What is Holding Your Golf Game Back?
This age-old question “What is holding me back from playing like the pros?” I wish this was a simple question, but unfortunately there is a multitude of factors to truly answer it thoroughly. Golf is a game of focus, coordination, consistency, and requires plenty of practice. But with that practice, why do we find ourselves reaching a plateau of how far we can hit the ball or how consistent we strike the ball? To answer this in its simplest form, there are 3 major components to that affect golf performance. Our golf game is influenced by our technique (the swing), our equipment (the clubs) and our physical attributes (such as strength, power and mobility). Each one of these categories can have their own detrimental effects on our game when they are not performing to their potential, but in combination is where we truly find golf to be the merciless game that we grew up to love and hate. Let’s discuss how these factors play into our game.
The swing is the elemental base for any sound golf game. A proper swing gives us the best chance to strike the ball with consistency and with accuracy. The swing needs to have some form of coordination and repeatability in order for us to create the muscle memory required to swing with a clear conscience. Muscle memory is created when we repeatedly perform the same movement or pattern which then becomes engrained into our brain. The brain is able to talk to the muscles in a way that is so fast, that the movement eventual becomes second nature and is performed at a relatively subconscious level. We all need to consciously focus on our performance when initially starting a new task. As we become more acquainted with our muscle memory, we become more automatic with our movement patterns. We tend to focus less on our performance and more on the result or outcome we are aiming for. Were you able to just get up one day and start walking without thinking about it as a toddler? Of course not! But now, you can walk as far as you want while talking on your phone to your buddy and chewing on a piece of gum, all because you created that muscle memory to walk unconsciously as a toddler way back when.
Now relating this back to the golf swing, your technique never starts as a subconscious movement. The initial swing looks ugly, feels ugly, and typically produces an ugly result. As we practice, learn and create the muscle memory of the swing, the swing becomes less conscious. Now you can start to focus more on the direction and location the ball is about to go versus trying to remember what you’re supposed to do in any specific component of the swing. Theoretically this is simple, but let’s be real, our swings (even at the pro level) can have minor alterations that can create major flaws in our golf game. Bottom line, from the first time you grabbed a golf club to the current day where you think the next round might be your big break, technique plays a huge, integral part in your golf game. A beginner needs to practice enough to get to a subconscious level of swinging while a more experienced golfer, needs to fine-tune their swing enough and PRACTICE enough to create a fully acquired-muscle memory facilitated swing. The more we practice, the less swing thoughts we will have and the better we’ll perform.
The game of golf is unique in itself for many reasons, but one of the greatest reasons is the need for proper fitting equipment. Equipment plays a huge factor in consistency in your performance. As mentioned earlier, consistency is key for any successful golfer, and a larger part of that is dependent on the club. Golf is not like baseball, where you need one bat and one glove and you’re good to go play or football where you need pads, a helmet and a pair of cleats. No. Golf requires 14 different clubs with proper fit. On top of that, each club has a grip, shaft, and head that need customization to the individual looking to find consistency in their game. To put it simply, golf has a lot of moving parts just starting with the equipment. For example, a shaft with too much flex in someone who swings too hard will result in the club head lagging behind. When this occurs, you can say bye-bye to that ball as it’s scheduled destination down the fairway will be taking a quick tour to the woods via a slice. When the club is too short, topping the ball is a commonly seen pattern. When the club is too heavy, your club can lag behind in the swing and lead to excavating a large divot and poor ball striking. This list goes on and on, if there’s a caveat here: find the clubs that fit you to promote consistency in your game. The club should be the last thing you are thinking about when taking a swing. The swing needs to feel natural and with improperly equipped clubs, can lead to an ugly feeling swing with a likely ugly outcome. Properly fit equipment is a paramount necessity for a golfer looking to improve their game.
#3 Physical Attributes
This brings us to our last factor in our golf game. This is the bread and butter that I can talk about until the cows come home. Physical attributes and training. This is a frequently overlooked aspect of a golfer’s game. Golf has been a game seen as a way to relax and get away from reality for a few hours on a beautiful weekend day for some time. For others, who are making it a career for themselves, there’s one very simple way to help improve their game: training. Golf training?? What is that? There is a true science behind training for golf. You may be asking yourself, “but isn’t training something for playing football or preparing to run a marathon?” Well, if we break down sports to their simplest level, a sport is a repeated pattern of movements with the end goal of having a better score than your opponent. Sports can be team (ex football, baseball, rugby) or individual (ex golf, tennis), but regardless of the influence of teammates or not, we are all required to perform similar movement patterns repeatedly over and over again. How do we get better at movement patterns? We train for it! Golf is very unique in that our movement patterns are all very similar; as in a swing with an iron is similar to that of a wood, minus some smaller factors, such as ball placement, distance, and speed of the swing. This makes training for golf a very simple sport to train for, as there is one ultimate movement pattern we are looking to improve upon.
