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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Are Golf Pros Working Out Too Much?

I intended to write about this topic in yesterday's post, but I planned my day badly and ran out of time. However, since GC was still debating the topic Tuesday night, I don't guess I'm too late to toss in my own two cents.

The question is simple: With so many pros suffering from back pain -- and other assorted injuries -- are they putting in too much time in the gym?

The answer, however, is not so simple. I think it's the result of several seemingly unrelated factors coming together at the same time.

I should point out that this isn't a new debate. I have heard that football coach John Madden -- yes, the guy they named the video game after -- once blamed an overemphasis on weight training for an increase in injuries among football players. Similar debates go on in other sports.

But an overemphasis on weight work is almost certainly a factor in all this. All you have to do is look at the types of injuries we see among athletes in general. It is a fact that you can strengthen muscles with weight work, but not tendons and ligaments. They have to increase their strength over time, at their own rate. And we see disproportionate number of injuries among other athletes that aren't muscle injuries, but rather ligament and tendon injuries. (Rory had one of those over the summer last year, remember?)

So clearly we can strengthen our muscles faster than the connecting tissue can adjust. Failing to allow for that is probably one of the factors.

Likewise, the power game most golf pros use now focuses on using stiffer shafts, which they "load" by increasing the leverage they create during the swing. To increase that leverage, you need to focus the movement at fewer "fulcrums" (or pivot points, if you prefer that term), and that creates more stress on those joints.

GC noted in their Monday night discussion that players in the mid-20th Century tended to damage their hips, and that more recent players tend to injure their backs. That's because swings in the style of Snead and Nelson tended to focus on hip turn, while modern swingers tend to restrict hip turn and focus the motion on their lower backs.

So the change in swing technique -- and the stiffer-shafted equipment built for that technique -- is also a factor.

The increased amount of practice time also contributes. In the book Bobby Jones on Golf, Charles Price noted that:
"It would be the most natural assumption in the world to think that during those eight years Bobby Jones did little other than play golf. In reality, Jones played less formal golf during his championship years than virtually all the players he beat, and he beat everybody in the world worth beating...Jones averaged no more than three months a year playing in, and going to and from, tournaments and championships" (p IX-X).
That's significant. The farther back you go, the fewer differences you see between the techniques of the full swing and those of the short game. With the differences that have grown between the full 'power' game and the short 'feel' game, players simply spend far more time on the practice tee than their forebears of a half century ago.

They have to, because they have to maintain two different swings.

Golf is a worldwide sport now. A large amount of time is spent in travel. And while many of these pros can travel in private jets, it still takes a toll when your travel time can take 10-15 hours or more. The pressurized cabin of a jet takes a medical toll on your body, as sitting for that many hours will affect your joints and your body can easily dehydrate. In addition, travel through so many time zones affects your sleep patterns as well

Finally, add the wraparound season to the mix. Players no longer get two or three months (or more) off where they can simply let the clubs sit in the garage for a while. (Well, they don't get it unless they decide to skip a large number of tournaments and put themselves at a large disadvantage in the points races that determine who plays in the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, FedExCup and Race to Dubai. For many players, that's a serious problem.)

So the reason for the increase in sports injuries seems to be a combination of factors:
  • Too much weight work
  • Changes in swing technique
  • Stiffer shafts
  • Increased practice time
  • The effects of increased travel
  • No off-season rest time
So it's not just one thing. It's the intersection of so many seemingly unrelated things that, while they may appear small in and of themselves, multiply the total damage into very real pain.

The solution would appear obvious. Back off a little on the workouts and practice time, move to a less strenuous swing technique that allows softer shafts (that should offset most of the loss of distance the players would expect), and travel and play less often. A simple solution...

But it probably ain't gonna happen. At least, not until somebody tries it and begins to dominate the game the way Tiger did.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

One Reason Golf Instruction Is Often Confusing

This is a very short post but I think something this important warrants it. This is something you always need to be aware of when you're learning how players do things.

I read a new Golf Digest article from Dustin Johnson about playing drives and approach shots. For the most part, it's a very good article... but take a look at this photo from it:

Dustin Johnson making three-quarter swing

In the section of the article about hitting short irons, DJ says "I play the ball in roughly the same spot for each club, centered between my feet." But take a really good look at the photo (you can see it in other photos in the article as well).

