Tuesday, April 15

Back Story: Tiger Not Only One Hurting

By John Christensen

Copyright © 2014 John Christensen. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Tiger Woods (Allison)
TIGER WOODS MAY RECOVER FROM his back injury and play more Masters, and he might even win more majors. But another important story after his recent surgery—the back story, if you will—is that Tiger's not the only one who's hurting.

Golfers are getting injured in unprecedented numbers—amateur and pro alike—and the culprit is the modern golf swing. That's the only possible conclusion based on information I found while researching my ebook about Mike Austin (Perfect Swing,Imperfect Lies: The Legacy of Golf's Longest Hitter).

Here's an excerpt from the book:
In 2008, a report published by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine cited a two-year study which found that 60 percent of golf professionals and 40 percent of amateurs sustained "either a traumatic or overuse injury while golfing." Low back pain was the most common injury by far, followed by those to the elbow, shoulder and wrist. The society also cited a PGA study, which found that one out of three golfers had low back problems that lasted for at least two weeks.

In August 2011, the PGA Tour posted an article on its website by Sean Cochran, who was identified as an expert in golf fitness. Cochran began this way: "Statistics indicate one out of every two golfers will incur a lower back injury at some point in their playing careers."

"Axial rotations" of hips and shoulders, Cochran writes, "load the musculature of the core." On the downswing, the hips and pelvis are subjected to "angular velocities" of 400 to 500 degrees per second while the velocities in the shoulders and back reach 1100 to 1200 degrees per second.
"Every time golfers swing," Cochran concluded, "they are subjecting their lower spine to eight times their body weight." No wonder injuries have reached epidemic proportions. Given those numbers, golf isn't a sport, it's Russian roulette, and it seems to have gone largely unnoticed.

I put together a list of Tour pros with significant injuries based solely on random remarks during telecasts or in online accounts and came up with 30 names. It ranged from older golfers like Fred Couples and Retief Goosen (backs) to younger players in their prime like Dustin Johnson and Ricky Fowler (also backs).

The modern swing winds the upper body against the stationary lower body to create all that velocity Cochran was talking about. But the classic, old-school swing of Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and Bobby Jones allowed the front heel to rise and fall with the rotation and weight shift, taking pressure off the spine and pelvis and injuries were almost unheard of.

Austin was a journeyman range pro in 1974 when he hit a 515-yard drive with a persimmon driver and a gorgeous, old-school swing. Videos of his swing have been viewed on YouTube more than a million times, and the Golf Channel's Martin Hall featured him on his School of Golf show in April 2013. Hall praised Austin for being "years ahead of his time."

After the show, a golfer named Cyd posted the following on the network's website:

"I've had three back surgeries and I find the Mike Austin swing to be easy on my back. I can go out and hit hundreds of balls and suffer no back pain. With a conventional swing and the torque that is placed on my back, I cannot hit 100 balls and play a round in the same day. Not to mention that after hitting 100 balls using a conventional swing I can barely walk for a day. With the Mike Austin swing, I can practice and play. No problems!"

Fans of the Austin swing have hoped for years that players on the Tour would revive their careers using Austin's explosive and effortless swing. But they never dared dream it might be Tiger Woods—until now.

John Christensen is an author and award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous books, magazines, newspapers and websites.

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