The X-Factor in Golf Training
By Alex Burtch, M.S. CSCS
With winter drawing near to an end and spring just around the corner, I wanted to write on one of the most popular recreational sports here in Louisville. Therefore, I direct my attention to: The Golfer. The Weekend Warrior. The Sweater Vest Super Hero. A Lynx of the Links.
As a lynx, you are a stealth player; beautiful shots that seem to come out of nowhere to astound your friends, family and business associates. A skilled hunter who pinpoints their target and executes with laser-like focus.
Well, maybe not. Maybe we’re not all that good. Actually, that’s a fact. According to the USGA’s Handicapping Index, the average golfer is between a 12.0 and 12.9 handicap. Only 1 out of 10 golfers have a handicap of less than 5.
So let’s say you’re an average Joe, 13 handicap and you’re looking to improve your ability to play the game, you want to crack the 10 handicap barrier. Where’s the #1 area you’d try to improve in? Most likely hitting the ball longer, right? Guess what, that’s what you can get by exploring the X-Factor in golf.
Now, you might be sitting there thinking that this X-factor is some well kept secret that I am unveiling to the public; a doctrine of training that only the elite know. This isn’t case however. Although, it might sound pretty cool to tell your friends that you’ve got a new X-Factor that’s helped you reduce your handicap a stroke or two.
To understand what the X-Factor is, here’s what you need to do. Stand up. Go ahead and do it; it’ll look like you’re stretching so no need to check where the boss is. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and good posture. Begin to rotate to one side, go as far as you can and take note of when your (1) hips and (2) shoulders stop turning. The difference between these points is the X-Factor.
A group of golfers with an average handicap of 7 demonstrate about 70° difference between their shoulders and hips during the golf swing! For me, sitting on a chair with my arms crossed and rotating maximally, I measured about 42° of X-Factor. Therefore, it’s safe to say that I would never achieve 70° of mobility during the golf swing (at least with some amount of control). This probably contributes to my high handicap… along with putting.
A larger X-Factor helps your golf game by enhancing something called “The summation of speed principle”. This principle, as it applies to golf states that your body is a chain and the parts furthest away from the club head begin to rotate first and relatively slowly Then, with each successive body part closer to the clubhead, the speed increases. So, ranking the parts of a swing in terms of speed would look like: hips < trunk < shoulders < arms < hands < clubhead < ball.
The summation of speed between the hips and shoulders can be quite large, maybe larger than you thought. A high-speed ball striker will be moving their shoulders about twice as fast as their hips move just before ball impact. Slower ball strikers only move their shoulders about 50% faster. The difference in speed is most likely related to both your ability to rotate (mobility) and the strength of rotation.
If you haven’t experienced low back pain at some point in your life, count your lucky stars. One key ingredient to low back pain with golfers could be limited thoracic spine mobility. To achieve the backswing desired, the rotation begins to rely on movement in the lumbar spine. The lumbar doesn’t want to rotate though, it’s not his job, he’s there to be stable, supportive.
When you increase mobility of the thoracic spine (mid-back) you free up that musculature to release during the golf swing. A few individuals are hyper mobile (they can move too much). I’ll see this in my gymnasts’ low backs or the swimmers’ shoulders given the repetitive, unnatural motions they go through. But your average desk jockey who goes out to play 18 on the weekends is going to be tight. It’s how our work culture is shaping us.
As you begin to free up the mid back, it is my belief that you “reach less” in a golf swing. There’s less strain on the body to conform to good swing mechanics. When that’s easier, or less painful, good ball-striking becomes a more consistent occurrence. You can begin to work on a consistent swing technique that has more clubhead velocity.
So, let’s get to the cure. The fix. Those extra 15 yds off the tee. First, a little researched snippet: recreational golfers that utilized stretching, strengthening and balance training improved their rotational range of motion to the left and right by 9.6% and 7.4% respectively, their X-Factor velocity by 14% and consequently their driver distance improved by 8%.
There’s a number of things that you can do. Mobilizing and stretching is the focus of this piece but strengthening is also plays a role in adding distance to your golf shots (we’ll cover that later, in more detail). Watch the short video below. We have two movement series that you can do out on the golf course before a round or practice and a few static stretching exercises to do at home.
This is one simple step you can take to live a healthier, better golf life. I hope you take it to heart. Shameless plug incoming: If you want to know more information or are interested in sports performance training that is golf specific, please don’t hesitate to get into contact with me. Let ProRehab Physical Therapy be a partner with you in decreasing your handicap and playing a better round of golf.
Have questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! Email me at [email protected].
- Association USG. Men’s Handicap Index Statistics. 2015; http://www.usga.org/Handicapping/handicap-index-statistics/mens-handicap-index-statistics-d24e6096.html. Accessed 1/6/2015, 2015.
- Burden AM, Grimshaw PN, Wallace ES. Hip and shoulder rotations during the golf swing of sub-10 handicap players. J Sports Sci. 1998;16(2):165-176.
- Lephart SM, Smoliga JM, Myers JB, Sell TC, Tsai YS. An eight-week golf-specific exercise program improves physical characteristics, swing mechanics, and golf performance in recreational golfers. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21(3):860-869.
- Myers J, Lephart S, Tsai YS, Sell T, Smoliga J, Jolly J. The role of upper torso and pelvis rotation in driving performance during the golf swing. J Sports Sci. 2008;26(2):181-188.