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How do players function and move on the range vs. the golf course?

Updated: May 29, 2020

For sometime I have been intrigued as to how players move and function on the golf course relative to how they move on the range. Through observation and discussion with players and coaches, changes in a players anatomical and physiological behaviour, alongside the influence of a continuously changing task and environment (dynamic systems theory- please refer to the work of Davids and Glazier who are leaders and pioneers in this field), may undoubtedly influence players movement patterns, therefore this curiosity has led me to do some light research over the past year where I have been looking at the question - "how do players move on the range vs. the golf course?” In addition, a question often put forward at the start of many sessions is the player requesting to achieve more consistency. Now, this presents a small challenge as one needs to define consistency within movement patterns in golf, what influences consistency and also, what needs to be consistent? Let's look at these questions in a little more detail and hopefully add some definition. Because of the complex interaction between the many systems and anatomical influences within the human body ( e.g. neuromuscular, myofascial, articular, visceral, cardiovascular, cognitive etc..), it is practically impossible for the human system to reproduce the exact same movement pattern twice in succession (unfortunately despite what some think we're simply just not that good!). Even with the most skilled performers, there is an element of variability surrounding muscle contraction/timing, joint movement/control and essentially how good a job did the brain do at sending the same message along the nerves to excite and stimulate the same response. Let's look at this in example form. Below is the sample of an elite European Tour player who hit five 6 irons in succession on the range, each time the players feedback was the shot was good and the movement felt great, which they defined as consistency, however if we look at two random segment variables, pelvis rotation and right wrist radial deviation (one proximal and one more distal segment) you will see significant change in the ranges these segments achieved both at top of backswing and impact.

Therefore, despite the player feeling each shot as good and the movement was classed as excellent and consistent, the patterns/values achieved for each shot are clearly different. Therefore, why do we want consistent movement when it is anatomically not achievable? Perhaps a definition of consistently could be - successful completion of task at no cost?

This example is something observed in most sessions therefore it was this that started me thinking, if a player can be that variable in a controlled and often sterile environment such as a range, how much variability could there be on the golf course with ever changing environments (lie, slopes, wind directions, hole shapes etc..) and continuously differing tasks to solve (driver, pitch from heavy/long grass, driver with out of bounds left, short iron pin back right etc..). Without digressing too much, often most data collection/research on movement patterns in golf is done in very controlled environments that have little correlation to how players perform in reality, for example university laboratories, driving range studios etc... This is one of my main concerns with data for example force/pressure plate data, as this is typically captured in a flat, even surface, with players attempting to hit shots with minimal flight change, with little or no emotional consequence attached to the outcome and with minimal if any external ecological influence on the data. However players rarely perform in this environment so how relevant or helpful is this information if what happens in these testing environments hardly ever correlate accurately to what players are exposed to on the golf course? Therefore how relevant is data if a players anatomical abilities, environmental influences and task constraints are not equated into the data? This askes another question, define the role of data/information? I answer this by stating that all data/information does is allows the user to ask more informed questions and provoke more cerebral discussion.

I often watch and read with a little humour and pure good will when people get involved in huge debates on players and how they are moving, however questions that are infrequently included in the discussion are what shot was the player trying to achieve, the environment performed in, what task constraints there were, the outcome achieved etc... Invariably the reader has little or no evidence of precisely how that player moves, yet they fill obliged to make observations and comments with little robust evidence to support their claims. Unfortunately video footage is not evidence as this is a whole new discussion! What is this achieving and how is this helping? I had my own experience recently of a tournament player who I have been very fortunate to spend time with over the past few years, it was met with good humour and a smile when I listened to a commentator describe how this player moved in their swing. If only they had the data at their disposal before they made their assessment as it was suggested that this player had huge amounts of rotation in their backswing and this was how they achieved their power, yet the most I have ever seen this player achieve in a session is 21° of pelvis rotation and 69° rotation through their ribcage. Thankfully distance is not influenced greatly by how much a player rotates in their backswing, there are a few more important characteristics such as genetics, lever length, amount of myofascial stretch, speed of this stretch, segment interactions, speed of muscle recoil/closure etc... This comment did make me smile!! You may argue what harm is this doing and I agree, commentary is very challenging and a difficult role, however I feel passionately about young players in particular being exposed to accurate information and avoiding being subjected to misconceptions, as often when working with players what they are trying to achieve is what’s causing the problem. In Einstein’s words “The only thing that effects my learning is my education” Also, to my coaching friends, how important is this, well it depends on how good you want to be at this? To help understand more about my observations and to start to learn more about the variability players are subjected to on the golf course, I designed a very light process that would initially allow us to compare range patterns vs golf course swing patterns.

My current software and 3D motion capture system allows me to capture data and track each player on the golf course. The software provides instantaneous feedback as to any change in variable between shot to shot, therefore we can see precisely what does change from shot to shot, slope to slope etc...

