Something you might not know about me is that I grew up playing golf competitively in high school. It’s probably not all that surprising as the National Golf Association reports that 36.9 MILLION Americans ages 6+ played golf – both on-course and off-course – in 2020. Being one in almost 37 million ain’t too shabby, I guess!
Over the pandemic, I found myself playing more than I have in the last 10 years, and it reminded me just how much fun the game is...especially when I’m hitting the ball consistently. My standards have changed a lot since high school, though. Instead of trying to hit the ball perfectly each shot, my new hope for each round of golf is that I don’t pull a muscle or hit the ball in the woods trying to cut the corner on a dogleg par 4.
Fortunately, I became certified through the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) for assessments to see how different movement and strength limitations can affect our swing. What’s great about TPI is they are not trying to create one perfect swing that could only be achieved by a rare few. TPI was founded by a collection of medical professionals and fitness trainers. They analyzed tons of golf swings performed by both amateur's and professional players. In doing so, they found that the best players use common swing characteristics that allow them to hit the ball well, and to play for a long time.
They also found that the sequence of movement (pictured below) in the backswing and downswing is the common thread across the best players on the tour. This sequence of movement allows the larger muscles in your hips and trunk to generate power while keeping joints like your spine, shoulder blades, and knees in a nice, neutral position to avoid excessive wear and tear while playing.
The swing characteristics below are the 5 most common deviations from this sequence of movement that can be identified with at TPI screen. The folks at TPI found the numbers below through 3D motion analysis of lots of players of all abilities.
1. Loss of Posture - found to be in 64% of golfers.
It’s essential to have the strength to maintain hip hinge position and have good flexibility and mobility with rotation in your hips and spine to keep your setup posture throughout your swing.
Strengthening your hips and core muscles and improving your flexibility and mobility in your back and spine can help you avoid this swing characteristic.
2. Early Extension - found in 64% of golfers.
It’s important to maintain your setup posture through your downswing as well. Early extension can happen when your body and brain is “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” and compensating for any weakness or mobility limitations in your hips and spine. When this occurs you’re putting more stress on the joints in your low back and using smaller muscles in your back generate power rather than keeping a neutral spine and using your bigger hip muscles to generate power.
Improving your strength and flexibility in your hips and trunk as well as specific drills that teach you how to do this movement can help you avoid this swing characteristic.
3. A Flat Shoulder Plane - found in 45% of golfers.
Stiffness and weakness in the middle of your back can drive this swing characteristic. Also, it may be a coordination issue where the golfer has a difficult time isolating upper and lower body movement.
Much like the last three, good strength and flexibility in your trunk and hips can help prevent this. Also, if you’re having a hard time keeping the right shoulder plane it could be because this movement is new or different to you. Drills or exercises that help you get a sense of how this movement should feel can help prevent this.
4. Reverse Spine Angle - found in 38% of golfers.
You will notice looking at the picture below that my shoulders are shifting over my front leg at the top of my swing instead of loading my back leg. This leads to excessive stress on the left side of your back and prevents you from shifting your weight properly. Limited balance on the back leg can lead to this. Limited balance can be due to weakness or even chronic pain in any joint in your back leg.
Pain and limited strength and flexibility can lead to this swing characteristic. Getting those issues fixed can have a big impact on your golf swing!
5. Over the Top - found in 43% of golfers.
This is a common issue for a lot of golfers. Not having the proper coordination and motor control between your upper and lower body leads to this swing characteristic. If you’re having a difficult time keeping your downswing on a plane with the drills, strength and flexibility deficits can also contribute to this swing characteristic.
Keeping your swing on the plane is complex. Honing in on what’s causing it - strength, flexibility, coordination - can be really helpful in avoiding this swing characteristic.
There’s many ways to swing a golf club and still hit the ball well. This is great because everyone’s body moves a little differently. The TPI screen helps identify any movement, strength, or coordination deficits that will affect your golf swing to help figure out how to fit a swing to your body. John Rahm (2021 US Open winner) is a great example of a golfer who used this screen to find that he has some ankle mobility restrictions that may not change. Based on that information, he works hard to keep good strength and flexibility in his hips and trunk and still manages to hit the ball pretty well.
So, whether you’re trying to do better on the course or you just don’t want to be the worst one at a Top Golf party, we hope these tips help!
Did you know that Jake and I both are certified in performing TPI screens? This 1 hour long movement screen identifies movements that may be preventing you from a more efficient and repeatable golf swing. We will also provide you with exercise and stretches to help address any deficits you may have and an email summary of your results. If you see a golf instructor that is familiar with or certified through TPI, you can show them these results and they can further help dial in specific swing techniques to address specific to how you move.
Our goal at Functionize is for you to play golf for years to come. If pain is stopping you from this, we offer physical therapy services to not only address the pain but progress you to performing at a high level. Keep your body performing at a high level and your golf game will follow!
Thanks *fore* reading!
Tyler Balfour, PT, DPT
Tyler and his family currently live in Decatur where he enjoys rock climbing, cycling, running, golf, and playing yard games in his free time. Being outside and moving energizes him and he seeks to use the highest quality of care to help his patients overcome physical impairments so they too can get outside and move.