Golf fitness has become very popular in recent years. Several different investigators have explored the effects of flexibility and strength training on selected golf performance variables, such as driving distance (1–7). In general, the findings indicate that strength training for the trunk and legs has provided a measurable increase in driving distance.
Although researchers have used driving distance as a primary performance factor, little attention has been given to driving accuracy, or the swing mechanics, both of which will affect golf performance. Gergley (2) examined driving accuracy after dynamic and static stretching and found that static stretching before golfing should be avoided because this reduced driving accuracy by 31% (2). Although it might seem appropriate to use various training regimens to improve performance, some training tools may not improve golf performance. Golf swing faults lead to undesirable ball striking and will result in a reduced performance outcome. Understanding the relationship between key fitness variables and a golfer's mechanics can help to tailor training programs for the golfer to maximize performance.
The Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) has produced seminars and certification levels for golf professionals, medical professionals, and fitness professionals over the past decade. During the TPI seminars, individuals can be trained to administer physical movement screens, which assess the golfers' strength, flexibility, and balance, and how to break down the golf swing to look for common swing faults. The aim of the TPI movement screen is to identify any physical limitation that may hinder the golfer's performance. Most of the information presented at these seminars is based on past practice of experienced professionals, but there have been no published studies to examine the relationship between these screening variables and golf swing faults. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between the TPI level 1 movement screens and 14 common golf swing faults.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
The 2 levels of independent variables (physical tests and golf swing faults) were chosen based on the TPI level 1 certification standard. First, the variables were examined for significant relationships between the 2 levels using the Fisher's exact test. Then, another statistical test (odds ratio) was run to determine how likely the second level (golf swing faults) of independent variables might occur if the first level (physical limitations) were present.
Thirty-six subjects (n = 23 men and n = 13 women) participated in the study (mean age, 25.4 ± 9.9 years; height, 175.9 ± 16.2 cm; mass, 76.2 ± 14.6 kg; handicap, 14.2 ± 10.4). Before the procedures, subjects signed a written informed consent approved by the University's Human Research Review Committee (File No. 10-215-H). None of the subjects were under 18 years of age.
All subjects reported to a local driving range for testing. The investigators first measured each subject's height and mass. Then, the subjects performed 12 different movement screens (physical tests), as established by the TPI level 1 golf fitness screen. These tests address stability, mobility, coordination of body segments, and balance (Table 1). Before the actual test, the investigator demonstrated the movement and provided verbal cues. All tests were scored in real time by a TPI certified individual on a TPI scoring template worksheet. At the completion of the physical tests, subjects hit 4 golf shots off of a hitting mat at the driving range with their 5-iron while being recorded from a down the line and front on view of their swing. The video recordings were uploaded to a computer and analyzed using a commercial software program (V1Pro). The software allowed each swing to be paused at any point in the golf swing, which allowed the investigators to mark body segments to identify swing faults. Golf swings were examined for 14 golf swing fault categories (Table 2).
Frequencies for the physical tests (whether they were limited or not) and golf swing faults were determined using SPSS statistical software (version 20; SPSS, Inc., Armonk, NY, USA). For further examination of the relationship among the strength, flexibility, or balance limitations and golf swing fault, Fisher's exact p values are reported. Significant values are reported as ≤0.05. The authors did not use the χ2 statistic, because not all tests met the assumptions. To understand how likely a golf swing fault may occur if there is a physical limitation present, we reported the odds ratio. For interpretation, if an odds ratio was <1.0, the reciprocal value was taken. For example, if the calculated value equaled 0.88, we took 1/0.88, which gives 1.22. Thus, we could see that the odds ratio was just over 1:1.
The various TPI level 1 movement screens used to assess physical limitations are in Table 1. The golf swing faults that golfers were screened for are given in Table 2.