Prior to playing nine holes on the course, each player 'played' the nine holes on the range. They predicted as best they could (they had all played the course multiple times so they have good understanding of what clubs/shots would be required) what shots would be required with what clubs, e.g. 1st hole, 3 wood, 60 yard pitch, 2nd hole 9 iron, 3rd hole driver with left to right flight, 7 iron etc... All players that took part in the testing were either tournament players or elite level amateurs (all plus figure handicap). Each shot was captured using my 3D motion capture system with the player feeding back how successful the outcome was along with the connection made, e.g. slight pull and a little heavy. Once they had completed the nine holes on the range, they then played the nine holes on the course with me capturing the data. After each shot the outcome was recorded allowing us to match up the best we could the flights on the range with flight on the course. It is worth reminding and clarifying the objective of this very light study, to explore and examine swing and movement patterns not ball flights as this is a different study which will follow later this year when I start to look at on course vs range 3D data and launch monitor information.

On completion of the nine holes, the player then returned to the range and played the nine holes they had just completed on the course and replayed the exact shots/clubs/intended flights, again whilst having the data captured. This allowed for comparison of pre round range predicted data, on course data and post round range data replicating the exact clubs and flight sequence hit on course.

Due to the amount of data captured, as this is only a short review and by no consideration a robust scientific study, below is the data on three of the players, three different segments variables over three different clubs/task/environment. All shots hit were classed at successful by the player as both flight required and outcome desired were both achieved.

Player 1

Driver attempting to hit slight draw on right to left dog leg hole (T= Top of backswing I=Impact, ms = milliseconds, d/s= degrees per second, cm= centimetres)

Pitch shot 95 yards, pin middle of green, slight downward lie.

6 iron ball below feet and in heavy/poor lie.

Player 2

3 Wood off tee, attempting to hit shot with minimal movement.

7 iron, par three tee shot, pin front left behind bunker wind from right to left 10-15 mph.

3 iron from slight uphill lie, into 10-15mph wind.

Player 3

Driver left to right shape into sloping fairway right to left.

55 pitch higher flight than normative.

8 iron pin back left on top of two tier green, tight lie on hard fairway.

We are looking at this very lightly as this clearly needs much more thorough, robust and rigorous testing procedures, however what is quite evident is the significant change players make to their swing patterns from range to course. I’ll invite the reader to interpret the data displayed to arrive at their own conclusion as to the influences behind this and share their thoughts as it will make for wonderful discussion, however when looking at what influence had the biggest change on players patterns it was hole shape. Most of the players had a shape of hole (left to right, uphill, right to left etc...) that they both disliked and preferred.

What was evident was the amount of variability and adaptation employed on the hole shapes they did not enjoy, along with how significantly slower the peak segment speeds and accelerations were. As was observed with the tournament professional who’s data was displayed earlier, there is substantial change, however the scale of change and the magnitude of change from course to range was significantly greater than variability observed between successive shots on the range. Alongside this, where the greatest changes occurred was the hand and arm data, the proximal (internal segments) showed comparatively less change than the distal (more external segments). In short, the hands and arms adapted hugely compared to the spine and pelvis. This then allows us to ask the question that when looking at swing patterns, is the spine and pelvis adapting to hand and arm or vice versa. Do we need to adjust spine and pelvis function to improve hand and arm behaviour or do we need to adjust hand and arm to influence spine and pelvis?

On summarising, what has the information provided and what help and assistance can it potentially offer?

Some questions for discussion -

Define consistency? What needs to be consistent? My view on consistency is successful completion of task, without cost.

As each player is looked upon as an individual case study, perhaps we could now look at each shot as an individual case study? What does the player need to do to successfully to complete the task?

As environments and tasks change, do we need players that are adaptable with variable patterns rather than ‘consistent’ and expected/normative values?

Can we train the neuromuscular system to make more accurate, quicker adaptations? Do we need to change the environment players practice in?

Define the role of the range/session, what is the objective? In the world of biomechanics this is possibly a slightly easier question to answer as what is typically looked to be achieved is the avoidance of injury/understanding of injury, rehab post injury/op plus where can we see gains in performance, i.e. improved distance, joint loading, club delivery etc.. What anatomical/structural imbalances does the player have and what are the correlations to their movement patterns? I also include helping the player understand their own feels, patterns, thoughts and observations therefore helping develop and create autonomy. In essence what works and why.

When we make change, precisely what are we changing in attempt to make change? What needs adjusting to make the biggest gain?

Understand what's effecting what? How do players move around problems to make it all work, however at what cost?

I have only collected data on 11 players, therefore it is a very small sample group, however you have to start somewhere. Over time I am planning on expanding this to as large a sample as possible with the inclusion of launch monitor data so we can start to match up swing patterns with club delivery and ball behaviour as this will encourage more thorough discussion and understanding of how players move on the range vs the course.

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