Category Archives: health

Golf and Skin Cancer

The word is out. Skin cancer is bad for you, and too much sunshine causes it. (Did anyone really not know this?)

Read this article about it, now appearing Golf Digest. Really! Read it!

I’m a redhead, and I keep covered up from head to toe on the course. I wear a hat with a 5″ brim, a sun-protective jacket (both pictured below) from Solumbra, long pants, and gloves on both hands most of the time.

The photo below was taken at the Thunderbird Golf Course at Mt. Carmel Junction in southern Utah in 2011, on the way back from having hiked across the Grand Canyon from the North Rim to Phantom Ranch and back out to the South Rim.

The glove I wear aren’t golf gloves, they are running gloves I get at a sporting goods store. Off the tee and off the fairway, I do not wear them. While walking from tee to fairway, one hand is in my pocket and the other hand pulls the cart behind me so it is in the shade of my body.

Once I have hit into the the green, both gloves go on. All short shots and all putting is done with them on.

I ain’t kidding, folks, and the article ain’t kidding, either. Stay covered up. I have spent a lot of time in the Southwest. You know what the Navajo wear outside? Enough to cover their arms and legs and face.

If you wear light, loose-fitting clothing made of cotton that covers your arms and legs, you will actually stay cooler in hot weather, so don’t let the heat prevent you from keeping out of the sun.

Sunscreen? O.K., but you have to remember to apply it every few hours, and apply it correctly. I don’t recommend relying on it.

Stay covered is the best option.

The Latest on Your Back and Golf

Last week a new paper was published describing the effects of the modern golf swing on the lumbar spine. The effects are not good.

The article states that professional golfers generate “about 7500 N compressive on the spine during the downswing.” One N (newton) is the amount of force needed to move one kilogram at an acceleration of one meter per second per second.

No one’s back is designed to stand up to 7500 of those.

Then the article takes on the X-factor, without mentioning Jim McLean. But I will. The greater the angle between the hip line and the shoulder line at the end of the backswing, the more power can be generated on the downswing.

However, this position sets up the golfer to deliver a huge load of lateral bending and torsional axial moments (twisting of the spine) right before impact.

More distance = more back damage. Thanks, Jim.

Exercising the core muscles, and muscles in the back that support the spine, which golfers are told to do, do not help matters. Stronger muscles create stronger swings, which place more force on the spine, not less.

If you read the article, which you should absolutely do, there are some technical terms in it. This little glossary should help with a few of them.

acromion – a bony process (portrusion) on the shoulder blade that hooks over the front to make a joint with the collar bone.

facet joint – joints that allow vertebrae to slide over each other when the back goes through various movements.

spinal erector muscles – a set of long muscles that surround the spine and govern certain movements of the back. When these muscles are engaged they exert longitudinal compression on the spine which raises intradiscal pressure.

disc annulus – the outer portion of the pulpy mass between the bony vertebral bodies.

So. What does this mean for you?

First of all, study Justin Thomas’s swing carefully. then do not do what he does. He is a case study of the scary swing identified in this article.

Second, remember that the pros need all the distance they can get to be competitive. You don’t if you play from the appropriate tees.

Again, though the X-factor that Jim McLean identified might well be true in terms of hitting the ball farther, it is murder on a golfer’s back. Don’t go there. Don’t force your backswing. Get your distance from hitting the ball on the center of the clubface.

Fourth, do the things I mentioned in this post about building a back-friendly golf swing.

A Flexible Body for Golfers

A few years ago I wrote a post showing five exercises designed to strengthen the core in order to play better and prevent injury.

Flexibility is a big part of an efficient and healthy golf swing, too. Here are five exercises that will keep you limber for golf.

1. Lateral bend — Stand with your feet apart. Bend to the side as shown, supporting yourself with a hand on the leg. Reach over your head with the other arm to complete the stretch.

lateral bend stretch

2. Supine trunk rotation — Lie down on your back and bring your knees up, feet flat on the ground. Rotate your knees to one side, keeping your shoulders in contact with the ground. This the preferred way to rotate the trunk. Rotating the trunk while standing adds compression force to the torque. When you lie down, there is no compression, only torque.

