Category Archives: health

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.

Your Golfer’s Back

Everyone who plays golf is an athlete. Golfers make movements specific to the game which have little to do with how they move in daily life. Part of learning to play golf is learning how to make those movements to play effectively. The other part is learning to how to make those movements to avoid injury.

Golf injuries of the lower back have been extensively studied. The lower back is stressed most in making a swift and violent turn into the ball on the downswing. Current swing theory directs that the difference between the hip turn and shoulder turn on the backswing. The greater the difference, the more the lower back is loaded with unnatural pressure. The inconsistent swing which is characteristic of recreational golfers can cause a sudden, unexpected, and excessive load to be applied to the lower back. A lack of physical fitness leaves the body unable to resist these stresses which leaves the body open to injury.

My lower back is in terrible shape, yet I have played pain-free golf for years. This is how I do it. Please consider these ideas for yourself, regardless of the state of your back.

The foundation of my full swing is tempo. Tempo is the speed at which the hips turn. It must be the same swinging back and swinging down. When the tempo of the hip turn stays constant, not only do you hit the ball better, but you prevent sudden stresses from being applied.

I take my stance by bending from my hips, not from my waist. Bending from your waist throws weight onto the lower back.

On the backswing, I turn my hips so the maximum difference between my hip turn and shoulder turn is about 20 degrees. (Professional golfers have a difference of 45 degrees or more.)

My swing itself is led by a full body turn and powered by holding on to my wrist set until the momentum of the downswing naturally releases the clubhead into the ball. I see so many recreational players lurch into the ball as a way of hitting hard, that I wonder just when the shoe is going to drop, if it hasn’t already.

Your finish position can subject your back to considerable twisting. I would recommend that hold your finish position infrequently as a check, and never routinely when practicing or playing. Always release yourself to a neutral upright position with your hands in front of you as you watch the ball, just like Phil does.

In addition, you can do these things to protect your back.

Warm up carefully. Stretch and turn lightly and gently before you even pick up a club. Begin to swing by taking a driver and making long, slow, and I mean slow, swings, to gradually warm up your turning muscles.

Start going through your bucket by hitting a few pitches with a half swing. Work your way through the bag from your short clubs up to your driver.

During the round, stretch out every four holes or so. You make a full swing only every few minutes and you can stiffen up before the round is over.

Walk around the course with your clubs on a pull cart. Carrying your clubs compresses the spine. Riding in a cart can subject your spine to impact stresses when the cart goes over bumps.

Golf is our recreation, not our livelihood. Play it so it introduces joy into your life instead of pain.