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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Is Your Golf Swing Causing Back Problems?

One thing I meant to include in yesterday's post -- but forgot -- was what I heard about Tiger's back. The word is that Tiger has a bulging disc that doesn't require surgery. That's good news because it means Tiger may be able to manage the pain, even get rid of it for periods of time, if he finds ways to take the strain off his back.

Tiger driving

That's where this post from Golf Digest's Instruction Blog comes in. Dr. Jim Suttie wrote a new post Friday called Guys Who Swing Like Tiger Don't Last and it has some interesting thoughts for golfers who want to avoid back problems. I want to bring it to your attention because I recently started making similar changes to my own golf swing to try and head off future back problems.

Suttie has been on both Golf Magazine and Golf Digest's Top Teacher lists for a long time, has been a PGA National Teacher of the Year, and he has a PhD in biomechanics. Oh yes, and he has a six-inch steel rod and seven screws in his back, largely because of his golf swing.

Suttie's basic premise in the article is simple:
"The essential elements of the 'modern' swing -- a steep shoulder turn, restricted hip turn and lots of leg drive -- don't lend themselves to longevity."
He lists a number of players past and present who swing this way and suffer back problems. He then tells what his advice to Tiger and other such players would be. (He also notes that Sean Foley has probably explained this to Tiger, but Tiger has always swung this way. It would certainly explain why Tiger has struggled with some of Foley's techniques.)

Let me add that making the changes Suttie suggests -- which basically amounts to using some of the techniques from the old classic swing, like allowing your lead foot to come off the ground during your backswing so your hips can turn more freely -- won't guarantee that you won't have back problems. However, they are techniques that certainly reduce the stress on your lower back. Players like Sam Snead and Tom Watson have stayed competitive for a long time using that kind of swing.

And while Suttie suggests that his changes would make Tiger lose some distance, I'm not so sure they would. After all, Henrik Stenson is one of the longest hitters on Tour and he has more of a classic swing. (Check out some of Pete Cowen's students. Most of them do.) Here, take a look at this video:

The article isn't terribly long but it's a good informative read. The changes Suttie suggests don't require any major overhaul to your swing. And, in addition to putting less strain on your back, they just might help you swing with better rhythm. It's worth your time to take a quick look at Suttie's advice. Trust me on this one.


  1. Martin Hall mentioned Arnold Palmer's over the top swing as better for the back

    1. Yeah, Arnie's swing never put him into a reverse-C position but he still had good hip speed and a solid weight shift. All the benefits but a lot less strain on the back!


  3. Henrik's coach Pete Cowen has this axe drill that teaches how to apply
    pressure to the ball
    comment ?

    1. Obviously this is one area where I differ from most instructors. Some people think I just parrot stuff from the web, but this twisting motion is a major difference between what I teach and what most other instructors teach... and as Pete says in this video, an up-and-down motion (which my approach uses) greatly simplifies the swing.

      Where we differ is that he (like most instructors) doesn't believe we can use that up-and-down motion while I do. I'll explain my thinking very briefly here and in more detail in a later post -- maybe tomorrow's.

      There is certainly some rotation during the swing, but it doesn't happen in the forearms. Twisting your forearms forces you to consciously control the rotation back and through, and that creates more opportunities to leave the face open or to close it too much. Result: Less accuracy.

      Rotation automatically happens at the lead shoulder and, if you maintain connection between your upper arm and chest during your swing, you'll automatically square up the face at impact.

      There are some shots -- for example, such as recovery shots where you need to hit a hard hook under low branches -- when you need to twist your forearms to get the result. But those are the exception, not the rule.