Golf. How does the saying go, “A good walk spoiled?” Well, perhaps, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little preparation and swing mechanics knowledge, one can improve their game and reduce the frustration and amount of ball-chasing experienced.
Proper swing mechanics are important for not only a better game, but also to reduce the risk of injury. Golf may seem like a somewhat passive and low-impact sport, but in fact, the stresses generated through-out the mid-lower spine are significant and can lead to injury. The swing is a complex series of movements requiring coordinated muscle contractions and high-speed joint actions to be performed properly. Such complexity means the possibility of error and physical failure is high.
The full golf swing is comprised of three major phases: 1) preparation 2) execution and 3) follow-through. The following descriptions are for a right-handed golfer in the tee box whose goal is for maximum accuracy and distance. The preparation phase consists of a proper grip, stance and ball position. Foot placement is crucial for generating maximum power through the swing and reducing the chance of injury. The insides of the heels should be at about shoulder-width apart and weight distributed evenly. It is important to bend the knees slightly in order to produce greater torso rotation and gradually absorb force during the follow-through. The left arm is kept straight in order to increase the speed and range of motion through which the club head will move, and the right arm is slightly flexed and held close to the body. The ball is ideally placed at the lowest point of the swing; generally just left of center. The execution phase commences with the backswing whereby the club head, hands and shoulders all start in one motion to be most effective, as the weight of the feet shifts from the front foot to rear which in turn increases the range of hip rotation. The transition portion of this phase occurs during the time from the end of the backswing until the arms are horizontal. Power is generated as the hips begin to rotate to the left. For this reason, flexibility in the hip flexors is essential so as to generate maximum force. We have now started the downswing phase and weight is shifted back to the front foot as the club head, ideally, follows the same arc through to the ball. At impact the wrists should straighten to allow maximum energy transfer to the ball. Follow-through is characterized by an important concept that is not always followed: continued acceleration through impact. This acts to increase accuracy and decrease the danger of both decelerating at impact and the possibility of injury. At this point as well the golfer’s head is finally pulled up and rotated (much easier said than done on a continuous basis, yours truly included!) by the swing’s momentum.
That, in a nutshell, is how a proper swing should happen. Next time we’ll look at a few tips for how to achieve this through specific stretches and exercises to try and minimize the chance of injury due to the repetitive nature of the golf swing.
Dr. Mark Strudwick is a third-generation chiropractor in Victoria, B.C.