Changing the Sport of Golf: Mixing Physicality, Mental Toughness, Timing, Biomechanics and more!
By Gina Pongetti Angeletti and Stephen Miwa
Golf is truly one of the fastest growing sports in the country. No longer is golf just a Sunday activity with friends, or a company outing. The amateur level of golf is growing in numbers, and the professional level is exploding with science. Kids are entering into the sport with coaches, schedules, personal training, physical therapy and mental guides. Adults are starting to discover the thrill of actually being good in Club tournaments, and participating year-round both outdoors and with indoor technology and training.
In years previous, if any extra effort was put in by the lay person, it would be in buying a better club, garnering better balls, or maybe watching the Golf Channel on television. Now, there are thousands of certified golf professionals- whether for club fitting, instruction in swing, putting, and even fitness. In a sport where the average 18-hole score is over 100 in the amateur realm, with practice swings and warm up included totaling 250, someone playing 20 rounds a year garners 5,000 swings, and that is not including endless hours trying to self-coach at the range. It is a repetitive activity that involves strength, flexibility, proper timing, body positioning, and posture that mimics the demands of other swing sports such as tennis, baseball, and lacrosse- but without a moving object...which should make it easier, correct? Like an open book test? One would only think…
You would not go running a marathon without training, right? A tough sport that requires dedication. You could not drive a NASCAR automobile without education and training, understanding small motions, forces required, core strength, positioning and more. So, why do people try to whack at a ball with a stick, endlessly, without success or consistency, and then allow themselves to get frustrated when it doesn’t go well? Hm. Good question. Because it seems like it would be so simple. Well, not so much.
1. The Basic Ingredients to a Great Game
Golf “soup,” or the aspects of training, fitness, preparedness, skill, and equipment is made up of many parts. Often, all of those cannot be schooled by the same person, as they require a deep understanding of each individual offering.
- Proper equipment- club fitting, weight, length, size, grip, shoes, appropriate ball for your stroke among other things
- Understanding of the swing and timing of muscle motion and activation
- Mental toughness- preparedness for pre-swing routine, ability to deal with frustration and challenge, equal amounts of focus and relaxation
- Consistency in training- thousands and thousands of swings in order to educate the body and make the process “second nature.” Unfortunately, bad swings contribute to that pattern becoming habit as well
- Flexibility- muscular flexibility to achieve positioning including ankles, hips, spine, ribs, shoulders, and core
- Range of motion- joint motion to allow the proper movement combined with velocity
- Strength- core stability and postural strength, as well as proper force to be produced from the hips, core, ribs, and how your feet interact with the ground reaction forces, arms, and others. Training this strength to become properly timed and sequenced velocity is the final step
- Injury prevention- proper warm-up and cool-down, whether playing 9 holes or a 36 hole tournament, or even going to the range. Repetitive stress of the same motion is hard on any athlete, especially when it is always in the same direction with the same stance, over and over again.
2. The Team
You can be a working professional looking to impress clients or a busy Mom looking for a quick 9 holes, it does not matter. Maybe you are a high school athlete trying to play golf on a NCAA scholarship, or you dream of being on the PGA tour. You may even be an adult after a hip replacement thinking that you can never return to the sport that you love or play with your friends upon retirement. No matter what your goal, why spend hours and hours, and lots of money, for no positive outcome? Even if you are not qualifying for something, self-improvement and decreased frustration (not to mention a lower blood pressure on the course!) are great reasons to work with professionals!
Meet Elevation Sports Performance Owner and Director of Instruction and Fitness, Mike Mandakas. He is a PGA Golf Professional, and TPI Certified Instructor. He is also, at his heart, a technology geek, loving all aspects of the biomechanical analysis of force, timing, motion, and swing. The root of his success is a combination of proper evaluation paired with training the swing in three parts: balance, flexibility, and power.
Add in Gaston Cordova, a Physical Therapist by schooling who specializing in neuro rehab, turned PGA Mental Performance Coach. He has taken his knowledge of the body, how the brain works, the process of ‘learning’ in the body, and personal experience and added to this the mental aspect of sports sprinkled with psychology and boom- the missing piece!
Now in comes Achieve Physical Therapy, a group focused on the combination of science and art in medicine. The best athletes get better when analyzed biomechanically, treated for the problem at hand, and taught on further prevention of problems. Gina Pongetti Angeletti, Physical Therapist, Director and Co-Owner of Achieve Orthopedic Rehabilitation Institute Sports Medicine, has one of the most highly trained staff of PT’s to provide the perfect combination of skilled manual therapy techniques, biomechanical and kinesiologic evaluation, assessment of motion and restriction, strength and flexibility programming, and functional return to sport and activity. Simply strengthening things does not work to make motion better. Resting does not fix scar tissue. Gentle, nice massages never got anyone back on tour. Whether suffering from a common injury such as elbow pain/epicondylitis, plantar fascia issues, a ‘tight’ spine that no one can figure out, or life after a hip replacement- Achieve’s staff sees no boundary in making sure your body can perform. Advanced skills like Trigger Point Dry Needling (you heard it right, needles right in muscles to make those ‘knots’ go away) may not be fun, but totally worth it. Active Release Techniques (ART) remove repetitive and unwanted scar tissue. Education on using various rollers to help yourself (yes, golfers get homework) while possibly biting a towel is what we do. Walking you through an evaluation of your strength and flexibility (and challenges with both) and creating short-term and long-standing plans is essential.
