Notes from the PGA Coaching Summit
Mike was the 2011 PGA teacher of the year and he works at Superstition Mountain in Arizona. He is also a lead coach at the Nicklaus academies worldwide.
He offered a very well organized presentation where he explored themes relating to golf fitness. His ideas caused some ripples in the crowd for sure, but underneath his words were some interesting ideas. His central point is that there is tremendous amounts of misinformation relating to golf fitness, and that it is critical that we simplify our approach when using fitness in golf. Ultimately, his suggestion is that we should be using golf for fitness, not fitness for golf – but his point was really that there are too many people abusing the relatively new frontier of fitness in golf. His suggestion is that while there are some fitness professionals who are doing excellent work (for instance, those who focus on developing positive athletic behaviors in our young players) but that there are also way too many misinformed “fitness experts” who are doing more harm than good.
Fitness in Golf:
Mike’s presentation focused on the need to temper our reliance on physical development in golf – particularly in players that are adults. In particular, he asked us to be careful when we use fitness to change patterns of movement in our players. He pointed out that despite the existence of more fitness trailers and strength programs on tour, the amount of injured players on tour is greater than at any point in history.
This was an interesting thesis, as Mike is renown for his use of fitness in golf – he is a pioneer of things like physical screens and conditioning for golf. But quickly we learned that central to his theory is the concept of “Athletic Identity” – the concept that everyone has their own athletic make-up that needs to be acknowledged and harnessed by any teacher hoping to develop his players while avoiding injury. Ultimately, injuries occur when we ignore one’s athletic identity and ask them to do things in their swing that they are incapable of doing. This is particularly true with adults.
He highlighted this point by asking a volunteer to come up and throw a golf ball. Despite the unconventional wind-up and release point, the ball moved a good pace – and Mike congratulated the volunteer and asked us to consider whether our instinct would be to change his delivery. His point was that our role as coaches was to recognize this person’s tendencies and then to design our coaching to fit his style, rather than working to change his style according to our own system. “Find out what they have and then try to use that”.
In sensational fashion, Mike exclaimed that “You don’t have to be fit to play the game of golf” – “we need to focus on using the game for fitness, rather than using fitness for the game”. Golf needs to be the answer to getting in shape, not the question. This was probably meant to ruffle feathers more than anything, but as the presentation went on we began to see that of course he sees fitness as a huge component of this sport, but that we shouldn’t be using it alter anyone’s athletic identity.
Physical Screens – Simplified:
He brought a coach on stage and asked him to do a super slow motion swing – one minute back-swing, one minute downswing, and one minute follow through. This, he said, is the ultimate screen for a player. Have them do this slow motion drill and then ask them where they feel pain – now you know about the physical limitations they might have.
Further to this screen, he suggested that we can learn a lot about a player just by watching them stand – when we stand up it is usually the case that one of our feet flares out a bit. On the side where the foot flares out it is almost certain that there are hip limitations…
- Be careful with cameras – if you don’t use the angles properly in set-up you can see lots of things that aren’t actually happening. You need to be consistent with the angle you use if you want to compare a video to another.
- Be careful with feedback devices – all a player really needs is the visual feedback of whether their ball is starting and finishing on the line they like. He described his early days hitting balls on a soccer field, where he’d set up on a sideline and watch his ball fly in relation to this line. “That’s all the feedback you’ll ever need”
- Kinematic sequence happens in a similar fashion for everyone – the passing off of forces from the ground up. But use a players kinematic sequence to acknowledge their identity, not to change them into a model that you might have.
On the Golf Swing:
Mike was a disciple of Jim Flick, and so similar to Flick his belief is that the golfer must focus on moving the club, not the body. “Your hands don’t swing at the ball, they move inside so the club can get to the ball” or “the left arm rotates, it doesn’t pull”.
Also, he repeatedly mentioned that the back-swing really doesn’t matter at all, all that matters is the critical moment of impact. Teachers and players work tirelessly to perfect moments in their swing with have little to nothing to do with where the ball will fly.
While Mike offered some great points, it seemed like his presentation was overly critical of the fitness world in golf. I know of some excellent coaches who use fitness exceptionally well and who have helped players swing more consistently and also avoid injury. But I suppose that for every strong strength and conditioning coach there is another one who may be doing more harm than good. I would imagine that his point was not that fitness needs to be removed from golf, but simply that we need to be more careful with how we use fitness in the game. With the growth of so many teachers and coaches who believe they are fitness experts after attending a weekend seminar, his message is simply that understanding how the body functions while swinging a golf club is often misunderstood and abused, and that this abuse is doing way more harm than good.
One problem with his suggestion that we use golf for fitness instead of fitness for golf is that in our modern age it is sometimes the case that individuals who play the game have little or no athletic identity. In a world of video games and sedentary upbringing, it is unfortunately the case that some of our young golfers need to complement their development in golf with basic physical development that they are no longer getting in the driveway with a hockey net or a bike. I think that Mike was speaking about working with tour players and adults – and that with young players he would endorse the use of physical development in order to help young players develop an “athletic identity” which they may not be able to develop in other areas of life.
My conclusion would be this – if you take your game seriously it is imperative that you find a strength and conditioning expert who has years of study and practice under their belt. Do not let just anyone tell you that your body doesn’t work and that you need to become more like their model. Be yourself, and be sure that anyone who consults with you on fitness understands who you are and is willing to help you become the best you can be while maintaining your underlying “athletic identity”…