The ball is NOT centered between his feet. I suppose it might look that way to him when he's looking straight down from above, but it's NOT centered between his feet. It's close to being centered between his TOES, but you measure the center of your stance from your HEELS.

DJ actually plays the ball slightly ahead of the center of his stance. This allows his downswing to shallow out ever so slightly, even though he's still hitting down. If the ball was actually in the center of his stance, the sharper downward angle of attack would affect his ability to control his ball's distance as well as he does.

My point here is that you need to make sure you study any instructional articles, photos and videos very carefully. Although there's a great deal of useful information to be had -- as there is in this article from DJ -- sometimes small things slip through the editing process. And sometimes those small things can keep you from getting the proper results.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Limerick Summary: 2017 Sony Open

Winner: Justin Thomas

Around the wider world of golf: Chilean amateur Toto Gana won the Latin America Amateur Championship; Woody Austin won the pro division at the Diamond Resorts Invitational, and former pitcher Mark Mulder won the celebrity division; Graeme Storm won the BMW South African Open on the ET; and Kyle Thompson won the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic on the Tour.

Justin Thomas with Sony Open trophy

Say, didn't I see this tournament last week?

Oops, sorry. Justin Thomas won this one by SEVEN strokes. Last week it was only three. My mistake.

I certainly don't mean to belittle this accomplishment, far from it. Justin has finally broken through and got some of the wins we've all been expecting him to get. But he looked a bit tired after the final round, even -- dare I say it? -- a bit unimpressed.

You might think I'm misreading his fatigue. After all, he penned at least one new entry in the record books every round at the Sony Open, putting a bow on the accomplishment by posting the lowest aggregate total ever in an official PGA Tour event. (For those of you who might not know, the aggregate total is the actual number of strokes you took. In Justin's case, it was 253.)

But while I'm sure Justin is both proud of and grateful for his accomplishments this season, I suspect that he also tells himself "it's about time!" His frustration over the last year or so has been evident. While he hasn't expected all the records, he HAS expected the wins.

And he probably expects even more in the next few months.

How long will this last? I don't know. But I don't know if it really matters. For at least the next week, Justin Thomas will have more folks talking about his wins than Hideki Matsuyama's. And he picks up yet another Limerick Summary, which I'm sure was on his "to do" list as well.
Yeah, at some point, his run's gonna end…
But I'm sure all his peers wonder when?
Justin's swing looks so smooth
It appears he can't lose
And it seems every putt's going in!
The photo came from this article at

Sunday, January 15, 2017

FOX, the USGA and the 12-Year Deal

Golf Digest posted a very interesting article by Ron Sirak called TV's $1.1 Billion Problem: Making Sense of Fox and the USGA. I'm giving you this link today because this is an enlightening article about the 12-year broadcast deal between FOX and the USGA and the unexpected problems both have come up against.

Dustin Johnson at the 2016 US Open

Starting in the second paragraph you'll find this:
According to sources familiar with the situation, tensions between the USGA and Fox increased after the network's aggressive handling of rules controversies at the 2016 U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open. There was also significant dissatisfaction within the USGA, sources say, over the fact that Fox and its cable arm Fox Sports 1 (FS1) did not take advantage of a West Coast venue for the Women's Open to push the broadcast deep into East Coast prime time, bringing the women's game much-needed exposure.

The USGA and Fox are saying the right things publicly, but they both acknowledge there have been conversations after 2016's major championships to settle differences. And both sides shot down whispers that they wouldn't mind an early end to the deal, which has 10 more years to run.
This very detailed article then goes on to explain the various "situations" that have arisen over the first couple years concerning the deal, which helps you understand why TV golf is such a difficult sell to many of the networks. It also looks at how event streaming may be affecting TV viewership, and how contracts with -- and proven viewership of -- other sports may be affecting golf broadcasts.

I was impressed with how clearly these issues were explained; Ron Sirak did an exceptional job on this piece. It's a post that dedicated golf fans should read, simply so they will be better informed about the issues that efforts to "grow the game" will face going forward, both in terms of who is watching and what other options they may be choosing instead.

And it just may help you appreciate exactly what Arnold Palmer and Joe Gibbs managed to accomplish when they started GC. We are very lucky, folks.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Martin Hall on Short Game Contact (Video)

This was the first lesson on School of Golf Tuesday night. It's very simple, but it's amazing how much our short games can fall off during the off-season. Here are Martin Hall's three recommendations for better contact during chips and pitches.

