Eight years ago, I was sitting in a T.G.I. Fridays in Times Square with Calvin Peete waiting on our order to come. I had just moderated a panel discussion on the past, present and future of African-Americans in golf that featured Peete. After the panel discussion came the obligatory pictures and handshakes with his many admirers that had attended the event. A quiet and dignified man, Peete always seemed pleased but slightly surprised by the attention he would attract.
When I came up to shake his hand and thank him for his participation he mentioned that he was a little hungry. I offered to treat him to dinner, with the full expectation that the golf legend would have a far better offer. To my surprise, he accepted my offer and asked if Friday’s would be too expensive. I told him that I would take him anywhere he wanted; “Oh no, I like Friday’s. They have a great steak.” Despite my protestations and offers to indulge in Manhattan’s finest he insisted on Friday’s, so off to Friday’s we went.
It was a modest choice made by a modest man. Born in Detroit, Mich., and reared in central Florida as one of his father’s 19 children from two marriages, Peete dropped out of high school to earn money for his family. One of his jobs was picking corn for endless hours in the hot Florida sun. When his friends asked him to play golf at the local course, he told them he had enough of being outside.
In addition to his aversion to being outdoors in the heat, Peete’s left arm wouldn’t fully straighten as a result of a broken elbow suffered as a child. Eventually he relented and took up the game at age 23, beginning one of the most meteoric career arcs in golf’s long history. Just nine short years from picking up his first club, he refined his game to the point where he made the PGA Tour, playing in his first Tour event at the age of 32, a point where most pros are prime for their first victory. Just nine years later, Peete won the Vardon Trophy, given annually to the professional golfer with the lowest per-round score, averaging 70.56 shots per round, giving him statistical claim to the title of the Tour’s best player. And the following year he won The Players Championship, considered the sport’s “fifth major” and host to one of the strongest fields of competitors in golf each year.
In the time it takes most people to figure out if they are worthy to compete at the highest level, Peete had ascended to the pinnacle. He only had about 10 truly competitive years, but amassed 12 wins and 73 top-10 finishes in that time, a stunning success rate. And he was also the straightest driver in the history of the game, racking up 10 consecutive driving accuracy titles on Tour. Ironically, Peete said that it was his disfigured left arm that helped him to create the most repeatable swing in the game.
But my lasting impression of Peete comes more from his demeanor off the course than his exploits on it. He never forgot that he had honed his game on the ill-kempt, often segregated muni courses that were a far cry from the manicured tracks that his competitors had grown up with. He gave his time generously to kids, volunteering with The First Tee of Washington, DC at historic Langston Golf Course, the National Park Service course built in 1939 specifically to accommodate African-Americans who were barred from other courses. Peete didn’t like to show off, but when he gave a demonstration of how to hit a golf ball it was like watching Tony Gwynn give a demonstration of how to hit a baseball. It was like he was simply born to do it.
Despite his sterling record of accomplishment and pioneering legacy, Peete was never selected to the World Golf Hall of Fame. Like many others, I lobbied persistently with the sport to honor the man while he was still alive. My entreaties intensified after attending the Hall of Fame induction for the late Charlie Sifford, the man who broke the PGA Tour’s color line. Sifford died earlier this year but he had the opportunity to attend his own induction ceremony. I know for a fact that the honor changed him; he had harbored much anger from the indignities he had suffered while competing as the only Black golfer on the Tour. He told me the night before the induction that he was going to “get some back” at his awards speech, but when the waves of applause hit him, his heart melted and he spent a solid hour thanking those whom he had intended to curse. It was a cathartic moment, a public baptism that cleansed Sifford and every soul within the sound of his voice. Sifford cried, but he was probably that last one in the house to do so.
