Getting the Swing of It

A new resource for the ailing golfer

Back Article Oct 1, 2013 By Douglas Curley

When you literally don’t have a good leg to stand on, golf can be particularly frustrating — especially if you’re an aging weekend whacker with physical ailments and a set of custom irons that weren’t customized for you.

Recently, that’s my predicament.

I’m 57 years old and no spring chicken by any measure. My best athletic days are well behind me. I no longer play softball by order of my mom, wife, sisters, daughters and bartenders — after ending three consecutive seasons with several fractured ribs and a cracked left clavicle. I also used to love tennis, but a blown out ankle and a tenuous right elbow made that prohibitively painful. Still, I enjoy 18 holes of golf on Saturday mornings.

Or, rather, I did until about two years ago when, seemingly out of nowhere, pain in both of my feet, legs and knees began hindering my golf game. At about the same time, I “upgraded” my 20-year-old Golfsmith graphite-shaft irons to a set of custom Warrior irons found on Craigslist.

Suddenly, I had what my playing partners call “happy feet.” They were actually very unhappy, and I couldn’t keep them planted. Worse than that, as a lifetime hooker (the Duck Hook has been renamed the Doug Hook), I was now severely slicing the ball. I mean severely. My playing partners weren’t even safe standing behind me.

As it turns out, a blood clot had formed in my lower right leg. It was caught in time and addressed appropriately, but I missed about six months of golf. And while I’ve never been much better than a bogey golfer, breaking 100 was a rare occurrence. I blamed it on a combination of weak left ankle, a circulation-challenged right lower leg and over- gripping with my right hand to compensate for my soft left shoulder.

Turns out, my assessment was partially correct.

As the editor of a monthly magazine, I get daily press releases promoting the achievements and aspirations of regional entrepreneurs. Usually, I delete them. But a few months into this slicing/happy feet conundrum, I noticed an email about “The Golf Gapper.” The opening line stated, “High-tech evaluation by local golf expert helps those who lost swing potency due to age or injury.” I read on…

The Golf Gapper turned out to be Dr. Jenni Martin, and she shared with me that a person’s golf swing can be negatively impacted by various injuries or ailments that often plague golfers as they age. I was living proof. Over the years, her clients have suffered from ailments much worse than mine, including knee injuries, hip replacements and major strokes.

“There is a most-efficient swing for each individual, no matter the physical situation,” Martin says. “Knowing your body, beliefs, limitations and goals and then putting that information to work for you via tried-and-true exercises and drills customized for your learning style is the best way to improve and enjoy the game of golf.”

While she almost lost me with the notion of “exercises and drills,” I was intrigued by the idea of developing a more efficient swing. So I signed up. The standard Golf Gapper session includes:

  • golf physical and fitness evaluation with take-home exercises, stretches and personalized DVD
  • high-speed video swing analysis with take-home DVD
  • K-Vest 3D swing efficiency study and graph interpretation of kinematic sequence (whatever that means)
  • club and ball-flight analysis
  • foot-plate balance study and foot evaluation.

I did feel a little like Kevin Costner in “Tin Cup” when I got some of those gadgets on. And, my apologies to our intrepid photographer Mike Graff for taking a hit during my simulated driving session. But all that gadgetry worked.

First and foremost, the analysis reported those Warrior irons were custom fitted to someone — but obviously not me. For once I could actually blame something on the clubs!

According to Martin, they were bent two degrees too high for my swing. Thus the slice. And that slice had led me to over grip with my right hand (she called it the “creeping effect”) in an attempt to open the club face. That led to flattened shoulders, stiff back, bad posture and perhaps a bad attitude about life in general. I apologize to friends and family. And we hadn’t even addressed my “happy” feet.

But I digress.

What she did say was, “If you have physical issues, and you’re trying to swing like you did when you were 15 or like you see the pros do on TV, you’re going to start to develop some compensatory [habits] that are inefficient for you and cause you to be inconsistent.”

OK. So what do I do about it?

She says, “You may need to shorten or alter you swing. Do some stretching exercises to loosen your lats (not sure what lats are, but I did the stretches and my back feels great), and be aware that when you roll through your swing you’re left ankle has a tendency to fall back. Focus on that.”

I felt like that was a lot to focus on. But, like any good teacher or counselor, she reassured me I wasn’t the worst thing that ever teed it up.

“The issue is you do all this creative stuff on your back and forward swing, with your grip, ground force, back and pelvic turn, but when you finally get to the ball you spank it (nice). So, God, if we could stop some of the mischief in your swing routine, we can make it so you can hit the ball more consistently.”

She put together a regiment of drills and exercises for me, including one involving standing on swivel disk while swinging in my backyard. I also have begun regularly stretching my lats.

On that topic, she says: “I didn’t picture that you were going to run off to workout at the gym five time as week.” That actually hurts a little. I do go to the club three or four times a week. She continues, “Nor did I think you were going to the driving range and practice this stuff every day. You have to work. You don’t have the time. But with the information you have, you can do a few simple drills and stretch exercises to address your main issues.”

And while I have lots of issues not related to golf, Dr. Martin was absolutely correct about my golf swing.

Two months after my first session, I can report both the drills and exercises have paid off. Most importantly, my back has never felt better. Secondly, my golf game is back on track.

Last weekend with a borrowed set of standard irons at Bing Maloney (I know it’s a relatively old and forgiving course, but still) I broke 90 for the first time since the Bush administration. I finished in the top three of my foursome — without a mulligan.

Be forewarned. I’m ba-aack.