Yes, I know every instructor does things a little different. But Martin's three tips will work for almost everybody, and they just might bail you out of a poor chipping day.
  • Use a neutral grip
  • Position the ball in the middle of your stance as measured between your heels, not your toes
  • Hover the club slightly behind the ball instead of grounding the club
And for those of you who don't recognize the name Paul Runyan, he was a small (5'7") PGA Tour player in the 1930s. He won 29 tournaments at all -- 9 of them during 1933 and another 7 during 1934 -- and two of them were majors. His nickname was "Little Poison" because of his short game, and he was a major short game instructor for 75 years!

Runyan practically created some of the standard short game techniques that we take for granted these days. If your short game seems a bit suspect, these tips from Martin might be just the ticket for you.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Justin Thomas Makes History... and a Point about the Modern Game

Obviously I got busy yesterday and didn't post anything after my temporary internet blackout. But everything was back up and running in time for yesterday's excitement. And it made me think.

Justin Thomas displays 'the ball'

In case you somehow missed it, Justin Thomas became the seventh and youngest player to shoot 59 on the PGA Tour. (It's the eighth sub-60 round but Jim Furyk has both a 59 and a 58.) He's the first to shoot one after winning a tournament. He set the new course record at Waialae CC, supplanting Davis Love III's 60.

And by doing so, he made an interesting point about the "new generation" of PGA Tour pros. It has yet to be talked about, but it should be.

After all, his 59 was still only good enough for a three-stroke lead. Think about that for a moment.

We keep wondering who will be the next dominant player or players. It seems as if, almost every week, the commentators have to say "Perhaps we've ignored [fill in the blank] in this discussion." I heard some of that Thursday after Thomas blistered the course, cheered on by playing partners Jordan Spieth and Daniel Berger -- players also included in that discussion.

But perhaps we're missing the point. For all our talk about dominant players -- modern or historical -- the fact remains that there have been very few who were dominant for more than a few years. In terms of total number of PGA Tour wins, only ten players have won 40 or more times; on the European Tour, only three players. (Tiger Woods is on both lists.)

I should note at this point that some of these wins count on both tours. For this post, however, I'm going to separate them since some players focus on one tour or the other.

Still, in terms of longevity at this level, few can boast sustained success over a long career. On the ET, only Bernhard Langer exceeded 20 years (22 in total). On the PGA Tour, Sam Snead won over a 31-year period; Jack Nicklaus,Walter Hagen and Phil Mickelson, 22; and Ben Hogan, 21.

And of those, only Nicklaus and Hagen boast double-digit majors -- 18 and 11, respectively. (Gene Sarazen and Tom Watson have the longevity, but neither made the 40 win mark. And Tiger will likely make the list if his back holds up.)

My point is that long-term dominance has never been as common as we seem to think it is. And as the level of golf we see rises, the likelihood of this "new wave" duplicating what players like Nicklaus and Hagen have done is even less likely. If they give us one or two such players over the next 30 years, they will have done extremely well.

It's far more likely that we'll see some players who dominate for a year or two, then fall back for a while. Bear in mind that Tiger has 40 ET wins, 79 PGA Tour wins and 14 majors in 18 years -- and he was winless for a number of those years. If Rory McIlroy, who most would consider the dominant player among the youngsters, were to continue his career at his current rate after eight years, then in 16 years he would have only 26 ET wins, 26 PGA Tour wins and 8 majors.

Even granting Rory a handful more wins and a couple of majors for an extra two years (to get him to an 18-year career), the best of those numbers is less than two-thirds of Tiger's totals, and Tiger has yet to reach the longevity of some of the other players! Yet Rory is clearly one of the most likely young players to reach those legendary numbers.

The logic is simple: There are a limited number of titles available each year, and only four majors, yet we're seeing an increasing number of good players contending for them.

And that means that players like Justin Thomas will be "in the discussion" for a few months or so... before someone else gets hot for a while, that is. We're likely to see cycles of dominating players going forward, each doing astounding things before "cooling down" while the next cycle moves to the fore. We're unlikely to see another dominating player anytime soon.

But I would be amiss not to mention that Justin has proven something else as well -- namely, that it's sure going to be fun watching to see who DOES manage to break out next!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Internet Problems

My internet connection is gone and I'm posting from my cell phone. Hope to get something up later today,