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Have you been screened?

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Have you ever worked with a golf instructor on improving your swing, and no matter how hard you tried and regardless of how many lessons you took, you just couldn’t seem to make the change that your instructor was recommending?

For example, your instructor mentioned that you needed to turn your upper body 90 degrees to the target line on the backswing, and no matter what you did you could not coax your body to get into that particular position. You grunted, gritted your teeth and contorted yourself but you still could not get there? I think many of us have been there, including me.

I went through this same situation when I was working on my game around 12 years ago with one of the top instructors in the world at the time. He had came to the conclusion that the reason I was prone to hitting the snap hook with my driver was because my hips were not rotating through impact. He said they were sliding, and he was 100 percent correct.  I could see it and he could see it, but for the life of me, I couldn’t get my pelvis and lower body to rotate through impact correctly. After much frustration and many untimely hooks, I went in search for my own answers as to why I could not make this move. It was at this time I began by learning more about the body and its connection to the golf swing.

The more I read and learned about this subject, the more I started to feel that my problems were likely caused by a problem with my body, not my technique. To confirm my feelings, I sought out a fitness professional who specialized in dealing with golfers. This led me to a local trainer in my area who was TPI certified. After a quick warm-up and a number of physical screens, I waited with anticipation as the trainer assessed my results. I’ll never forget the next thing that came out of his mouth: “Your hips are shot…they don’t work. The reason you are unable to rotate through impact is that internal rotation of your left hip is extremely limited.”

You cannot imagine the relief that I felt knowing this information. Instead of being upset that I had a physical restriction, I was actually happy that I now had a reason why I struggled so much with my turn through impact.

The trainer gave me some stretches and a dynamic warm up to attack my problem areas and sent me on my way. I immediately went to work on the stretches and within a week started to feel like my left hip mobility was improving. The next week I went for a lesson and my instructor (and myself) were both shocked to see the pelvis moving and rotating through impact in a much improved manner.

“You got it!” he said with excitement. “Those drills I gave you are working great.”

When I explained to him that the stretches I had been doing had made it much easier for me to rotate, he dismissed it and and was ready to move on to the next “problem” in my swing…I was ready to move on to a new instructor.

Because of my experience, when I began my teaching career I made it my mission to understand the body and how it relates to the swing. I knew that I could help many more golfers reach their potential by not only better understanding the origin of many swing faults, but also by reducing injury potential.

That was over 10 years ago. From that point forward, I immersed myself with TPI, as they were and still are now at the forefront of this aspect of the industry. The knowledge I have gained from them and other sources that are focused on the body/swing connection has allowed me to make faster improvements in my students’ games and also understand what they can and cannot do with their swings.

When a student first comes to me for a lesson or coaching, I will not work with him or her until I physically assess them. I sometimes get perplexed looks from them when I tell them this, but 100 percent of the time they thank me for taking the time to understand them more and creating a custom plan based on what their body can physically do.

For example, let’s say the student comes to me complaining about an over-the-top swing plane. One of the main causes of this particular swing fault is that the student has an inability to separate or disassociate his or her lower body from the upper body during the transition of the swing. Once I give them exercises and stretches that improve separation, along with swing drills and motor skills training, the swing changes happen much quicker. Instead of a “Band-Aid” fix, I have given them a swing pattern improvement that will last.

So what exactly is a TPI movement screen? It  is a comprehensive head to toe appraisal of movement patterns related to golf. The assessment identifies movement deficiencies that are highly correlated to the most common golf swing flaws.

By using the movement screen, I am able to quickly identify breakdowns in one’s level of mobility, stability, flexibility, strength and power. This information can then be utilized to determine if physical dysfunctions are impeding the golf swing. I use this information to build a swing for the student that is most efficient them based on what they can physically do.

