Golf is returning to the Olympic Games for the first time in 112 years, and it happens to come right in the middle of a very busy season with major tournaments such as the PGA Championship taking place. As a result, it’s that much more important that golfers who are competing in the Olympics maintain a strict strength & conditioning program to ensure they have the best chance for success in Rio.
Golf is a one-sided game: right or left, and it is highly repetitive. The best players have 70 strokes per round, and when you factor in time on the range, practice strokes, etc., a golfer can easily take 500-600 swings or more a day. This is done for several days in a row, for 8-20 weeks. That’s a tremendous amount of stress on just one side of the body, so it’s imperative that players also work on their non-dominate side. This helps to reduce the amount of asymmetry so that those stresses don’t overload them.
A major factor that any golf professional would have to consider when facing months of nearly continuous competition is the possibility of overuse injuries. Two of the most common injuries that we see in golfers are lower back pain and wrist/elbow pain, and most of the time they’re due to overuse. As the golf season progresses and players experience more repetitive stress with very little recovery time, we may very well see the number of withdrawals from the Olympic Games go up.
Golfers who are looking to minimize their risk of having an overuse injury would need to start preparing months in advance, well before the Major tournaments begin. Working with a clinical movement or a golf specialist could help them ensure that they’re moving well and not compensating for weaknesses. Thus, they can prevent putting too much stress on other parts of their body. They need to be at optimal condition, with the strength, mobility, fitness, and efficiency to resist the stresses of nearly continuous play.
Medical professionals, swing coaches, and golf coaches can all help a player identify and address their “weakest link,” which can include:
- Which joint and muscle group doesn’t allow for controlled but full range of motion?
- What’s the compensation?
- Which body part isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do?
Preventative work such as specific exercises, foundational fitness, and manual therapy are options provided by physical therapists that exist to help the busy golfer. These busy golfers will also need to utilize the best recovery methods such as proper rest, proper nutrition, and proper periodization of their training. Some golfers may find value in compression therapy, massage therapy, and even hyperbaric chambers to aid in their recovery efforts.
Whatever the sport, an athlete can’t perform if they aren’t durable enough to play. There are so many moving parts in a golf swing that there’s a lot of room for errors, and lots of ways to “cheat” those errors. A body can only hold up for so long under these non-optimal conditions. Whichever players ultimately compete for Team USA this year, they’ll need a strong foundation to help them perform at their highest level. I’ll be watching with great interest, and I wish them the best.
Matthew Morgan is a physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, sports certified specialist, and Certified Titleist Performance Institute Level 3 Medical Professional. Throughout his career has worked with a wide range of athletes, from Little League age to professionals to senior athletes. His clinical interests include both corrective exercises and manual therapy.