A different way to do this stretch is to start lying on your side with your knees bent, untwisted, with your arms straight in front of you on the ground. Slowly move your top arm away from your other arm toward the floor on the other side as you rotate your trunk, to arrive in the position shown.

supine trunk rotation

3. Rotator cuff — (1) Bring one arm across your body at shoulder level. Use the other forearm to press inward and complete the stretch. (2) Stand in a doorway with both hands on the doorway as shown. Lean forward for the stretch.

rotator cuff stretch 1

rotator cuff stretch 2

4. Hamstring stretch — Sit on the floor with one leg straight out in front of you. If you can’t tuck your other leg as shown, that’s all right. Lean forward (not down) to complete the stretch.

hamstring stretch

5. Neck stretch — Rotate the head to the left and hold for a few seconds. Do the same to the right side.

neck stretch

You can do all these stretches daily in less than five minutes.

Spine Health at the Range

I was browsing through my hard drive a few days ago when I found an article about spine loads during a golf swing. Since I have a delicate lower back, I thought I would read this article again to see if had missed anything when I read it the first time some years ago. Indeed, I had.

While loads on the lumbar (lower) spine are considerable during the swing, especially in the late downswing, they are not damaging. The caveat is that the discs between the vertebra are viscoelastic and time-rate dependent.

This means they deform when stressed (viscoelastic) and need time to get back to their original shape (time rate dependent). The article noted that “accumulated stress due to repeated swings may lead to disc degeneration, and even submaximal exertions may lead to structural deformation of the lumbar spine.”

What they’re telling us not to do is hit one ball after the other like there’s a race going on. Maybe your back doesn’t feel sore after you do that, but you are putting undue stress on it in any event and not letting it recover. It you do hit balls rapid fire and you do feel your back getting a little sore, that’s a big warning sign.

All of us should hit balls slowly. Rest between each shot. Take some time to review in your mind why the ball you just hit did what it did, and what you want to do with your next swing. Or take a few easy partial swings to rehearse a move you’re working on. Then hit another ball.

At the range, when it is possible to take a swing every fifteen seconds, instead of every five minutes, like out on the course, slow down. It can only help to keep your lower back healthy while playing a sport that challenges it.

A Back-Friendlier Golf Swing

I’m not going to beat around the bush. The human body, especially the lower spine, was not designed to withstand the stresses the golf swing places on it. As a recreational golfer, there is no sense in letting your pastime harm your health.

Stress on the back in golf is caused by leaning forward, twisting, and bending to the side. There is also compression, which is the weight of your upper body bearing down vertically on your spine.

You can’t eliminate these stresses, but, except for compression, you can minimize them. Here are a few ways to do that.

NOTE: If you have low back pain right now when you play, something is wrong. Please see a doctor to find out what that is. Continuing to play golf could be making a problem worse.

1. Slow down your swing, including the part where you swing through the ball. All the forces being applied to your back multiply when you swing through the ball, and they the faster you swing, the more force they load onto your lower back.

2. Stand a little closer to the ball. Not a lot, just a few inches. This will put you in a more upright posture and reduce the unsupported mechanical stress that leaning forward places on your lower back. The lie angles of your irons might need to be adjusted, depending on how much closer you set up.

3. Turn your right foot out. To get more hip turn, turn your right foot out 10 degrees or so. Not too much, because you will create problems for yourself on the throughswing. But do not leave that foot square, like Ben Hogan wanted you too.

4. Take a narrower stance. This frees up the hips to turn more, reducing the amount you twist your spine. This point also helps minimize lateral bending, since your right side is now closer to the ball.

5.Play the ball in the center of your stance when it is on the ground. If the ball is too far forward, you will need to put more lateral bend in your back to go get it.

6. Take a shorter backswing. Use the backswing you would use for an 80-yard pitch. This will prevent you from twisting your spine too much, too. Jim McLean wants you to have a big X-factor so you can hit the ball a long way. Your back does not like a big X-factor.

7. Let the left heel float. If it comes off the ground, fine. If it stays there, fine. Just don’t glue it to the ground. Let it do what it wants to do.

