Winter is a difficult time for summer sports enthusiasts, with playing fields typically tundra-hard and covered in snow. Golfers have it particularly tough, as television coverage of the PGA Tour season starts in Hawaii and migrates from one alluring southern locale to another from week to week.
Training for the upcoming season however, should never take a holiday, particularly for those of a more advanced age and already challenged by a gradual loss of strength and flexibility. Even the well-conditioned player should be mindful of potential injury before they jump back onto the course in 2013, or head south for a golf vacation. Just as you would not take a performance car out of the winter garage and straight to the highway to open up the engine, ligaments and tendons require gradual preparation before they receive the sort of excessive torque and sudden stretching that a golf swing can deliver on the human body.
“You can’t put the clubs away for six months and think your game is going to be where it was when you left it. You lose your range of motion and risk injury,” notes Brandon McLeod, a Class-A PGA of Canada teaching professional at Golf Town, Canada’s largest golf retailer.
“Tight muscles make for a less enjoyable golf game,” says McLeod, who also serves at the Director of Golf for the University of Guelph golf team. “If you lose your mobility through your spine and through your hips, your ability to get that golf club back to square is tough. If you lose your mobility in your shoulders, a free-swinging backswing is no longer possible. Players want to get the club parallel (to the ground) at the top of the swing, but muscles that are not loose enough to allow that are going to resist that motion and quickly move back into another direction that’s more comfortable for them. the result is a lot of swing errors, including promoting an over-the-top motion, which creates that dreaded slice!”
McLeod suggests golfers do ten minutes of stretching two or three times a week. “The biggest problem I see with golfers is their inability to separate their upper and lower half. The don’t have control of their pelvis, so when they turn their head, their shoulders move. And when they turn their shoulders, their hips move. If I could get players I’ve never met before to work on one thing, it would be mobility through the hips. Get in front of a mirror with a golf club and hold it across your chest then try to turn your hips to the right or the left without your shoulders moving. If you can, add three or four inches of movement over the winter, and by the time you get to the golf season, your hips are going to be able to get ahead of the club face. You’ll be able to improve contact, power and all the other things you’re trying to do with the swing.”
Another great stretch is to sit in a chair or on a stability ball with your knees together and rotate your upper body without letting your knees turn. McLeod advises, “rotator cuff stretches are also essential. A lot of what we do comes from baseball and the stretches pitchers do. For a right-handed player, the movement through that right shoulder is very similar to what a pitcher needs to do to make a pitch.”
“It’s not just about golf, but quality of life, adds McLeod. “I tell students that if they are able to hit the ball better, they will be able to walk better, have better posture, and just feel better. Moving better means striking the ball with a longer, smoother and more powerful swing.”
McLeod’s Toronto facility, as well as other Golf Town locations across the country, provide golf lessons year-round, and winter really is the ideal time to refine technique. ”One of the things that is backward in our golf industry is the timing of when people work on their swing. Typically, players put their clubs away in November. The Masters comes along in April and they get excited, pull their clubs out of the bag and start swinging. Then they decide that they are not happy with their swing and decide to work on it. By the time they figure out what their body wants to do and how it needs to move, it’s autumn and time to put the clubs away again. Golfers get into this cycle and their game does not get better. What I’d like to do is change the culture of when people consider taking lessons and working on their game. The off-season is the ideal time to make your body move better and make changes to your swing.”
“Employed in tandem, the two-pronged approach will allow players an entire golf season to strut their newfound abilities,” says McLeod. “I would like to ask people, do you want to golf in the golf season or take lessons in the golf season? And as soon as I ask them that, they will start to consider that in Canada we have less than six months to play golf. Why would anyone want to spend five of them changing their golf swing?”