When most people talk about athlete development, the context usually surrounds high-risk collision sports like football and ice hockey, combat sports such as MMA, wrestling, and jiu jitsu, or high endurance events like triathlon or marathon. The mention of golf in these conversations is generally met with a collective rolling of the eyes and a patronizing “Sure…” and a return to whatever latest-and-greatest trend in energy systems development or Olympic lift for said “real sport” that is being discussed. But make no mistake – golf is highly skilled and highly athletic. Preparation and development of the elite golfer is no small undertaking.
Playing For The Long Game
Long-term athletic development is a key consideration for every golfer that wants to continue to play this game across their lifespan. And that is the beauty of this sport – you can start at age 5 and continue playing until your 75+ so long as you can maintain your health and fitness to a level that allows you to. The higher the level you want to compete, the more critical it is to take care of your body. Let’s deep dive into why physical development is so vitally important, and why development of the elite golfer is no less challenging than developing an athlete in any other sport:
Golf is a physically demanding sport. Swinging a golf club – and being successful – requires prerequisites of strength, mobility, and coordination. Each individual’s body is different in it’s ability to achieve these ideal positions in the various phases of the swing, so it is easy to see why a one-size-fits-all approach to golf instruction will, at best, yield marginal results. In many cases an individual will struggle in their swing because they have a physical limitation, i.e. lacking range of motion or strength, that is preventing them from fully physically expressing the techniques that their teaching professional is imparting to them lesson after lesson. Most people then blame “flexibility” as their issue and are told to stretch and do a more thorough warm-up, but there are many cases where we are not just dealing with a tight muscle that needs stretching. We could be dealing with a joint that is lacking motion due to structural bony limitations, arthritic changes, or restrictions in the joint capsule. Deficits in mobility in one area often causes compensation and excessive motion in adjacent areas, which over time and repetition causes breakdown and injury.
It’s Just Unnatural!
The golf swing is not a natural motion. It is a full body, multi-segmental rotational motion geared toward generating speed and force to strike a small ball with an implement (i.e. golf club). It is not a fundamental movement pattern like squatting, running, or even throwing a ball. Even swinging a baseball bat or tennis racket seems inherently more natural than setting up and swinging a golf club. It takes time to get comfortable with golf swing – finding the right grip, obtaining the appropriate amount of motion from the correct areas of the body, achieving the ideal sequencing of body segments, etc. Developing a swing that is comfortable, biomechanically efficient, and consistently reproducible often requires a lot of time, practice, and coaching.
Uni-directional & Repetitive
Golf is a uni-directional motion, meaning you swing the same direction the same way each time. Some have found swing the opposite way to be a helpful training tool to create balance, and some players are able to play from both sides of the ball, but doing so at an elite level is very rare. When first starting out, the golf swing is generally driven by handedness and which motion feels the most comfortable for the individual. That then becomes how they play – either right handed or left handed – and so begins the uni-directional nature of the sport.
Add in the repetitive nature of the game and it is easy to see how players without a solid plan for physically developing and maintaining their bodies will develop imbalances or injuries over time. While counter-intuitive to some and common sense to others, excelling at golf is not just about the golf swing and hitting more balls. Every day we have the privilege of seeing our players almost surprised at how much more power they can produce, how much more club head speed they can generate, and how much farther they are able to carry the ball after working with our team of golf professionals. Improving mobility, strength, movement patterns, and overall conditioning allows their game to improve significantly. We see it with our junior players, our amateur and college players, our pros, and our executive golfers. Improving overall strength and conditioning, correcting basic swing characteristics, and managing training load can improve a players physical performance and help to mitigate the effects of adaptation over time that come from a whole body, high velocity movement performed repeatedly in one direction.
The High Performance Team – Building Better Golfers
Over the last 17 years the Titleist Performance Institute has been leading the way when it comes to the development and optimization of the golfer. Blending the niche efforts of the golf medical professional, golf fitness professional, and golf teaching professional, which we’ll refer to as “The Big 3,” TPI has created a model to help the golfer holistically improve their health and their game! Each professional plays an integral role in the process and Empower Golf Performance is one of the few facilities in Nevada to provide the full, comprehensive TPI model to our clients.
Why Work With A High Performance Team?
Choosing to work with a high performance team will provide you with the best chance of success. Having a comprehensive strategy that addresses pain, current & past injuries, strength needs, conditioning needs, individual physical restrictions, and an in-depth 2D & 3D biomechanical swing analysis with comparison to PGA Tour player norms are just a few of the ingredients that have made our clients successful. Too often individuals work on only one, sometimes two, of these components and they are often doing so without any real direction. It is also very common to hear that a player has been taking lessons for months or years and not seeing much in the way of improvement because they were attempting to be coached through a problem that was a physical limitation and not a technique issue. While some swing faults can be cued and coached to improvement, others may require the intervention of the golf medical and/or golf fitness professional. Communication is essential and our systems rely on constant communication between each professional to provide our clients with an engaging experience that drives real results.
In our next posts we will get into the details on what each of the “Big 3’s” roles are and how each can specifically help to develop and improve an individual’s ability to play golf. We will also discuss the other professionals that are a necessity to truly call yourself an elite golf performance program, and will detail various components of the client experience: the initial intake and evaluation process, our teaching philosophy, and various tips, drills, and strategies to continue to improve the physical and mental performance of the elite golfer.