New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping

This is a cautionary tale. 

Within a year of arriving in Scottsdale, Arizona, I began working with Jim Dieters, Jim Flick’s, Assistant Director of Instruction. I chose Dieters because he was here year round while Flick went back to Michigan for the summers. 

I also had the opportunity to meet another local pro, Mike Malaska, who worked with Flick on his Golf Channel show. Malaska was interesting because he was the first golf pro I ever met who even spoke about physical fitness, let alone was a big proponent of it. 

So I would watch Flick’s show and Malaska would do warm-up stretching before being the demo for Flick’s swing wisdom. 

At the time, I was in my early 50’s, strong, vibrant, ran five to six miles a day, had youthful range of motion and could beat balls all day long. Because of that, I just couldn’t ever get excited about adding a weight program. I would add one, but I never realized the same kind of benefits as my cardio workouts, and it would fade away. And I ignorantly turned my nose up at any form of stretching. From my robust perch, I would imperiously watch Malaska rolling around on the ground doing his stretching demos, marveling at the incongruity of it all. Stretching? For golf? Why would I? 

Turns out Malaska was right. Once I gave up chasing the Champions Tour, I began to play less, run fewer miles and, unbeknownst to me, slowly lose my range of motion. Until one day, I started to feel pangs of pain radiating laterally across my lower back. No big deal. Must just be a little tweak. It’ll be fine. And it was. It just never seemed to completely go away. 

As it progressed, I decided that I had just been working it too hard and it needed rest. I took two weeks off. When I triumphantly returned for my first round after the layoff, I had to walk off after nine holes. So I decided that I hadn’t given it enough time and took three weeks off. When I triumphantly returned for my first round after that layoff, I got to the middle of the third hole and had to have the Player’s Assistant bring me back in. 

I tried a deep-tissue massage. That didn’t work. I hadn’t been to a chiropractor in years—I had no reason to go—but I began a fast-paced effort to find one. I finally found Glen Tanner, who specialized in working with golfers, was amazed at his credentials (which I’ll get into) and surrendered my aching back to his care. It was a quick payoff. 

After a classic, chiropractic adjustment, he incredibly had me swinging a club at full speed, with complete range of motion and no, I mean to say no, pain. 

“When can I play?” I joyously asked. 

“This afternoon,” he said. “It may move back out of place and I want you to be able to see me tomorrow without having to struggle through the weekend.” Which is what happened; but I did get all 18 in this time. And thus began an initial, three-days-a-week regimen to keep it in place. It finally tapered down to once a week and now once a month for maintenance.

This was necessitated by the fact that over the years, because I was gradually losing my range of motion, my body was instinctively compensating in ingenious ways to keep my clubhead speed up. That got my right hip gradually moving forward. The spine rotated with it and the big muscles in the back clenched the now out of position spine to protect it. So every time I got near the top of my swing, the misaligned discs in my spine would pinch the nerves. It took eight months of iterative “replacings” and a daily stretching routine until my hips were in line and level to stay. No more pinched nerves. 

Why did all this happen? Because I hadn’t been doing any preventative stretching to maintain my flexibility. And the movement is so subtle, you don’t even notice it. Your body just adjusts for it until it can’t anymore. 

What made me think about all of this is that I’m not all that far removed from a complete recovery and I came across James Achenbach’s Golf Week article, “Summit Proves Importance of Golf Fitness.”

Forget the various professional tours. I nominate Greg Rose and Dave Phillips, founders of the Titleist Performance Institute, as golfers of the year.

After attending the World Golf Fitness Summit, organized and conducted by Rose and Phillips, I believe more firmly than ever that the fitness movement in golf is the sport’s most important development since 1979.

He goes on to generally describe the work that Rose and Phillips have done since they founded the Institute in 2004. Because of what I went through, I happen to know that they have put together a whole set of golf-specific analytics that diagnose swing faults and then look at the underlying physical weaknesses that contribute to them.

They have put together a certification program to certify golf pros, trainers and, yes, chiropractors. (Rose has a doctorate of chiropractic.) Tanner is certified at Level II last I checked and so are the trainers at my club.

You can find out more about the Institute here. And you can get a good sense of the preventative and remedial aspects of the regimen in Katherine Roberts’ book, Swing Flaws and Fitness Fixes. She’s a trainer and yoga instructor you may recall from her shows on the Golf Channel and she was in instrumental adjunct to my chiropractor.

So do yourself a favor before it gets away from you. Make a commitment (it is New Year’s Eve!) to nurture your body with a fitness program that includes stretching.

It would have saved me a lot of time, money and pain if I had. You can now find me incongruously rolling around on my living room floor each morning. Some wisdom comes harder and with a higher price than others.

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