The average golfer spends a ton of money on new clubs, new training aides, and swing lessons. These can often be an expensive means to see modest gains in golf performance. A new driver can cost $300-600, irons can run well over $1,000, and swing lessons can range from $50-200 and hour, if not more. You get the picture, golf is expensive.
Golfer’s seem willing to invest in new equipment, the latest infomerical gimmick training tool, or a pricey swing coach with the hopes of shaving a few stroke off of their score. However, it seems that golfers are less likely to invest in their body as a source of improving their golf game.
Now, I’m a physical therapist by trade so I may be biased. But there is a lot of research coming out showing that getting stronger, faster, and staying healthy can improve performance and shave strokes off of your score. I’m not saying that buying new clubs and paying for a swing coach is bad by any means, but golfers should be aware that investing in their body probably has a better ROI than buying a 5th new driver in 5 years.
In our Golf Performance Program at Champion PT and Performance, we work with golfers of different skill levels who have drastically different playing goals. Most golfers come to us not knowing much about golf performance therapy.
The common theme that we’ve noticed is that most golfers aren’t even aware that a physical therapist may be able to help their golf game. Our job is to educate golfers on what physical therapists and strength coaches can do to help them reach their golfing goals. There’s a reason that most guys on Tour have a team of PT’s, chiros, and strength coaches that travel to tournaments with them. Here’s a glimpse inside Jordan Spieth’s training routine.
From my experience working with golfers at Champion, I’ve noticed three main “buckets” or groups of people who would benefit from working with a qualified physical therapist. These buckets may overlap and not every golfer will fit nicely into a specific bucket.
The 3 Buckets
Notice how the pain bucket is closest to the center. In my opinion, this group of people have the highest priority for physical therapy or performance therapy and would most likely benefit the most. The other two buckets are slightly farther away, denoting that the priority for golf PT is slightly less, but still important.
Bucket 1: Pain
This one seems obvious. This bucket could include nagging low back discomfort during or after golfing, tender and sore shoulders, aching elbows and wrists to name a few. Best case scenario is that these discomforts are noticeable and maybe slightly impact your play but are overall pretty manageable. However, some golfer’s discomfort is more serious and not only affects their golf game but impacts their daily activities.
Pain can be a driver for poor movement patterns which can affect the golf swing and lead to inconsistent play and a unenjoyable playing experience. The majority (but not all) of golf injuries tend to be overuse-based injuries. This often includes a sudden spike in golfing volume that our body is not accustomed to. This could be from a long-range session after not swinging a club all winter, playing 36-holes a day after not playing for a while, or even an aggravation of a previous injury.
Golfers who have pain while golfing or after golfing should undergo a thorough assessment by a qualified physical therapist. I think it’s very important for golfers to be educated about the pain they’re experiencing and determine the appropriate strategy to move forward. A physical therapy assessment can help examine any specific injury (if there is one) and suboptimal movement qualities impacting discomfort or swing faults. A qualified PT should be able to assist in creating a solid, individualizzed game plan for the golfer. This plan may include direct care from a physical therapist utilizing a manual therapy and exercise based program and management of training volume.
I don’t think anyone would argue that they want to be in pain while golfing. So, if you have pain or discomfort while playing, take the first step and seek some help.
Bucket 2: Physical Limitations
Some golfers have physical limitations due to certain body characteristics that can impact their movement patterns in the gym and limit their ability to make meaningful swing changes. They may be working with a swing coach but have seen their progress slow and are still not happy with where their game is.
This bucket may most closely apply to the average amateur golfer who works a desk job 40+ hours a week and feels tight and stiff. These golfers typically have trouble reversing their learned posture and may be restricted in movements such as hip rotation, thoracic rotation, and shoulder mobility.
These movement limitations make playing consistent golf difficult and lead to compensations somewhere in their swing. If they’re working with a swing coach, these physical limitations can make it difficult for them to make meaningful swing changes.
Physical therapists are trained in assessment strategies and manual therapy techniques that help to identify the cause of a physical limitation and work to improve physical limitations if necessary. These techniques can be supported by self-directed mobility drills and a resistance training program designed around the athlete’s current movement capabilities.
What golfers in this category typically need is long-term guidance. They will probably benefit in the short-term from physical therapy consisting of manual therapy or self-directed exercises. However, the long-term strategy for these golfers may be incorporating a daily routine for them to do on their own.
Physical therapists who understand golf are excellent resources to utilize to develop a long-term strategy based on what these golfers need. A physical therapist may decide it’s appropriate for the golfer to begin a strength and conditioning program to continue to make progress towards the golfer’s goals.
Bucket 3: Performance Maximization
The third bucket of golfers who would benefit from physical therapy may not have pain while golfing and don’t have significant physical limitations that impact their game. These are the golfers who are working out in the gym to improve their force production qualities and getting lessons from a swing coach, but have one or two specific areas that, if improved, could help the golfer to maximize their potential in the gym and with their swing coach.
This could mean focusing on strengthening a specific muscle group, gaining a little more mobility in a specific direction, improving balance, etc. It is going to be specific to each individual golfer, but it is going to have a major impact if addressed.
These golfers benefit from a physical therapist who will scrutinize each aspect of their movement and be able to identify a specific area for improvement. Performance maximization may involve only improving a golfer’s movement or strength by 5-10%. It may be that small of a change, but will pay dividends out on the course.
My hope for this article was not to sell golfers on the importance of physical therapy or performance therapy. Rather, the goal was to educate golfers that there is an alternative means of improving performance than spending lots of money on new equipment and lessons.
Physical therapy and performance therapy can help golfers move better, feel better, improve performance, and be overall happier and healthier.
If you are frustrated with where your game stands and want to take your game to the next level, try consulting with a physical therapist who is knowledgeable and passionate about golf!
Not sure where to look? Check out the two resources below to find a professional who works for you!