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Apr 08

Athlete Golfers Having More Injury Troubles?

Athlete Golfers Prone to Injuries

Back in my remote youth, I seem to remember a remark by Sam Snead, something to the effect that there are ball strokers and ball strikers, suggesting that the former are, in the long run, more successful and enduring.

Perhaps that theory, if that is what he was suggesting, is open to debate, but it is a current reality that the number one player in men’s golf has withdrawn from the first major of the PGA season, one he wouldn’t miss if he could possibly avoid it. At the same time, the woman who is ranked second in the Rolex Rankings, Suzann Pettersen, has just withdrawn from the LPGA’s first major of the season, and it is clear from her words that she dearly wishes that it were otherwise.

suzann 2Tiger has had back trouble in other tournaments of recent years. Pettersen withdrew from the first tournament in the Bahamas, and in 2005, went eighteen months without playing. That’s tough statistic to put up beside her fourteen victories, two majors and five top-ten finishes in the Kraft Nabisco.
Snead seems to favor the methodical, lyric swing, and espouses it for good health. It would be difficult for hard-bodies like Woods and Pettersen to agree, perhaps. Whatever you’ve got that can give you an edge on these tours, you’d better use it. As a lifelong Pillsbury Dough Boy, I have to stay with Snead’s argument for my own survival, but unlike most of us on the weekends, Woods, Pettersen and many others on tour can hit the ball very hard, adding and subtracting degrees of force depending on what they want, without losing the integrity of their swing.

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Woods and Pettersen are famous for their work-out ethic, and when they are in good health, the advantages they bring are clear. They drive good distances, and don’t physically fade toward the end of the day. This type of player hasn’t won everything over the years, though, and pros from Billy Casper to Angel Cabrera have won majors, so who’s to say for sure?

The question has been asked whether the athletically-minded are working out too much, or improperly. Is there something fundamentally over-taxing in their chosen golf swing? What’s going on in the weight room? Gary Player worked out almost every day of his adult life, and I can’t remember him ever being in trouble, past getting a cold, or withdrawing from anything.

One quasi medical website suggests that being injury prone from playing like a jock is more tied into a player’s personality than it is to a herniated disk, and that while considerable force is used to hit a drive, such a repeated action is not inherently dangerous. I can play along with that idea on a secondary avenue of inquiry, but I can’t imagine that’s what’s going on here – a disc is a disc, and a muscle is a muscle, and they just flat out hurt sometimes.


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I read a quote of golf journalist Dan Jenkins from the early part of this century, claiming that only a bad marriage or injury could stop Tiger from blowing the Nicklaus record out of the water. The marriage is a dead horse, and if others want to continue beating it, fine, but the injuries have done what opponents could not. Did Tiger try to act young for too long, or should he have eased up on the torque off the tee?

suzannAs for Pettersen, her swing coach says that her back’s in such bad shape that the therapist, Tom Boers (the one who’s kept Fred Couples on his feet all these years), doesn’t even want her to fly. Maybe the hard-bodies need to spend a little time resisting their natures, and try the Pillsbury life for a little while – maybe take a chocolate shake break in the weight room, or set a metronome at Adagio on the driving range, having it tick to a slower swing.

I don’t know the answer, but the golfers who seem to be having the most trouble lately are the type-A athletes – just sayin’.


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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.