8. Let the right leg straighten on the backswing. I know, everybody these days wants you keep the angle in it you had at address. Allowing the right leg to straightening lets you turn your right hip back more, reducing your X-factor. This will not hurt your ball-striking once you get used to it.

9. Keep your weight balanced through impact. Let your weight go left after you have hit the ball, but not before. Putting the weight left early creates excess lateral bending, because while the lower body is going left , the upper body has to stay back where it was until you have hit the ball. There will always be some lateral bending at impact. Just don’t overdo it.

10. Swing the club with your hands, both hands equally. Swing like you one have one clump of hands on the club, not two separate ones. This not only a better way to swing, for technical reasons, but it will prevent you from trying to hit with your right hand, which can induce lateral bending.

11. Finish upright. Your torso should be straight up and down at the finish, not learning toward the right. A line running down the front of your torso and left leg should be straight — no bending your torso backward, or bowing your left leg.

This comprehensive but somewhat technical article from the medical literature explains in detail the relation between golf and low back pain. It would serve you well to read it. (Accessed July 4, 2016.)

[August 2019. In the comment section, I refer to Natalie Gulbis, whose back-unfriendly swing led to back surgery. As of this date, she has had four back surgeries.]

Sitting Is the New Smoking

This post has nothing to do with golf. Let’s call it a Public Service Message from TRG.

I am tangentially connected with the health industry. What I heard last week makes perfect sense and I want to pass it on to you.

Sitting is the new smoking.

A raft of modern health problems have their origin in sitting too much. Sitting at the computer, in front of the tube, anything that lures you into sitting for hours a day.

The solution in one word. Move.

Get up and move. Get up often and move. Be active. Move. Throughout the day, every day.


Thank you. Now back to golf.

A Solid Core for Golfers

Golf is not a walk in the park, though it looks like one. The golf swing is an athletic movement, which requires physical strength to perform correctly, and to avoid injury.

The physical foundation of the swing is your core, or the trunk and the lower back. Do these exercises three times a week to develop it. No equipment is required.

Exercises 1-3 strengthen your abdomen. Exercises 4-5 strengthen your back. You must do both groups to be balanced.

1. Abdominal crunch – Lie down on your back, both knees bent. Elevate your upper back so your shoulder blades are off the ground. Hold for five seconds and lower your shoulders to the ground. Start with three times and work up to ten.


2. Plank – Get into a push-up position, with your body supported by your toes, and your forearms instead of your hands. Make sure your body line is straight. Hold for 30 seconds and work up to two minutes.


3. Side plank – Lie on your side. Raise your body off the ground and support it on your forearm and underside foot. Make sure your body line is straight. Hold for ten seconds. Do five times on each side. At first, you may wish only to raise your upper body off the ground.


4. Butt squeeze – Lie down on your back, legs straight out. Clench your buttocks and hold for ten seconds. Try not to squeeze your thighs, too. Do five times.

5. Prone pointer – Get down on all fours. Raise your right leg and stick it straight out behind you. Raise your left arm and stick it straight out in front of you. Hold for ten seconds. Lower and switch to left leg, right arm. Do five times on each side, work up to twenty.




Fred’s Back, Tiger’s Back, Your Back

Several weekends ago, two prominent golfers succumbed to back pain. Fred Couples withdrew from a Senior Tour event after hitting one shot. He described the pain as nothing he had felt before. Tiger Woods minced around the course in obvious pain, finding it it hard to walk at times, and difficult to bend over so he could tee up the ball and get it out of the cup, most of the time.

With Fred, this could be the last straw. His hyper-flexible swing caught up with him years ago. The back treatments he gets in Europe aren’t working any more. The last one he had was in July before the Senior British Open when he won. The treatment carried him through about four weeks.

If he continues to play he could be setting himself up for a serious disability in his advanced years. I hope he thinks hard about his next steps. He has achieved great things in competitive golf so far. If he continues playing, he might likely pay a high price for more success that, in the end, would add little to his list of achievements.

Tiger said his back pain was due to sleeping on a bed that was too soft. That may well be the case, though with Tiger’s history of hiding his ailments, there might be more to the matter than the wrong mattress.

Even if it is only a matress, Tiger is at the age where his body is susceptible to daily life giving his back fits. He’s also at the age where the wear and tear of hitting so many golf balls can begin to have an adverse affect on his back’s health. We’ll see.