The basic screens are as follows:

  • Pelvic tilt
  • Pelvic Rotation
  • Torso Rotation
  • Overhead deep squat
  • Toe Touch
  • Lying Bridge
  • Seated Rotation
  • 90/90 Shoulder Rotation
  • Lower Quarter Rotation
  • Lat Test
  • Single Leg Balance

The other important aspect of the screen is that it ultimately identifies issues in the Mobility/Stability Pattern of Human Movement. This important principle indicates that efficient movement in golf swing requires the body to operate in an alternating pattern of mobile joints and stable body segments.

If this pattern of mobile joints and stable body segments is altered, dysfunction in movement patterns and losses in swing efficiency will occur. In addition, the ability to execute each phase of the golf swing, generate speed and transfer this speed to the golf club will be impeded.

Once the physical screens have been completed the next step is selecting the appropriate exercises along with swing drills and movement preparation to develop the required movement patterns in the swing.

Once the student begins working on his training/exercise program and also implements the prescribed swing drills for changing motor patterns (if necessary) it’s astounding how fast the improvement in ball-striking takes place.

So how can I as an instructor try to help a student with his swing without even knowing what his body can do? I liken this to golf instructor malpractice.

If your instructor starts making changes to your swing right away without first giving you even the most basic physical screen and asking questions about injuries, you may want to consider seeking out a TPI physical trainer to fill this void in your training program.

If you do not have a golf fitness professional in your area, please feel free to contact me. On a limited basis, I have a remote physical screening program whereby I can guide you to understanding if you have physical issues/limitations that may be holding you back and also design a custom training program for you.

I know that once you better understand what your body can and cannot do in a golf swing and you have a plan to attack your physical limitations, you will be on your way to playing your best (injury-free) golf. Now go have some fun.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. David Stafford

    Feb 23, 2013 at 12:09 am

    Shaun: Always enjoy your articles. THEY MAKE SENSE. Very educational for us average Joes. Keep up the good work.

  2. Alice Kahl

    Feb 11, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Hi Shaun: Great article re: TPI screening. As a TPI-certified Level 3 Medical Professional, I also highly recommend checking in with a medical person on your team, especially if there is pain/stiffness or any history of injury (golf-related or otherwise). We can help mobilize soft tissue and joints to help increase ROM (range of motion), so the golfer can then be trained in a new motor pattern. See my related post: “The TEAM approach to maximizing your golf potential”

  3. Chad

    Jan 31, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    Really good read. I am just starting to get into “golf” fitness myself with a lot of flexibility and rotational exercises. I have not been screened, but it sounds like I should.

  4. Jeff

    Jan 23, 2013 at 10:27 am

    I am 57 and have a 2 hdcp and am concerned about my loss of distance from my lack of flexibility from years of babying my back that has effected my back and hips . Trying to rotate is getting tougher every year and am very interested in your assessment and stetching tools . I live in central Ohio and have time to strech and workout before our season begins . Im not sure if there is a TPI center for screening anywhere in my area . Any advice would be appreciated . Thanks

  5. CTEagle

    Jan 22, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Great post. I just started working with TPI trainers earlier this winter and so far the results have been encouraging. Like you I suffer from poor internal hip rotation, among some other things.

    I wanted to ask your thoughts on stretching. I was told stretching is actually harmful, and that a lack of mobility is from weak muscles, not tight muscles, so the correct fix is strengthening the muscles. Are there competing schools of though? Thanks.

    • Shaun Webb

      Jan 24, 2013 at 7:30 am

      Here’s a great article from Roger Fredericks (a TPI Advisory Board Member) that helps explains why a proper flexibility program is important. Hope this helps clear up the confusion for you.

      http://www.mytpi.com/mytpi05/Fitness/article.asp?id=644

      • pablo

        Jan 31, 2013 at 5:56 pm

        that linked article has this sentence and it sounds incorrect based on the context of the article:

        “I’ve never seen a person gain more flexibility by going on a “proper” flexibility program than they did from a weight training program – PERIOD!”

