In search for the perfect swing, various theories have been competing regularly, for every 15 to 20 years the emergence of a leading method. From Ben Hogan’s incredibly “simple” and efficient golf swing, to the all connected “one piece” of Jimmy Ballard and the new A-swing of David Leadbetter, the quest for the Holy Grail has always been relentless. Tiger Woods’ domination at the end of 1990/beginning of 2000 and the rise of the prize money which more than doubled in less than ten years on the PGA Tour, brought along the desire to reproduce his aggressive move, based on a physical training never witnessed before (for golfers). The modern swing as we understand it today was born… however a few years later, injuries among professionals seem to occur more often and from a younger age. Would the future of one of the most complexes gestures in the world of sport be somewhat in jeopardy?
Ben Hogan (1912-1997)
The early swing which was long and free flowing, based on a generous rotation, became over the years shorter, strongly rooted in the ground to facilitate differentiation between the upper and lower body. The swinging motion became more explosive; the idea was to store a maximum of strength in the backswing to be released at impact with a hyper extended left knee (especially with long clubs).
This “power swing” and its ground force, lead to more tension in the lower back as well as in the left knee in the downswing. A shorter move also means less time to make the transition afterwards. The pros whom have become for the most part, true athletes and whom benefit, on average from a 120 mi/hr club speed with their driver, have had to adapt their physical training in order to produce such swing and to resist to heavy loads of practice that go on par with a growing and sharper competition. According to the orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Sandy Kunkel “The modern golf swing is hard on the body. To have athletes in their 20s experiencing these types of injuries is very concerning for the long term” (The Guardian, 18th of January 2017).
Up to now, few injuries seemed linked to the golf swing itself. Only Johnny Miller, the famous NBC TV commentator, who decided to cut woods in his ranch during the 1977 winter while at the top of his game (he won ten tournaments from 74 to 75 and had just won the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale in 1976), ruined his career to gain a few pounds of muscle. Today the best players in the world, who are also surrounded by various experts in their fields, are not injury-free. Indeed the former world number one and 28 years old Northern-Irishman, Rory McIlroy had to stop playing last year for more than three months due to rib trauma caused by “over testing equipment over the winter” (BBC 14th of August 2017). The 25 years old Japanese Hideki Matsuyama, withdrew on the Friday of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at the beginning of February because of pain in the left wrist. The winner of the 2017 US Open, the 27 year-old American, Brooks Koepka had to put away his golf clubs in mid-January due to wrist pain…
Rory McIlroy has become a true fitness aficionado
As for the ladies professional, they are almost as inclined to injuries as men. Michelle Wie, only 28 years old, is described as a “walking cadaver” according to David Leadbetter (her coach since she was 13) with traumas in both wrists, her neck and her spinal discs. The “Pink Panther”, Paula Creamer (31 years old, 10 victories on the LPGA among which 1 Major) has finally announced her come back for mid-March after a wrist surgery last October. Regarding French players, the young and talented 23 years old, Perrine Delacour whom is among the five French players on the American Tour, she has been hurt three times in three years…
The 28 years old American Michelle Wie
It remains difficult to blame only the modern swing for chronic injuries occurring in a professional career trajectory. As a matter of fact, in 1994 while the skinny Tiger at the time, was only 19 years old, studying at Stanford and benefiting from a long and flexible swing, he underwent a first knee surgery. More time would definitely be needed to actually measure the impact of the “new” swing on the longevity of professional careers.
The Spanish Ana Belen Mozo, LPGA member, enjoys working out regularly
Nonetheless, over the years competition has definitely become fiercer and fiercer on most Tours. The pros, wishing to get to the top follow strenuous practice sessions both on the range and at the gym. For many they gain confidence while others relieve their nerves in an extremely competitive environment. Performance Enhancement Drugs become then highly attractive while dreaming of upcoming victories. The problem is tendons do not grow like artificially boosted muscles and that is when injuries occur. Let us not be naive, like most sports, golf is also affected by PEDs but may be in a lesser degree as of now. It is high time to be fully transparent on that matter and to undergo efficient drug tests (at the end of last year, the PGA Tour announced blood tests for the 2018 season knowing that until then only urine tests were taking place), in order to protect the young generations and to maintain the integrity of this sport.
One of the biggest appeals of golf remains without doubt longevity. A sensible training management on and off the course along with a well thought schedule would prevent players from falling into the trap of doping. This would also enable the pros to peak during Majors and to enjoy a career than would span over decades.
Gary Player, "Mister Fitness", still going strong at 82 years old
Anyhow, Ryan Myers, Zach Johnson and Billy Horschel’s physical coach, believes that “golf fitness is still in its infancy” (Golf Digest, 24th of August 2017). It should be embrace from an early age in order to get muscular reinforcement and later to combine strength and flexibility. With a better understanding, muscular coordination would be a key focus rather than swing speed. Adopting a healthy way of life would also deter from absorbing banned substances. See you in 20 years!
KMA is a former Ladies European Tour Player, co-publisher of the "Rolex World's Top 1,000 Golf Courses" and co-owner of Grand Saint Emilionnais Golf Club