Then there’s you. Professional golfers put little strain on their back because their swing is so efficient. Their back problems come from overuse (see Tiger, above). Recreational golfers, on the other hand, injure their back because of faulty technique. The wrong muscles are put into play, which puts a strain on the spine that it cannot tolerate for long.

I would suggest these things concerning your back’s health:

1. It’s O.K. for your left heel to come off the ground. In fact, it’s a good thing, because is reduces the strain that the twisting motion of the backswing places on your lower spine.

2. Having a large X factor is a bad idea. That’s the size of the angle between your hips and your shoulders at the top of the backswing. Too great an angle sets up your spine for serious strain when you swing through the hitting area. You don’t have to swing to parallel to be effective or to hit a long ball.

3. Just like Julius Boros said, you can swing easy and hit hard. The women on the LPGA Tour, these little slips of a thing, hit the ball a lot farther than you do because of their mechanics. Their swing is efficient. If you build an efficient swing, you don’t have to swing so hard to get the distance you need. The main thing I can learn from Rory McIlroy’s swing is how to hurt myself. I’ll copy Suzann Pettersen’s swing and be just fine.

Take care of your back. Warm up well before you hit balls, either at the range or the course. Swing within yourself. Have a lesson on swinging with back safety–the pro should be able to help you. You want golf to enhance your life, not make it more difficult.

Update: Oh, my, Department: Couples described this latest incident “as a bomb going off in my back.” His business manager said it was just another flareup and “He’s got a lot more tournaments left. He’s not done for the year, not even close.” – Golfworld, September 10, 2010

Retief Goosen had back surgery recently to treat pain and will be out indefinitely. – Golfweek, September 7, 2012.


Sun Protection

I am quite fair-skinned. I stay covered from head to toe on the course. Big hat, long sleeves, long pants. Only my hands are exposed, but they have sunscreen on them, and one hand is generally in my pocket as I walk down the fairway.

I wonder about the rest of you. The sun is hard on you, and even though you’re not getting burned, damage is getting done. Have you taken a close look at Tom Kite recently? The skin on his face and neck is blotchy from the exposure over the years.

Have you ever seen an LPGA Tour Tan? Bronze legs up to the shorts line, then fish-belly white above that. Those legs are going to be leather in twenty years, and there are some older women on the tour who provide an example.

If you must wear a ball cap, cover your face and neck with sunscreen, one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Apply before you get into the sun, and once again at the turn. Don’t neglect your legs and arms, either.

Really. Protect yourself.

And don’t think because it’s not a sunny day that you don’t have to worry. If you can see kind of a brightish place in the sky, then the burning rays are penetrating.

Play well, have fun, and look out for yourself.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

Mid-Round Nutrition for Golfers

My pro, Howard Robertson of the Willow Lake Golf Center in Keizer, Oregon, writes a column in the local paper which appears every Sunday. last Sunday, he wrote about hydration and nutrition during a round of golf.

He mentioned this to me once during a lesson, that the touring pros are always experimenting for the right mix of snacking to keep their hydration and blood sugar levels at optimum levels throughout the round.

After all, you’re out there on your feet, in the heat, for four hours or more, and you need more than breakfast and a drink of water at the turn to keep yourself going.

He recommends sipping from a diluted sports drink on very tee and munching on an energy snack every three or four holes. I do, too. Take a good drink, too, not little sips. Research in the hiking industry shows that sipping frequently does not replace lost fluids as well as drinking several ounces of fluid at one time.

I take along the food and drink that I take when I go hiking the the Cascade Mountains. For hydration, I empty a package of Gatorade powder and a package of Crystal Light into a 48-oz water bottle. The food I carry is carry is trail mix–nuts, carbs, raisins, M&Ms–that can be digested quickly.

What you don’t want to eat is protein. It takes a long time to digest and its digestion is water-intensive. That’s why a hot dog at the break isn’t a good idea.

Sipping water as you go along should be evident, and the snack food? I mean, do you really need any encouragement to eat that stuff, and besides, you get a chance to schmooze with CartGirl if you buy it from her instead of bringing it with you.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.