The most frequent physical test limitations (Table 3) were overhead deep squat (Figure 1), toe touch, single leg balance (right and left), and bridge (right and left). The most frequent golf swing faults (Table 3) associated with those physical test limitations were early hip extension (Figure 2), loss of posture (Figure 3), and slide (Figure 4) in the downswing. Further analysis using the Fisher's exact statistic revealed that there were 3 significant associations among the physical limitations and golf swing faults (Table 3). Thus, if a golfer was unable to complete a toe touch, there is a significant association with presenting early hip extension (p = 0.015) in the golf swing. In addition, if a golfer was unable to complete a bridge on the right side, there is a significant correlation with early hip extension (p = 0.050), and loss of posture (p = 0.028) in the golf swing.
Although there were no significant associations with all physical test limitations and golf swing faults, there were higher odds ratios for those who cannot perform certain physical tests and the likelihood they will present with a particular golf swing fault as compared with those who can correctly perform the physical test (Table 3). For example, a golfer who is unable to perform an overhead deep squat is 2 times more likely to early hip extend in the golf swing. In addition, a golfer who is unable to perform a toe touch is 6 times more likely to early hip extend. A golfer who is unable to balance on their left leg is 3 times more likely to early hip extend, lose posture, and slide during the golf swing. A golfer who is unable to bridge on the right side is 5 times more likely to early hip extend, 6 times more likely to lose posture (Table 3), and 2 times more likely to slide during the golf swing.
Many researchers have studied the golf swing and certain physical parameters of strength, flexibility, and balance to determine if those can improve performance (1–7). However, those studies typically examined the various physical characteristics and used driving distance as the outcome measure for performance. Until now, there has not been any research showing how specific physical limitations in strength, flexibility, or balance may directly affect one's ability to swing the golf club with proper mechanics. If there are indeed physical limitations that would present themselves in specific golf swing faults, then this will have a direct effect on a golfer's performance as it relates to accuracy in ball striking. The top 4 most frequent physical limitations in the current sample of golfers were the inability to complete an adequate test for overhead deep squat, toe touch, single leg balance, and bridge.
The overhead deep squat is a test that can identify core/abdominal weakness, core/gluteal weakness, lower extremity inflexibility, as well as scapular stability, and shoulder joint range of motion. Without mobility in these areas, in addition to core weakness, a golfer will struggle to maintain proper position and rotation in the golf swing. A deep squat is also a great developer of leg strength, specifically in the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and hamstrings. For the golfers who could not complete an overhead deep squat, 67% of those demonstrated early hip extension in the golf swing (Figure 2), 54% demonstrated loss of posture (Figure 3), and 29% had a slide (Figure 4) during the downswing. Thus, we see that the inability to complete an overhead deep squat has an effect on various golf swing mechanics. The inability to overhead deep squat and the increased likelihood to early hip extend is important for the golf fitness professional to understand. Early hip extension does not allow a golfer to drop the arms down in the proper slot during the downswing, and thus many shots may get “blocked” or hook. Early hip extension during the downswing may also affect one's ability to properly rotate their hips during the swing, which could lead to a slide during the downswing. For example, of the golfers who could not perform an overhead deep squat, 29% demonstrated a slide during the golf swing. Examples such as this provide evidence that physical abilities are strongly tied to making consistent contact with the golf ball for optimal distance and accuracy, and thus performance.
The toe touch test is an assessment of hamstring and spinal flexibility. If a golfer has tight hamstrings, this may pull the pelvis into a posterior tilt. Not only would this affect the golfer's ability to maintain proper pelvic positions at address but also may limit the golfer's ability to rotate during the downswing because of the posterior tilt. If the golfer is unable to rotate their pelvis when initiating the downswing, they are more likely to thrust forward, presenting early hip extension. In our study, there was a significant association with the inability to toe touch and the presentation of early hip extension during the golf swing (Table 3).
