Golf Movement and Swing Assessment – Case Study: Will

I have a feeling there may be a lot of golfers out there. And I suspect just a few of them (read: most) are interested in improving theirs swing. And another small subset (read: large) are addicted to everything to do with golf. And that these people may just be interested to get a complete assessment of their swing, of the way they move without a golf club in their hand, and of the correlation between the limitations in the way they move and the problems they are having with their swing. And hopefully they will also be keen to do the few corrective exercises that will help them to improve their movement and their swing. I would think that those who don’t play as much as they want to because their back gets sore from a round of golf would be particularly keen on this.

I recently did a Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) assessment on a golfer friend of mine down in Massachusetts who gets up at 430 am every day to fit 9 holes in before work. Despite that incredible dedication to this game (addict?), he has struggled with low back pain of late, and his game has also been suffering somewhat. Take a look at what we found out from his assessment:

The TPI assessment includes 11 movement tests and takes about 10 minutes, followed by a video assessment of the golfer’s swing, using both a front view and down the line view to assess how they fare with respect to 12 common swing faults.

Will’s TPI movement screen results:
1. Pelvic tilt test: Normal stance, but limited in anterior tilt.
2. Pelvic rotation test: Limited stability, and mobility. The movement is more lateral than rotational.
3. Torso rotation: Good torso mobility but limited stability.
4. Overhead deep squat. Torso bends forward slightly.
5. Toe touch test: good.
6. 90/90 test (shoulder range of motion): Excellent bilaterally in the standing position; excellent on the right in golf stance; severely limited on the left in golf stance.
7. Single leg balance: Good on the right and very good on the left.
8. Lat length test. Excellent.
9. Lower quarter rotation: Internal hip rotation: Good on the left; okay on the right. External hip rotation: Good on the right; poor on the left.
10. Seated trunk rotation: Moderate both sides, in both positions.
11. Bridge w/ leg extension: good on both sides.

The five tests that are in bold and underlined are the ones that require a second look. We don’t want to correct all of them, but rather find the ones that are probably the biggest offenders. At first glance, I think it will be the poor pelvic mobility that is having the biggest impact on his swing, and it is the limitation in right internal hip rotation combined with limited left external hip rotation (both impact the backswing) that is the biggest contributor to his low back pain. Although the lack of anterior tilt may be contributing there. Before deciding which tests to address with corrective exercises, I want to take a look at his swing.

First from down the line:

And now the front view:

The following assessment of the swing uses the Teitlist Performance Institute (TPI) approach to identify 12 common faults in a golf swing: s-posture, c-posture, flat shoulder plane, loss of posture, early extension, reverse spine angle, over-the top, sway, slide, hang back, scooping, and chicken wing.

First, posture. Will demonstrates c-posture, which can be related to tight pectoral muscles combined with weak lower and mid traps (muscles between the shoulder blades). This is consistent with his overhead squat test result.

Now let’s see how well Will maintains his posture throughout the swing. First at the backswing:

Not bad – the head drops slightly, but I don’t think that will prove to be the biggest issue in his swing.

And then on impact:

Now on impact it’s a different story. Take a look at his knee position. This could be related to his poor pelvic rotation, or lack of hip rotation.

On the topic of loss of posture, I want to see if Will extends his hips early. Based on his overhead squat test, he probably will:

If he was extending early, then we would see a big gap between that vertical line and his pelvis, but as you can see, that’s not the case.

The other posture related swing fault we assess is flat shoulder plane:

Ideally the line of his shoulders at the top of the backswing should be parallel with the line of the club shaft at address. It is not quite parallel, but it is within acceptable limits.

The last fault we’ll look at from this view is whether his swing is over the top. To assess, this, I have drawn lines through the club shaft and through the shaft when the left upper arm is parallel to the ground. We want to see Will’s downswing come through this “slot”:

As you can see, Will’s club comes down well in front of the slot, meaning he is “over the top”. This is likely related to his lack of hip rotation on the backswing.

Now let’s look at the swing from the front view. The following lines are set to show whether Will sways, slides or hangs back.

First let’s look for sway:

That right hip is well back of the line, meaning he is swaying. I suspect this is related to his poor pelvic rotation. The nice thing about this, is that I think there’s a good chance this is simply that his body has poor physical knowledge of hip rotation – in other words, I think once he teaches his body the difference between lateral and rotational pelvic movement, he’ll see pretty quick improvements.

Now let’s see what happens on impact:

The front hip slides forward a bit. But it’s pretty minor.

Next we look for reverse spine angle.

The line drawn from middle of the hips to middle of the head at the top of the backswing should point away from the target, when looking from bottom to top. In Will’s case, it is perpendicular or even slightly forward. This is an important assessment as there is a strong correlation between reverse spine angle and low back pain among golfers. This may be related to his lack of hip rotation, his lack of anterior pelvic tilt, or seated torso rotation (which was moderate).

The next fault we’re looking for is casting, or whether Will’s hands cross the hip line before the club.

This shows that he is casting, which could again be the result of his lack of pelvic rotation. It could also be something that he has to do to make up for the fact that his downswing is over the top.

The last thing we will look for is “chicken wing”:

Perfect – Will maintains a nice straight arm through the swing.

As you can see there are a few things going on in Will’s swing. I think the biggest factor in all of them is the poor pelvic rotation and lack of right hip internal rotation combined with lack of left hip external rotation. Additionally, I want to work on his pectoral and mid-back muscles to correct that c-posture. This is partly because I know that Will works at a computer all day, which means he likely continues this posture at his desk, and I believe that many hours spent in that position is going to have a negative effect on his low back.

I gave Will 6 exercises to do. I’ll fill you in on the full report later, but the day after I had him try the exercises, he played the best game of golf that he’d played in a year and a half. Maybe that’s a coincidence, but I think it is actually that Will has good body awareness and that his body learned the pelvic rotation movement very quickly. I’m happy that he’s seen improvement in his swing, but I’ll be happier when he gets to the point of playing pain-free golf.

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