So now we need to answer the question, what determines physical attributes? There is no singular answer to this; there are several factors. Physical attributes are determined from a combination of strength, power, mobility and genetics. Strength, power production and mobility levels can be considered modifiable while genetics is non-modifiable, as there is not much you can do with what you are born with. Strength is commonly tested with assessing compound lifts, such as the bench press, deadlift and squat. While these lifts individually target specific muscle groups, these exercises are excellent measures of full body strength.
The Bench Press
The bench press for example assesses the upper body strength. The prime mover (the muscle doing the majority of the movement) is the pectoralis major. We always think of a guy who can bench a lot will have a big chest like Arnold Schwarzenegger, right? The stronger the pecs, the stronger the lift. But the big consideration to recognize is that the bench is a COMPOUND movement. It does not involve only the prime mover. We also have stabilizers and agonists which assist the motion. The stabilizers are going to be your back musculature and deltoids are commonly recognized. Agonists are muscle that assist the prime movers in the actual movement. Agonists for the bench include the triceps and deltoids as well.
The squat is the second commonly assessed compound lift. The squat utilizes the lower body muscle groups, including the hip extensors, knee extensors and ankle musculature. The glutes are your primary hip extensors, your quadriceps are your knee extensors and your plantar flexors are the main muscle groups that assists the ankle movement. The leg muscles aren’t the only ones at work here! The stabilizers commonly utilized are especially prevalent in the trunk, which include the back extensors and abdominals to prevent the trunk from giving out. If we can’t even hold the weight before beginning the movement, then there’s no way we will even be able to perform the lift.
The deadlift is an excellent compound hinge-based movement that incorporates hip extensors as the primary mover. The hinge is a commonly utilized move in the golf swing and can effectively trained to an increased on-course performance (ex distance off the tee) via the deadlift. The deadlift is also one of the best compound movements for incorporating the entire body in one coordinated movement. As mentioned, the hip extensors are the primary muscle group being strengthened, there are also several stabilizers utilized for a successful, coordinated lift. These include your scapular retractors, back extensors, abdominals, and lower leg musculature.
Power is a measure of strength over time. Essentially what that means is how fast can you move a source of resistance. A movement with high level of resistance moved over a short amount of time will produce a high-power output, conversely, a slower movement (takes more time to accomplish) will produce less power. Power is commonly considered to be synonymous with speed or fast movements. If we are considering the golf swing, it is one of the quickest movements in all of sports with a high angular velocity (degrees/s). Power is indeed an important aspect of the golf swing and is training for it is just as important. Exercises that promote rotational power are excellent for translating a few extra miles per hour on the golf swing.
Mobility is just as important if not more important that power and strength levels. You could be the strongest guy in the world or have exceptional power, but it can all be completely underutilized if you lack in mobility. Mobility should be assessed where rotation occurs in the swing, which includes the hips, trunk, shoulders and neck. These four main rotary centers need to be mobile in order to allow for a smooth coordinated swing that allows you to utilize maximal power throughout it. A lack of mobility not only leads to under utilization of your potential power output, but also can lead to pain and excess soreness. When one area of the body is hypomobile (decreased mobility), other areas will work harder to maintain the appropriate mobility levels. This is not good, as it can lead to excess stress on tissues (muscles, joints) that may be fine on, but can eventually find their breaking point, resulting in pain and further reduction in mobility. For example, a lack of hip mobility is problematic, as it will decrease the effectiveness of the power output the hips can produce. As a result, the trunk (back) may need to excessively rotate to make up for the hypomobile hips and can lead to back pain, which is very commonly seen with golfers. If there is a caveat here, make sure to work on your mobility!
If you would like to assess your own mobility, check out our HOME MOBILITY ASSESSMENT, which will tell you very quickly if you need to work on your mobility exercises.
Click on the link to take the assessment: https://online.par4success.com/start
Overall, there are several factors that affect golf performance. We have discussed the effect of a quality golf swing, properly fit clubs and proper training to improve physical attributes and overall performance on the course. With these 3 considerations towards your game, a massive improvement in one’s performance can be achieved, especially with distance hit, club head speed and even longevity of play.
For any questions about this article, give us a call at Par4Success – 919-377-2084