Golfers in January in South Dakota are most often examples of people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This presents golfers with some intriguing challenges. No. 1, how can they avoid common injuries associated with golf now that they can hit balls year-round? No. 2, how can they make the most of what amounts to a new definition of the off-season?
“I encourage golfers to look at their golf game and their improvement holistically,” said Todd Kolb, the director of instruction at Sanford POWER Golf Academy. “That approach certainly involves taking lessons and hitting golf balls, but it also involves getting your body in shape and helping your body understand how you want it to move when you swing a club.”
The weather presents an unavoidable obstacle in the Upper Midwest, but Great Shots and the Sanford POWER Golf Academy have changed that. Now, golfers can be better in the spring than they were in the fall. They can be in better shape and physically better equipped to play.
“I think we’re looking at a great opportunity,” said Dr. Matt Rollag, a Sanford Health physical therapist who specializes in sports injuries and works extensively with Sanford POWER Golf Academy.
“It’s a new year. Let’s say one of your goals is to get in better shape and address weight loss. We can set you up with one of our programs that can get you feeling better so that you can work out more. If you know those same things are going to help your golf game, you’re going to have a better chance at staying motivated. There can be multiple benefits.”
Golfers are athletes
Paul Lundgren is a certified strength and conditioning specialist for Sanford POWER who works closely with the Academy. One of the secrets to working with golfers, Lundgren can tell you, is to treat them like everyone else.
Though it took golfers a long time to catch on, lifting weights and using training techniques common in other sports makes perfect sense.
“Our philosophy is that we really don’t train anyone for one single sport,” Lundgren said. “We train athletes, and they happen to be playing that sport. It might be a golfer, it might be a hockey player — we just want to make people better athletes. Our job is increasing potential so that people like Todd can take them and develop the skills of stronger players.”
Skeptics would not have to look far to find proof that this approach works. Competitive professional golfers are far more fit than a generation ago. In short, what is good for PGA stars like Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka can be good for those just trying to get a little better at the game.
“People see that they’re taking care of themselves,” Rollag said. “Younger golfers who are trying to become competitive are also doing that. At the other end of the spectrum, casual golfers can see that the body can have a huge impact. It’s not just about swinging a club, because when you feel better you play better.”
The Golf Academy’s message incorporates expert attention that addresses skill development in collaboration with sports science, physical therapy, strength and conditioning.
None of those potential benefits can be realized, of course, if there is an injury in the way.
Not surprisingly, lower back pain is the most common physical obstacle.
“The funny thing with lower back problems is that usually it’s not a problem with the lower back,” Rollag said. “A lot of times it’s the joint above, so the thoracic spine isn’t moving correctly. Or maybe the hips are not mobile enough, or they’re weak. The low back ends up doing all the work every time they swing. It can become stressed out and overused.”
It could also involve a mechanical issue in the swing. Using their camera technology, Rollag and the PT staff can pinpoint where a swing goes wrong. Instructors can then work with the hurting golfer on establishing more sustainable movement.
“One way or the other, we’ll get to the bottom of it,” Rollag said. “And we’ll get you feeling better.”
Golfers can take a pro-active approach to warding off injuries, creating the potential for a becoming a better — not just healthier — player in the process.
As Lundgren summarized, “Any strength is good strength.” That applies to both ability and durability.
Raising your golf ceiling
“You can only get as good as your body allows you to be,” Lundgren said. “So getting into the weight room can increase your potential. Let’s say you’re hitting the ball as far as you can — but you’ve plateaued. You’re thinking you can’t get any better. Then the next step is, ‘What am I missing?’ The last component could be the health and fitness side of it.”
As more and more golfers make the sport part of their winters via Great Shots, they will discover it doesn’t have to be a passive “maintaining” of their games. In fact, it can be quite the opposite.
“The offseason is a time when you can really get some work done — get your hands dirty, so to speak,” said Kolb, who recently was voted one of Golf Digest’s Best in State teachers. “At the Academy, this is when we can dive in, get after it and get some heavy lifting done.”
In this case, Kolb was speaking figuratively about the idea of lifting heavy things, but he just as easily could mean it literally.
“Sometimes people get lost because they’re not looking at golf as an athletic movement,” he said. “With any other sport, this is the time when you’re getting your body in shape, working on your flexibility and your explosiveness — all the things you need to do to perform the way you want to perform.”
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