  6. Jesse

    Jan 22, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    As someone who is in their early 50’s and after having some serious back issues I cannot stress enough how important it is to do stretching and flexibility exercises.

    Everyone should work on their flexibility and get some type of exercise in at least 3 times a week. Not only will your body thank you, your golf game will as well.

  7. Marty

    Jan 22, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Best article I’ve read on here in a while. Nice job!

  8. Will

    Jan 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Shaun, thanks for the post. I’m looking to get back into the gym and wanted to build a “golf focus” workout / stretching routine. How do I start building that out? Any suggestions on resources for workouts and stretches? I’d love to find a good book on the subject.

    • Shaun Webb

      Jan 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm

      Send me your info from the contact form on my website and I’ll get in touch with you as soon as possible. I have the PGA show this week so it may be a couple days before you hear back from me.

  9. Shaun Webb

    Jan 22, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Thanks!

  10. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 21, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Great Post Shaun,

    Performing regular stretching and mobility exercises for golf is really important. I’m certain all the touring professionals work on these on a regular basis. This ensures they are able to get their body into the right positions to perform their optimum golf swing.

    It should be no different for amateur golfers who often don’t realise their problems could be related to lack of body movement and flexibility.

    I think the best decision you made was changing coaches … good work!

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Instruction

How the Trail Arm Should Work In Backswing

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Stop getting stuck! In this video, I demonstrate a great drill to help you move your trail arm correctly in the backswing.

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Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve

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Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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Jumping for Distance (Part 2): The One-Foot Jump

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In Part 1, I wrote about how I think this concept of jumping up with both feet for more power may have come about in part due to misinterpretation of still photography and force plate data, self-propagation, and a possible case of correlation vs causation. I also covered reasoning why these players are often airborne, and that can be from flawed setups that include overly wide stances and/or lead foot positions that are too closed at setup or a re-planted lead foot that ends up too closed during the downswing.

In Part 2, let’s look at what I feel is a better alternative, the one foot jump. To me, it’s safer, it doesn’t complicate ball striking as much, and it can still generate huge amounts of vertical ground force.

First, set up with an appropriate stance width. I like to determine how wide to stand based on the length of your lower legs. If you go to your finish position and stand on your lead leg and let your trail leg dangle down so your knees are parallel, your lower trail leg should extend only as far back as it will go while being up on the tip of your trail toe. If you roll that trail foot back down to the ground, viola, you’ll have a stance width that’s wide enough to be “athletic” and stable but not so wide you lose balance when swinging. You can go a little wider than this, but not much.

To contrast, the stance below would be too wide.

Jumping off the ground can be caused by too wide of a stance and lead foot position that is too closed at setup

Second, make sure your lead foot is open sufficiently at address. I’ve previously outlined how to do both these first two points in this article.

Third, whether you shift your weight to your trail foot or keep a more centered weight type feeling in the backswing, when you shift your weight to your lead foot, be careful of the Bubba replant, and then push up with that lead leg to push your lead shoulder up. This is the one-foot “jump” and it will take advantage of parametric acceleration (read more about that here).

But also at the same time, shift your lower spine towards the target.

From a face-on viewpoint, this can look like back bend, but in 3D space it’s side bend. It kind of feels like you are crunching the trail side of your mid-section, or maybe just bending over to the side to pick up a suitcase, for example. This move helps lower your trail shoulder, which brings down the club (whereas this is more difficult to do if you try to two-foot jump with your trail leg). It also helps you to keep from getting airborne off your lead foot. Further it doesn’t change your low point (by not changing the relative position of the C7 vertebrae in its general orb in space) and complicate ball striking like a two-foot jump does.

At this point, the club releases and you can stand up out of the shot (you don’t need to transition in to any sort of dangerous back bend) in balance on your lead foot having generates tons of vertical ground force without having jumped off the ground or putting yourself at risk for injury.

“Movember” mustache… not required!

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