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Golfers may be at risk for injuries without proper training: Optimum Performance

Tiger Woods watches his tee shot head far to the right on the 11th hole of the north course at Torrey Pines during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi) ORG XMIT: CALI110 (Lenny Ignelzi)

Last week, during the hoopla associated with Super Bowl 49 in Glendale, Ariz., the Phoenix Open – a PGA tour event at the Scottsdale Stadium course – was in full swing.

One key golfer – Tiger Woods – was missing from the final cut. Sadly, Woods has fallen out of the top 50 in the world ratings for the first time in three years. As of last May, Woods had the No. 1 rating. However, back surgery (pinched nerve) last season kept him out of action for the remainder of last year.

Golf can be unforgiving to a golfer’s back, since a right-handed grip requires the golfer to bend forward at 47 degrees of flexion with 16 degrees of lateral (side) flexion – a perfect set up to grind the lumbar (low back) discs, especially with Woods’ powerful rotational torque.

According to an article published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, “Mastery of the golf swing requires balance, flexibility, and strength to coordinate the movements of multiple body segments in order to optimize proficiency and driving distance.”

Developing strength in the hips, pelvis, and lower back are critical to optimizing a golfer’s performance. Research notes that, “There is a relationship between maximum torso velocity (during the downswing) and ball velocity, which equate to a greater driving distance.”

Story by

Mackie Shilstone,

Contributing writer

Balance can affect the golfer’s swing in several ways – rhythm and tempo, and “The ability to maintain the body in equilibrium by maintaining the projected center of mass within the limits of the base of support.” It comes down to a physical therapy term called stability – mobility, in which one part or segment of the body is stabilizing (the core), while another segment is mobilizing (swing).

One of the tests, which I use to identify any lower extremity deficits in hip range of motion is called the Star Excursion Balance Test (SEBT). According to, “The SEBT is a dynamic test that requires strength, flexibility, and proprioception (feedback mechanism). It is a measure of dynamic balance that provides a significant challenge to athletes and people who are physically active.”

The test, notes, “can be used to assess physical performance but can also be used to screen deficits in dynamic postural control due to musculoskeletal injuries like chronic ankle instability. It could be used to identify athletes at greater risk for lower extremity injury. It is also possible to use the test during the rehabilitation of orthopedic injuries in healthy, physically active adults.”

Peter Draovitch, a physical therapist to golfer Greg Norman and the developer, along with CDM Medical of the PAC Total Golf Program, notes that, “The forces that act on the individual segments of the spine (in golf) vary from skill level to skill level and individual to individual. Pre-existing conditions of the spine will change the way these forces are distributed.”

When demands exceed tissue recovery capabilities, says the PAC manual, “The result will be breakdown.”

The golf swing places multiple types of forces on the spine: Anterior / Posterior (shear), Lateral Bending, Twisting (torsional forces), and Compression. It appears, as noted from past research from the New Jersey School of Medicine, that pro golfers demonstrate, “Less sliding, lateral bending, and twisting forces than the amateur golfer.”

For what it’s worth, it appears that lower handicapped golfers have more efficient swing patterns than higher handicapped golfers. Also, “Individuals with better single-leg balance may be able to handle the significant weight shift that occurs during the golf swing.”

What’s the solution? According to Draovitch and PAC Total Golf, cardiorespiratory endurance, postural balance, golf-specific muscular strength, functional flexibility, balance, and motor learning are the keys to success.

The old expression “practice makes perfect” may need to be amended to “perfect practice” makes for a perfect outcome, especially in the frustrating game of golf, so I am told.

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently a fitness consultant to Serena Williams and has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. Contact him at