Single leg balance was another physical limitation seen frequently in our golfers. Previous research has shown single leg balance to be better in more proficient golfers in comparison to higher handicap golfers (6). For the golf fitness professional, it is important to understand how this task relates to a golfer's ability. If a right-handed golfer cannot maintain balance on the left side as they post onto the lead leg, this disrupts the golf swing. In our study, we found that those who are unable to successfully perform single leg balance on the left side are 3 times more likely to early hip extend, lose posture, and slide during the golf swing (Table 3).
The bridge test is primarily a test of gluteal strength as one aims to maintain hip extension while in a supine position. The right gluteus maximus is important for right-handed golfers because they initiate the downswing and need to externally rotate and extend their hip to help drive the pelvis toward the target. If there were a weakness in the right gluteus maximus, this would limit the golfer's ability to initiate rotation and would thus thrust the pelvis forward into early hip extension. Our study found that the inability to bridge on the right side is significantly associated with both early hip extension and loss of posture in the golf swing.
Not only was early hip extension one of the predominant golf swing faults but also was loss of posture. Loss of posture during the golf swing could include a change in knee flexion, trunk flexion, or head position from the address posture to impact. Loss of posture and early hip extension are often highly associated with each other, both of which can affect timing, rhythm, and balance of the golf swing. As a golfer's hips begin to forward thrust, their spine angle will also most likely become more vertical, causing the head to also change positions, hence losing posture. Loss of posture is an indicator of an inefficient golf swing because this makes the golfer's ability to return the club on plane during the golf swing becomes less likely, resulting in poorer golf shots. Furthermore, like the early hip extension, this forces the player to rely more on the hands to square the clubface at impact.
The third most prevalent golf swing fault was slide during the downswing. A slide is an excessive lateral shift of the hips toward the target on the downswing. A slide makes it challenging to stabilize the lower body during the downswing, which then takes away power from the upper body, or the transfer of momentum. This lateral shift equates to the body and hands being too far ahead and the club often does not catch up, generating a feeling of leaving the club “behind” the golfer, making it difficult to square the face in relation to the swing path. In our study, we found that golfers who could not perform various physical tests presented with a slide during the downswing. For example, 29% who could not overhead deep squat, 35% who could not toe touch, 33% who could not single leg balance on right, 45% who could not single leg balance on left, 36% who could not bridge on right side, and 37% who could not bridge on left side had a slide during the downswing. Thus, these physical abilities should be addressed by the golf fitness professional to help prevent a golfer from sliding during the golf swing.
Typically, if a golfer cannot internally rotate on lead hip, they may begin to slide the pelvis forward to complete the golf swing. However, in our sample of golfers, we did not find an association with limited hip internal rotation and the slide golf swing fault. The TPI test assesses lower quarter rotation in an erect weight-bearing posture (hip and knee extension). However, this does not simulate the amount of hip and knee flexion used during the golf swing. Thus, golfers may potentially have a limitation in lead hip internal rotation, which is preventing them from rotating through during the downswing but is not being detected by the TPI level 1 movement screens.
Although the TPI level 1 movement screens can detect physical limitations in isolated segments, future research should assess the body's physical abilities as a functional chain and not as independent segments or abilities. The body has to perform a golf swing in a weight-bearing condition (as a kinetic chain), and thus the tests or assessments should mimic the task of the golfer in a more functional way, such as in the positions the golfers would need to use during the golf swing.
Strength and conditioning coaches working with golfers need to be aware of various physical limitations in strength, flexibility, and balance, and how these directly affect a golfer's swing mechanics. As a result of insufficient ability to overhead deep squat, toe touch, balance on single leg, and bridge, golfers exhibited 3 particular swing faults, which greatly impact a golfer's ability to swing the club effectively. Strength and conditioning coaches need to assess and correct any physical limitations and make connections with local golf teaching pros. Addressing both the physical limitations and golf swing mechanics at the same time will help the golfer perform better.
The authors would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Sango Otiene and students of the Grand Valley State University Statistical Consulting Center for their assistance with the statistical analysis.
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