By Greg Doucette, MSPT, OCS

None other than the indomitable Jack Nicklaus has defined the biggest underlying difference between professional and amateur golfers: “Professional golfers condition to play golf; Amateur golfers play golf to condition.” We all want to hit drives like Bubba and Dustin Johnson.  We all want to putt like Jordan Spieth of have Phil Mickelson’s wedge game.  But unfortunately, on Monday morning, you are likely heading to work (which could include any activity from sedentary desk work to manual labor and lifting).  Meanwhile, a pro is heading to the range to hit hundreds of balls followed by 18 holes, finishing with more time on the range.

Naturally, this difference promotes any number of variances in results; Everything from a professional’s average driver club head speed of 113MPH (20MPH faster than the average amateur), to average driving distance (290yds to 214yds), to the sheer number of golf balls each player hits every week. It also helps to explain why injuries suffered by professional golfers and amateur golfers often differ significantly.

Professional golfers will suffer any number of injuries, with the spine and wrist being the most common, but including joint injuries the shoulders, hips, and knees.  The underlying cause of these injuries is frequently overuse.  The typical professional golfer has perfect mechanics, honed by years of practice and refined by expert coaches. However, our bodies are not made to repeat motions over and over, especially with significant effort.  Even with ideal mechanics, this repetition puts the body at risk for breakdowns, compensations, and eventually, pain.

Amateur golfers, on the other hand, are much more likely to have either low back pain or elbow pain, commonly attributed to poor mechanics. There are many swing errors that golfers may commit, and when they’re repeated, the risk of injury is significantly increased. Moreover, those poor mechanics are then affected by an infinite number of outside influences that can exacerbate the problem (some that are not even on a pro golfer’s radar).  Are you walking or riding in a cart? Do you carry your own clubs? Do you have a couple of drinks or smoke during your round? What are you doing for exercise in between rounds? How often do you see the PGA Professional at your club? Answers to each of these questions, and many others, could have a huge effect on your score, and more importantly, your health.

One of our favorite saying in the clinic is “control what you can control.” If each individual is maximizing control over negative influences on swing mechanics, then they are minimizing the risk of failure or injury. Here are some things that you can control to reduce your injury risk, as well as when you should seek help from a PGA professional for swing mechanics guidance or medical professional to help in eliminating pain.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help on your form: Bad habits die hard. Many golfers learned poor form from the beginning and still use the same (pain-inducing) golf swing because it’s what they’re used to. Don’t be afraid to check in with a golf pro or coach every now and again for an assessment of your swing.

Stop if you feel pain: It’s hard to give up on a relaxing day of golf. But continuing to golf through pain can mean giving yourself an injury that keeps you off the course for weeks. If you feel pain when you swing, stop for the day and rest. If you keep feeling pain, consider seeing a physical therapist. PTs can evaluate you, figure out the root cause of your issue and help you eliminate the underlying problem. Physical therapists help you get back on the course more quickly AND know how to avoid pain in the future!

Don’t forget cardio! Golf is an exercise and your performance can be affected by your cardiovascular health. Supplementing your golf with regular cardio exercise (2-3x/week for at least 30 minutes) can help to promote endurance so your 18th hole goes as well as your 1st!

Warm up and stay hydrated: Golfing requires the same preparation and recovery habits as any other exercise. Proper hydration, as well as an appropriate warm-up and cool down, are vital to minimizing injury risk. Next week we’ll will be discussing some of the best warm-up and cool down activities!

Performance is hosting its 2nd Annual Golf Tournament on Saturday, August 11, 2018, at Triggs Memorial Golf Course in Providence. All proceeds from this event will go to supporting NE Distance’s Youth Programs! Sign up and find out more here!


Greg Doucette, MSPT, OCS, started with Performance Physical Therapy in 2013 and is partner, physical therapist, and the clinic director at our East Providence location. Doucette has an undergraduate degree in Health Science Studies and a Master of Science in Physical Therapy from Quinnipiac University. He is a board-certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, an American Physical Therapy Association me. Doucette specializes in orthopedics, sports rehabilitation, functional dry needling, post-operative and total joint rehabilitation, and rehabilitation of the knee, shoulder and spine. With over 12 years of clinical experience, Doucette is passionate about patient education and the importance of core stability for sound functional movement.