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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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Podcasts

Mondays Off: Augusta National: start on the front or back nine? | Knudson’s Fujikura visit

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Would you rather start your round at Augusta National from the front or back nine? Mondays Off debates both after the most recent Masters had players starting from both. Steve gets some information on Fujikura shafts from Knudson’s visit last week and then Knudson confesses on how his first night of league play went!

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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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: How many wedges?

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From the feedback I get, many golfers are not entirely confident…or are completely confused…about how many wedges they should carry. Those of you who know my work and writing over the past 25 years or so also know that I am a proponent of carrying a carefully measured “set” of wedges that give you the shotmaking control you need in prime scoring range. But what I’ve learned over those many years is that the number of wedges that is “right”, and the lofts of those wedges can be very different from one golfer to another.

The reason I think getting this right is so important is that your scores are more heavily influenced by your play from wedge range into the green, and your shotmaking around the greens, than by any other factor. The right “set” of wedges in your bag can make all the difference in the world.

As I repeatedly preach, taking your guidance from the PGA Tour players might not help you achieve your goals. These guys spend hundreds of hours each year perfecting their wedge play, and you simply cannot do that. The good news is that you can add some science to your wedge set make-up that can help you have more shot choices when you are in scoring range or trying to save par from a missed green.

My basic premise on the subject is that the answer can be approached scientifically for each golfer, and it is a multi-step process

  1. Begin by knowing the loft of the 9-iron and “P-club” that came with your set of irons, as optimum gapping begins there. The industry challenge of producing longer-hitting irons has led most OEMs to strengthen lofts throughout the set. Along the way, it was apparently decided to widen the gaps between the short irons to 5 degrees from the traditional 4 that stood for decades. What this does is increase the distance differential between your 9-iron and “P-club” from what I would consider optimum. For golfers of slower swing speeds, that 5-degree gap might well deliver a 10-12 yard differential, but my bet is that most of you are getting a difference closer to 15 yards, or even more. That just will not let you get the distance control precision you want in prime scoring range.
  2. The second step is to be honest with your distances. I am a big proponent of getting on the golf course or range with a laser or GPS and really knowing how far you carry each of your short irons and wedges. Hit a number of shots from known yardages and see where they land (not including roll out). My bet is that you will find that your distances are different from what you thought they were, and that the differentials between clubs are not consistent.
  3. Figure out where to start. If your actual and real distance gap between your 9-iron and “P-club” is over 12-13 yards, maybe the place to start could be with a stronger P-club. You can either have your loft strengthened a bit or make the shaft 1/4 to 1/2” longer to add a few yards to that club.
  4. Figure out what lofts your wedges should have. From there, I suggest selecting lofts of your wedges to build a constant yardage difference of 10-12 yards between clubs. Depending on your strength profile, that may require wedges at four-degree intervals, or it might be five – each golfer is different. Those with very slow swing speeds might even find that six-degree gaps deliver that distance progression.
  5. Challenge the traditional 52-56-60 setup. Those lofts became the “standard” when set-match pitching wedges were 48 degrees of loft. That hasn’t been the case in over 25 years. Most of today’s P-clubs are 45 degrees, which leaves a very large distance differential between that club and a 52-degree gap wedge. Some enlightened golfers have evolved to carry a wedge set of 50-54-58, which is a step in the right direction. But you can get whatever loft precision you want, and you should do that. At SCOR, we made wedges in every loft from 41 to 61 degrees, and our wedge-fitting tool prescribed lofts of 49-53-57-61 to many golfers, based on that 45* “P-club” and their stated distance profile. Those who took that advice were generally very happy with that change. We fitted and sold many sets at 49-54-59 as well. Though no company offers wedges in every loft, you can bend even numbers to hit your numbers exactly. Just remember, bending stronger reduces the bounce and bending weaker increases the bounce.

What many of you will find with this exercise is that it suggests that you should be carrying more wedges. That’s probably true for the vast majority of recreational golfers. I have come to realize that more wedges and less long clubs will usually improve your scores. After all, long or short by 25-30 feet is great at long range, but not acceptable in prime scoring range.

If you have more clubs at the long end of your bag (longer than a 5- or 6-iron) than you do at the short end (9-iron and up) then you should consider an honest self-appraisal of how often you use each club between your driver and putter. My bet is that it will be an enlightening analysis.

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Courses

The Harding Park experience

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When you turn onto the road that leads to the clubhouse at TPC Harding Park, it doesn’t take long for your eyes to focus on the 18th hole. The road winds between the par-3 17th green on your right and the back tees of the 18th on your left, presenting a direct view down the beautifully doglegged left finishing fairway. And if you weren’t already excited about your upcoming round, this ought to do the trick.

TPC Harding Park is San Francisco’s top public track. It was opened in 1925 and was designed by Willie Watson, who also is responsible for the nearby Lake Course at Olympic Club. And Harding Park has already been pegged to host the 2020 PGA Championship, which will only be the second time a municipally owned golf course will host the PGA. And even though the event is over a year away, the facilities are already being prepared for the major.