And then there is recovery. DR3 is the brainchild of Achieve Owner Gina Angeletti and Sam Zagorac, owner of Diamond Edge. Diamond Rest and Recovery Room (DR3) is a place where you can aid in the progress of getting rid of pain, apologize to your body after a long day on the course or a hard workout, or even just go for overall body health and balance. This ‘Cadillac’ of recovery spaces includes a CryoSense Cryotherapy unit, NormaTec Compression Devices (upper, hip/mid and leg), modalities such as Ultrasound, IFC Electric Stim and Tens Neuromuscular Reeducation, Deep Heating, Massage Therapy, and a vast array of self-help myofascial rollers, trigger point balls, and stretching straps. Flush out muscle soreness from walking 18 holes or from general training. Rejuvenate your body with encouragement of blood flow and cell turnover.
All of the above professionals and services are housed within Diamond Edge Academy in Willowbrook. There are many other professionals housed within Diamond Edge Academy to truly make this facility one of the top and most inclusive in the country!
3. The State-of-the-Art Technology
Being able to analyze motion, pressure, force, timing is a big part of the analysis for a proper swing. BodiTrak allows the team to see how the athlete interacts with ground reaction forces. DorsaVi allows the Physical Therapists and Athletic Trainers at Achieve to analyze resting position, change in position, rotational torque on legs, measure ground reaction forces, and train spine positioning through its wearable sensor technology. TrackMan is radar technology that analyzes the ball and the club including the club path, angle, and rotation with over 25 points of data. Swinguru is a balance and motion tracking system that shows balance transfer in your feet and body alignment while it allows you to see yourself as an avatar on a screen, in 3D. It is so advanced that it does this without having to put sticky sensors anywhere on your body; even allowing you to see yourself from multiple views at once. Heart Rate Variability Training (HRV) tracks your heart rate’s rise and fall, your resting levels, and your peak levels. Then with this data, Mike and Gaston teach you how to train your body to control this through various aspects of relaxation, thought, breath, patterns, preparedness and more. Interactive Metronome gives data on analysis of one’s motor planning and sequencing. It teaches, essentially, rhythm. This means- do you know what to activate, and when to activate it? Since an average golf swing, in total, is 1 second (3/4 of a second for back swing, and ¼ of a second for the downswing), there is not a lot of “time” within the swing to make changes. Because of this lack of time, one’s swing needs to become a habit from start to finish. Then, there are the ForeSight Sports Cameras, another radar technology that is used to analyze swing, contact, ball trajectory, and more. And for the greens, there is the SAM PuttLab. This technology uses ultrasound to check club face position to make sure your grip, posture and swing trajectory is where you thought it was. All of this data is considered by the professionals to look and analyze your motion, outside of the swing, to sense patterns, deficits, and areas of immobility that can predict compensations in swing and thus help with injury prevention.
4. Why All of This Matters?
When Mandakas and Cordova got started years ago, it was to create a one-stop-shop for golfers of any skill level to be able to come to advance their game to the next level.
Mandakas stated, “When Gaston and I started this together three years ago, I came in as the biomechanical instructor. I use my lessons to try to turn anyone into a more well-rounded athlete from biomechanical and physical standpoints. And Gaston (Cordova) came in on the mental performance side. This is because what we want our athletes to perform at their highest level and we know that isn’t possible with only fitness. Mental performance ties all the physical training aspects together. More importantly, we use sports science data to profile our athletes and create baseline starting points so that we can measure their improvements.”
Adding in the mental side of the game is very important. Most PGA pros have personal mental coaches, and almost all Olympians of any sport do. Cordova explained his take on the program, “I teach my athletes that you have to be confident, you have to be relaxed, and you have to have goals.”
Cordova continues. “I use neuroscience to try to tap into and develop the mental skills of the athletes. I teach these students why they’re performing differently from how they practice. Ultimately, what the biggest variance, for the elite athletes, is the mental side. Technically and physically an athlete could be at their very best, but something as small as the weather changing slightly could throw off their mental state. With my approach that I call ‘the psychology of sport through brain science’ I bring newer technologies that are out there now, such as HRV, and use it as a baseline awareness of what’s happening in the nervous system. Then I teach control of nervousness, emotions and how that manifests to physical performance.”
“There are very different goals between the kid who’s just learning to just play golf and the elite level high schooler who wants to get the Division I scholarship.” Cordova continues, “That’s a very different pathway with very different mental pressures and expectations that I guide these kids through. The college player that’s trying to make his jump to the pros, again, has a very different pressure than that young professional who’s trying to make deep into the higher echelon of the sport. That’s where I inject my approaches to mental skills development with guidance.”
Mandakas is proud of the vast array of clients that this smooth process can service. “Basically what we have done is created a golf combine. From personal, one-on-one, evaluations to group settings, these golf combines can be geared towards junior golfers, high school golfers, and college golfers. We can get very good baseline data for biomechanics, physical strength, mental performance, and their golf abilities.”
Altogether, the team of Elevation and Achieve works in perfect harmony. A golfer recovering from knee surgery works with Achieve for their rehab. Then there is a combined analysis of strength, flexibility, and movement with a specific plan for return between Achieve and Elevation. The therapists at Achieve look at data recorded at Elevation, and the pros at Elevations see reports given to them from Achieve to see where boundaries still lie medically. With this perfect balance of communication, the art of improving one’s golf game begins again!