short game shot will unfairly reward your short game skill for what was actually a putt.

That reminds me again of my very early days when Chuck Cook said to me: “Pete, Tour players don’t make errors in the short game!”  See Chuck, I was right, they do! For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: ShotByShot.com.

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Opinion & Analysis

Think Carnoustie’s hard? Try winning a title on it playing golf with one arm

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When things get challenging during the 147th Open this week on the Championship Course at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland, the players would do well to think of Mike Benning–specifically the fortitude he channeled into success at the venerable venue.

Benning grew up with golf at Congressional while his father, Bob, was head professional at the iconic country club in Bethesda, Md. Due to a rare form of cancer, Benning, who was already a top junior in the Washington, D.C. area, lost his left arm below the elbow to amputation at age 14.

Rather than let that stop him from playing, he learned to adapt. So much so that he won back-to-back Society of One-Armed Golfers world championships in 1993-94. The first win came at Seaford Golf Course in Sussex, England, in 1993. Benning defended his title at Carnoustie in 1994, the 56th and 57th renditions of the annual event, which began in the 1930s.

Benning was low medalist in stroke play at Seaford, shooting 80-81-161. With the top 16 finishers advancing to match play, Benning won four matches in two days to become champion. He went to Carnoustie the next year full of confidence but couldn’t find the form initially that carried him at Seaford, qualifying 10th in medal play.

“My game wasn’t on, and the course was brawny and fast,” Benning said this week from his home in Scituate, Mass. “The course was so dry it was grey, and it was windy. That makes Carnoustie very difficult, even more challenging than normal. I had a difficult draw in match play, but I found my game when it mattered most, and only one of my matches went to the 18th hole.”

In the championship match, Benning defeated Scotsman Brian Crombie of Dundee, a 25-minute drive from Carnoustie.

“He had about 50 friends and family members rooting him on, the crowd was definitely behind him,” Benning recalled. “But I had a couple Americans following me. One was Mike Gibson, who now works for Titleist. He came out wearing a pair of red plus fours and an American flag shirt. He and Mark Frace really propped me up. I remember having a big decision on the 10th hole – whether to try and get a 3-wood over the burn – so I turned and looked at those guys behind me, and they encouraged me to go for it. I cleared the burn and ended up 12 feet from the hole.”

Benning was an independent sales rep in the golf business before joining Hanger, Inc., the leading U.S. provider of prosthetics and orthotics, where he is currently Marketing Manager. He has played other Open Championship courses but calls Carnoustie’s Championship layout “probably the greatest risk-reward course” in the rota. “Seeing it on television doesn’t do justice to the demanding test of golf it presents players,” he said.

To underscore his assertion, Benning cited the 6th hole – “Hogan’s Alley” – named after 1953 Open Champion Ben Hogan. Here is the description for it from the Carnoustie Golf Links website. “Normally played into prevailing wind, this can be a severe par 5. Bunkers and out of bounds await the miss-cued drive and although the best line is up Hogan’s Alley between the bunkers and the out of bounds fence, it requires a brave player to drive to that narrow piece of fairway. The second shot is no less perilous with a ditch angling across the fairway and the out of bounds continuing to be a threat. The approach is reasonably straightforward to an undulating green, particular care must be taken if the pin is located on the back-right portion of the green. A player should always be content with a five on this hole as it can be the ruin of many a scorecard.”

Benning said the pair of fairway bunkers side by side on the 14th hole – known as “The Spectacles – have to be experienced to be understood how hard they play for those unfortunate enough to find them.

“I hit into one of them during a match and it was the only time I had to hit backwards out of a bunker during the championship,” Benning remembered. “The face of the bunker was unthinkably high.”

The closing holes at Carnoustie’s Championship Course – Nos. 16-18 – may be the most difficult finish in all major golf, particularly No. 18, named “Home”.

“Just ask Jean Van de Velde,” said Benning, referring to the Frenchman who led by three strokes going to final hole of the 1999 Open Championship. Van de Velde took triple bogey to fall back into a tie and playoff, which he lost to Paul Lawrie. No golf follower who watched the debacle can forget the image of Van de Velde standing in Barry’s Burn with his trouser bottoms rolled up, hands on hips, stunned disbelief etched on his face. Conversely, Lawrie’s final round 67 astounded Benning, who pointed out that the final round average score was significantly higher. The 18th also cost Johnny Miller the 1975 Open title, after Miller took two shots to get out of a fairway bunker on the hole.

Suffice it to say, Carnoustie will provide many of the world’s greatest players the chance for immortal golf glory this week, or demoralizing defeat. Maybe both. Whomever emerges as champion, Mike Benning will relate to the elation felt after prevailing on one of the game’s greatest courses.

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19th Hole

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