I wanted Calvin Peete to have that moment, that magical experience of achievement and acceptance. He was not going to lift a finger to make it happen; asking him to promote himself would be like asking him to hit a drive out of bounds intentionally. Waiting for our steak to come at Friday’s that night, I asked him about the Hall of Fame. “It would be nice,” he said. Understated as always, but in his eyes was a combination of competitive fire and a longing for the respect of his peers that communicated how important it would be for him. And if his peers voted he would have been in years ago. But the votes come from those with other agendas, and so he waited.
As the old folks say, Calvin Peete is gone to glory now. His wait is over. But here in the mortal realm, the wait continues for the game to pay proper homage to the man with the crooked arm who hit the straightest ball anyone ever saw. He overcame poverty, injury and society to become the heart and soul of a game that was not ready to accept him as its face. He deserves a hell of a lot more than a steak dinner.
Fix your golfing back pain, Step 2: Early stage rehab
This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.
You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com
This article is No. 2 in a 4 part series.
Step 2 – Early Stage Rehab
Step 3 – Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns
Step 4 – Building global strength for prevention of future injury
Now that we have identified the source of the back issue through assessment, it’s time to start working on the underlying causes, in order to reduce pain and decrease the likelihood of re-injury further down the track.
In our experience, mechanical back pain in golfers caused by physical issues is most often caused by one or more of the the following 4 issues, with many amateur players displaying the entire collection!
– Lack of Mobility at the Hips and Mid / Upper Back
– Poor Posture
– Misalignment and Muscle Imbalances
– Weak Core Muscles
Because pain is likely still a factor at this stage, we need to proceed with caution and focus on rehab work that is low intensity and has a low risk of causing a pain flare up.
With that in mind, in ‘Step 2: Early Stage Rehab’ we are going to address Mobility, Posture and Misalignment / Muscle Imbalances. These 3 areas can be improved upon, and should have a positive impact on pain reduction, even if back discomfort is still restricting larger, more global movements.
Step 2.1 – Improving Mobility in Hips and Mid / Upper back
Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine (lower back) falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected.
In order to avoid excessive low back rotation forces in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:
We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.
Suggested Exercise Circuit – Hip Mobility
1) Self Massage Glutes – 45 secs each side
2) Cross Leg Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side
3) Prone Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side
4) 90 90 Hip Mobility – 5 reps each side
Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)
Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).
Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility
1) Self Massage Mid / Upper back – 60 seconds
2) Upper Back Extension – 30 seconds
3) All Fours Rotation – 5 reps each side
Step 2.2 – Improving Posture
Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).
The 3 major spinal curves: 1 – Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar
Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this has had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures.
Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.
The muscles responsible for holding your posture are located deep in the body and close to the spine. Strengthening them can be tricky, as we don’t really have a lot of conscious control over their activation. Hence posture being such a difficult thing to remember! The combination of the 4 exercises featured below help provide the stimulus to those deep muscles that, if trained often enough, will automatically hold your posture in a good position.
Suggested Exercises – Strengthening posture muscles
1) Wall Posture Check – 30 secs
2) Posture Cue – 60 secs
3) Posture Cue Knee Lifts – 10 reps each side
4) Arm Press – 15 reps
Step 2.3 – Fixing Alignment Issues and Muscle Imbalances
Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right, back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and / or below.
For example, if we have short / tight / overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knees to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain, then this would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.
If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!
Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance.
In the next article; Step 3: Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns, we will show you the progression of exercises and key technique principles to build up the strength and movement patterns to return to regular exercise and golf.
If you would like to see how Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:
If you would like to access training programs designed for elite and recreational players, then check out the following resources and services from Nick at Golf Fit Pro:
A golfing memoir in monthly tokens: March (belatedly)
Editor’s note: All latency on the publishing here is the fault of the Editor-in-Chief.
As some might say, if you don’t take the plunge, you can’t taste the brine. Others might not say such a thing. I’m taking the plunge, because I want to taste the brine.
Absolutely. Meet me up north (and, to himself, what have I got to lose?)