The clubhouse itself is impressive for a municipal layout; two stories with an event space on the second floor, the layout runs parallel with the 18th fairway, allowing for great views of the back dining patio and balcony. They already have it decorated in anticipation or the PGA Championship with large wallpaper photos of the Wanamaker Trophy, which gives off a serious feeling of legitimacy in the clubhouse entryway. The Cypress Grill, which comes with a full bar, is finished with a full wall of glass overlooking both the final hole and Lake Merced. It was packed at lunch on a Friday when I played…and not just crowded with golfers. The food and view must be good enough to attract regular patrons.

The pro shop is a nice size and the members of the staff were incredibly welcoming and friendly. Most of the apparel was Nike, Adidas and Under Armour but there were a few smaller brands as well. FootJoy was also present and the course’s logo on shirts and hats alternated between the traditional Harding Park logo with the lone tree and the PGA Harding Park logo. There is, of course, already 2020 PGA Championship gear for sale as well.

The course offers carts and pushcarts for rent, but if you do decide to ride, the course is cart path only year round. Rates range from $49-$188 depending on the day and if you are a San Francisco or Bay Area resident.

As you can imagine, Harding Park gets a substantial amount of play, being a first-rate daily fee in a highly populated city. My buddy and I opted to walk as we both believe that’s the best way to experience a course for the first time.

The bad weather earlier this year had left the driving range in disrepair. It was closed during my visit but they are planning to turn that area into a pavilion space for the PGA Championship anyway. Harding Park also has a short course called The Fleming 9 which weaves in between the holes of the Harding 18. That Fleming 9 space will be used as the professionals’ range during the major event.

The course conditions were top quality, especially for a daily fee course with so much traffic. The only real complaint from my group was the presence of so many ball marks on the greens. This can be expected from a course with that number of daily golfers added to the wet conditions of a place like San Francisco. I would imagine that the greens would run much smoother as we get closer to the 2020 PGA. Still, this was nit-picking; the greens were not in bad shape at all.

   

The first thirteen holes at Harding Park are good but don’t rise to the level of “great.” A friendly starter helps maintain pace of play off number one, a slightly right bending par four. The second hole is much like the first, which was a theme of the first 13. Looking back on my round, it’s tough for me to differentiate between each of the first 13 holes. Every hole was really solid, but not exactly unique, with the exception of number 4 and number 10, both fun par 5’s with some character.

Harding Park plays at 6,845 yards from the blue tees, which were the back tees on the day I played. There is a championship tee box that plays at 7169 but they were not set up for us. I would imagine that they’d be willing to do so with a special request. I heard the course is even better from back there. I was told that they will be working to lengthen some of the holes in anticipation of the 2020 PGA.

Along those lines, we were also treated with a special view of what the course will look like for the major next year. The PGA had been out to the course the week prior to my visit and had staked out each fairway with little red flags denoting where they want the first cut of rough to reach. On most holes, these flags were five-to-10 paces inside of where the rough currently was being cut, which showed us exactly how tiny these fairways will be for the pros. It was amazing to see some of the narrow landing spots these guys will be aiming for in a year.

As you walk off the 13th green, the course turns one final time back towards the clubhouse. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, you are about to play five incredible holes in a row to close out your round. The teebox on 14 is snuggled up next to the lake but elevated enough to give you a tremendous view of the water below and Olympic Club Golf Course across the way. The hole in front of you is a 440-yard par 4 that steadily climbs uphill with a gently slanting fairway to the left, pushing landing drives towards the water. As I stood over my approach shot, I looked around and then wrote “best hole so far” down on my scorecard. That was true. Until the next hole.

The 15th and 16th holes both follow the same blueprint: fairway bunkers at the elbow of the dogleg, grabbing the longer drives and forcing a club selection decision off the tee. The lake is still running along the left side of each fairway, giving a completely different feel to these holes than you had on the course’s first 13. At only 330 yards, hole 16 plays much shorter than the previous two lake-side par 4s. But the green slopes enough to make you nervous on your putts and keeps the hole from being an easy birdie. Honestly, after these holes were behind me, I took a moment to look back down the fairway and appreciate how good these holes were.

Hole 17 is a 175-yard par 3 that was playing much longer with a solid wind in our faces. The green is positioned near the entrance into Harding Park and, as I previously mentioned, one of the first views of the course you get as you arrive. The green is slightly elevated and protected by two bunkers in front. It requires a long and accurate tee shot, which is difficult because the 18th hole looms large to the right of the green. And once you finish on 17, it’s just a short walk over to the 18th tee.

The final hole is Harding Park’s most special. A 440-yard par 4, the tee shot requires a carry over the lake to a dogleg left fairway. The longer hitters can take a more aggressive line over the trees to cut off a substantial amount of distance. And by longer hitters, I mean guys like Tiger Woods and John Daly.

The fairway is picturesque. 18 is one of those holes that you want to take your time on. It just has a different feeling. The green is slightly elevated, providing amazing views of the clubhouse and Lake Merced. It is the perfect finishing par 4, giving you everything you could possibly want in a golf hole: strategy, challenge, and beauty all wrapped into one. And then it leaves you feeling grateful for having decided to play Harding Park.

 

 

 

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