Fixing weakest links

In your opinion, golf is:

A. A game best played while driving a motorized cart and chugging back a few cold ones.

B. A sport requiring both mental and physical strength and agility.

C. Where you hit the little orange ball through the clown’s mouth.

If you chose A or C (and you consider yourself a golfer) you may want to expand your horizons a bit.

But if you chose B, now’s the time to get in shape.

“In shape for golf?” you scoff.

Just look at Tiger Woods. He has gone from string-bean to buff over the course of his pro career, thanks to regular workouts.

Besides adding power and control to your swing, being in tip-top golf shape will make you less prone to injuries.

Golf may not be up there with sky-diving or swimming with sharks when it comes to risky recreational activities, but it’s not without its dangers. With more than 25 million golfers in the U.S., there were about 109,000 golf-related injuries in 2003, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“Golf is the only sport where you turn your body completely the opposite way as your head,” says Nancy Perkins, a physical therapist with Lilac City Physical Therapy and Sports Rehabilitation, who occasionally works with golfers. “You could easily be at risk of straining a back muscle, a neck muscle, a shoulder. You can strain anything. … The weak link is going to surface, and you can easily injure yourself.”

Ease into golf season slowly. For most golfers, it will have been many months since last going 18 holes.

Start out by hitting a few buckets of balls and play some short games before getting into full swing (so to speak).

If you haven’t walked all winter, you’ll probably want to start putting some miles on your tennis shoes before heading out to walk 18 holes.

You should also do some stretches before ever swinging that first driver. It’s good to limber up all over, but, when golfing, pay particular attention to the neck, shoulder, trunk and legs, Perkins says.

“Stretching is huge in golf,” she says.

If you want to get more serious about improving your game and minimizing injury, you may want to get some professional help.

Rockwood Clinic’s sports performance department has just launched a program specifically for golfers.

Participants begin with an initial evaluation of their swing, body mechanics and past injuries, says Keith Eggleston, a certified athletic trainer who runs the program. The evaluation runs about $60, and a package of eight training sessions costs about $360, he says.

“We’re trying to change the mentality of golfers,” Eggleston says. “They’ll go out and spend $400 on a new driver, but they won’t go out and spend $100 to improve their well-being.”

Eggleston often sees golfers concerned about flexibility, or about the effects of old injuries on their performance, he says.

He hopes, though, that golfers make it to him before they harm themselves on the course.

“We would just prefer to work with golfers before the come into us with an injury from golf,” he says.

At a golf show a couple of months ago, Eggleston says about 80 percent of the golfers who approached his booth were suffering from an injury – from minor things to problems that are “borderline surgical,” he says.

“We really believe people need to take conditioning more seriously,” he says. “The prevalence of injury is too high.”

That’s just what Tom Davidson did.

Davidson has been the director of golf at the Coeur d’Alene Public Course for the past three years. The 41-year-old has been a golfer since he was 7.

Davidson started noticing fatigue at the end of games in recent years. He couldn’t hit the ball as far as he used to.

So, for the last four months he has been visiting Sam Mann twice a week. Mann is co-owner of Coeur d’Alene’s Precision Fitness Solutions and he recruited area golf pros to help him design a personal-training program for golfers.

Davidson now works out regularly with resistance bands, tests his balance on stability discs and strengthens his muscles on weight machines.

“My balance is much much better and my strength is much much better,” Davidson says.

Last year, he’d be pooped around the 15th or 16th hole. But now, he says, “18 holes is not that big of a deal.”

Mann charges $250 for his six-week, 12-session program.

The golf programs offered by physical therapists, personal trainers and others are not meant to duplicate what’s offered by golf pros, Mann and others say.

“I don’t want to fix the things you can fix,” Mann told the pros in his program. “I want to fix the things you can’t.”

Often, a pro suggest ways for a golfer to improve his or her swing that the golfer just can’t do. A lack of strength or flexibility, or an old injury, might be holding them back. That’s where Mann comes in.

“It makes a good golfer better when their physical problems aren’t getting in the way of their mental game,” he says.


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