No sense in putting the cart before the horse, as the old pro used to say, as cirE “Flip” Hedgebow used to ignore. As March came to a close, as cirE locked the pro shop for the last time until November, he took a leap of faith. How big of a leap? Let’s get through March, and find out.
Speaking of carts and horses, March for Flip always came in like a lamb, and went out like a lion. That ran contrary to the folklore but, all things considered, there was always a 50% chance of things running contrary.
No, the best reason for topsy and turvy in March, for Flip, was explained by his birthday. Being born in the middle of the month might suggest balance to some; for him, it was a constant reminder of the chaos that led up to his earthly arrival, tempered only by the madness that ensued. If that’s balance, you can have it.
In Flip’s world, March was about the arrival of the most seasoned of snowbirds, the ones with more than five years of retirement under their growing-shrinking belts. Some were expanding, as they had given up on fitness; the rest were shrinking, as the truest effects of age caught them up. In each case, this pod arrived with military precision, knowing where and when nearly every penny would be spent. No frivolity remained in their schedules, no ambiguity survived from younger, budgeting days. No longer minnows, they recognized that uncertainty stalked them, and that all of their remaining wits needed to center on a small and precise target. The smaller, the more precise, the better…for the women.
Like all men, the old guys appreciated the consistency and precision their wives brought to their worlds.
Like all men, the old guys detested the ever-encroaching, loss of control over their own destinies.
They would enter the pro shop, grab the latest hat like a modern-day Judge Smails, and set it at a rakish angle, atop their sleek domes. Flip learned quite early on that the only way to ensure the sale was cash. When the wives invariably came to complain and demand a refund, Flip could “only” offer a pro shop credit, guaranteeing that something would be purchased. If they bought it on account or on a card, the sale was irretrievably lost.
Flip expected these purchases from his March gam: the cheapest golf balls, when their supply of northern culls ran out; the attire from last fall, or even the previous summer, ready to be shipped back to the manufacturer when March 20th arrived; and some odd or end that the pro had overlooked, lost to some sort of missionary of time. The only thing stronger than the will of the spouse, was the desire of the old guy to make some sort of purchase, to re-establish some semblance of power and control, for at least a moment.
How did you get your name, and why is the last letter, and not the first, capitalized?
(silence. he rarely heard the first question, as everyone knew him as “Flip;” he never heard the second one, as no one paid attention anymore.)
Two stories are a lot to tell. Let’s save both answers, even if it’s just a little while.
(silence. she wasn’t satisfied)
If the red hair caused his eyes to move from the mundane nature of packing and sealing boxes, everything else physical compelled him to put down the tape gun, sense that his throat was dry, know that he would not clear it without a squeak, turn away for a bottle of water, take a swig for lubrication, and, finally, turn back with his finest Axel Foley smile, and greet her with: How long have you been retired?
It was an incalculable risk. There was a 90% chance that she would react with an I’m not that old sort of affront, turn on her heels, and march out the door. There was a 5% chance that she would get the joke, and would stick around for another exchange, before smiling awkwardly and departing. There remained a 5% chance of something else. On this 21st day of March, that final 5% wafted in.
Wafted in, in the guise of a lesson he thought that he had planned. Planned for one of the wives, a late-sixties model whose swing was frozen in time: the unlikely combination of a forward lurch of the torso, a reverse pivot of the feet, and right in the middle, an impossible heave of the hips in one of four unpredictable directions. If anyone were to discover a fifth cardinal point, it would be Agnes Porter. Until this moment, Flip Hedgebow gave thanks that the world was blessed with just one of her; more than one might have tilted the globe off its axis. Now, he offered up a different type of gratitude, thanks to the visage of her granddaughter, who bore no resemblance to the matriarch, beyond the title of Agnes Porter.
They write that a story may be deemed worthy for its inerrant language, or for its compelling events. The story of Agnes Porter the way-younger and Flip Hedgebow benefitted from both, along with an overdose of peripeteia.
Artwork by JaeB
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