Believe it or not, 80 percent of all the people who play golf will experience some sort of back problem during their playing careers. Some of these problems will be structural while others will be neuromuscular.
In any event, it is not fun to play golf with a bad back. The motion of the golf swing is very stressful on the spine, as it is a rotary motion of the body around a central axis.
Most of these back problems could be avoided if we strengthened the muscles in the core area. Poor swing mechanics and being overweight are also culprits that cause back issues. In addition to this, there are some people who have back problems from birth, and, as they get older, their backs start weakening.
In any case, if you are one of those golfers with a bad back and are looking to take some pressure off your back, here are some helpful tips that have worked for myself and many of the amateurs and professionals I have taught:
■ Stand as tall as you can with a great deal of knee flex. This might require you to look for longer clubs.
■ Align your body slightly to the right of your target. This is called a closed stance.
■ Do not play out of an overly wide stance as this will also stress your back.
■ Your ball position should be in the center of your stance and never too far forward.
■ Turn your hips and shoulders together on the backswing. Don't restrict your hip turn. Your hips should turn as much as your shoulders. In turning in this manner, your left heel should come off the ground to prevent any coiling of the body.
■ Move into a flexed right leg on the backswing. If your head moves a little bit on the backswing don't worry about it. Some head movement to the right is required for golfers with back problems.
■ Don't drive your legs toward the target on the downswing. Most golfers with back problems are seriously hurting themselves when they drive their legs or use excessive body action on the downswing.
■ Stay away from the overly inside-out downswing as that will torque your back. The correct feeling is almost an "over-the-top" feeling with the right side in control.
■ And finally, finish your swing with 100 percent of your weight on your front leg. This finish position will put your head directly over your front leg.
It is interesting to note that you never heard of back problems in golf until the advent of the modern swing. The modern swing, of course, is flatter and more centered, with an emphasis on coiling and torso rotation.
Golfers in the Sam Snead Era had free flowing motions that had no restrictions on the backswing or the forward swing. If you have a back problem and are looking to play more "pain free" golf implement some of these suggestions, and get back to golf.
Dr. Jim Suttie, 2000 National PGA Teacher of the Year, is available for lessons at Suttie Golf at the Club at Twin Eagles in North Naples and Cog Hill Golf Club in Lemont, Ill. For lessons and program information call 800-765-3838 or Jmsuttie@aol.com.