Golf lessons: adventures in biomechanics

"Uh, like this, you mean?"

Until recently I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about. I mean, it's not as though golf is a real sport. As Mark Twain probably didn't say, it's more of "a good walk spoiled".

Or so I thought. Then one day I was working with a client of mine who's a keen golfer, and found myself discussing the mechanics of the golf swing. He had some lower back issues, so we were trying to improve the rotation in his hips and mid-back area and take some of the strain away from his lumbar spine.

By the end of the conversation, I'd realised a couple of things. (1) Reading articles about biomechanics wasn't a substitute for having a practical understanding of how the movement works; and (2) there's more to golf than I'd appreciated. So I headed down to my local golf club and booked a lesson with Alan, the resident golf pro.

Alan patiently took me through the basics. It took me a little while to start getting the hang of it, but the first time I connected properly with a ball and watched it fly, I suddenly understood the appeal of the game. I wanted to do that again. One lesson turned into several, and (although I have too many sports already) I have a sneaking suspicion that I might keep it up.

Just a few hours of coaching, though, have given me a much better appreciation of the demands that golf places on the body. It's one thing to read that a golf swing can cause compressive forces in the lower back of up to eight times a player's body weight; it's quite another to get a sense of what that might feel like. After hitting a bucket full of golf balls, I'd started to build a mental picture of the loads involved on various joints, and I could relate it to other sporting movements.

As sports injury professionals, we can't be experts in every sport out there. If I think a client needs to modify their technique as part of their rehabilitation or to prevent future injury, then I'll generally suggest working with a specialist coach. I reckon there's a lot to be said, though, for having had a go. A few lessons covering the basics can go a long way to breathing life into the dry biomechanical analysis. By all means, do the book learning - but if we're not, now and then, getting out of the clinic and onto the golf course (or squash court, weights room, climbing wall, judo mat...) then we, and our clients, are missing out.

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