Rubenstein: Keeping the game’s best in swing
Published on Thursday, May. 09, 2013 12:01PM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Jun. 13, 2012 11:28PM EDT
SAN FRANCISCO - The practice range at The Olympic Club is not only a laboratory where players have been working on their games for the U.S. Open that starts Thursday. It’s also the ideal place to appreciate the stress that the swing puts on a player’s body.
Modern powerhouses Keegan Bradley, Gary Woodland and Dustin Johnson were at opposite sides of the range early Wednesday afternoon, each pushing his body into positions that could do damage if they didn’t train properly. Anybody who thinks golf isn’t a sport should watch tour players on the range. It’s a revealing exercise, as is discussing the subject with one of the game’s elite trainers. In this case, Craig Davies was the fellow answering the questions.
Davies, 35, is a Canadian living in Orlando, where he is a chiropractor and trainer with Core Golf Academy. Sean Foley, a fellow Canadian, is the lead swing coach. Davies has eight players on his full-time roster. Four are in the U.S. Open: Hunter Mahan, Stephen Ames, Y.E. Yang, and Kevin Chappell. He had just finished working with Yang when he sat down to chat. Yang’s been having some upper neck issues, and a mild back problem.
“People don’t realize the compressive forces that the golf swing exerts on the spine,” Davies said as Bradley and other others pounded balls a few yards away. “A runner compresses three to four times his body weight. A study a couple of years ago measured each golf swing as putting eight times a person’s body weight in terms of compression on the spine. With the speed these players have with a driver, it can be up to 10 times.”
Davies said that at least 80 per cent of players any week on the PGA Tour are being treated for some sort of problem. He sees each of his players for 30 to 45 minutes prior to each round, and then for the same amount of time after every round. They usually meet in the fitness trailer. But there’s no fitness trailer this week, so they’re meeting in the workout room in the Olympic clubhouse.
Problems crop up frequently, even when, as this week, his players have come into the tournament without major troubles. Mahan encountered a left ankle problem during his practice round Tuesday. Davies figured it had something to do with the rigidity of his shoes. Hilly Olympic produces many side-hill lies, and it’s important that a player’s shoes are flexible enough to enable foot mobility.
Davies was on the road for 40 weeks two years ago. His weeks begin Monday night and continue through the final round on Sunday. Swing coaches usually leave earlier, because most players prefer not to work with them once a tournament starts.
But players require daily athletic treatment until the tournament ends. Still, Davies is cutting back to a more reasonable schedule. He’d like to get it down to 20 full weeks next year, with five shorter weeks. He and his wife Andrea are expecting their second child on Sept. 5. Their daughter Charlotte –“Charlie” to them – will turn 2 in a month.
“That’s why I’m not going to the British Open,” Davies said. “I don’t want Charlie to be older and wonder who her dad is.”
Davies has the same financial arrangement with each of his players. They pay him a base salary, with more built in should they reach benchmarks in earnings such as $1.5-million, $2-million and so on. It’s a good living, and not without its own stresses – especially the relentless travel and being away from family. Meanwhile, he continues to learn more about the importance for each player of being fit and limber.
“Every joint at some point in the swing goes through its maximum range,” Davies said. “If you’re not trained, you’re going to break down.”
That’s another way of saying that the U.S. Open champion will survive not only the demanding Olympic course, but he will be fit and unhurt. It’s survival of the best, and, perhaps, the fittest.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein