Jason Day, ranked #2 in the world and one of professional golf’s most gifted players, looked like anything but that as he hobbled off the course on March 23, 2016. He had “tweaked” his back on the 15th hole of the World Golf Championship – Dell Match Play and was in obvious pain. Many observers assumed that the young athlete would withdraw from the tournament, but after physical therapy treatment, he returned to play the next day.
Boy, did he ever return to play!
Jason Day put together two more great days of golf, ended up winning the Dell Match Play tournament and, just like that, became the favorite to win the 2016 Master’s Tournament which runs from April 7 – April 10. This remarkable recovery was based on several factors, not the least of which is the steely resolve of the golfer himself.
Dr. Michael Duffy, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute was asked to give an overview of what might be causing Day’s back problems. While he has not examined Day, he offers his perspective based on media reports from the Dell Match Play tournament in Austin.
Why Are Professional Golfers Prone to Back Injuries?
Since he first started his professional golf career, Jason Day’s mentor has been Tiger Woods and they both share the same style of swing. Of course, they also share something else – periodic and sometimes acute back injuries. Is this merely a coincidence? Former PGA pro and now Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee thinks not.
According to a lengthy article on March 26, 2016, Wall Street Journal, the modern swing of these current professionals is grinding away at their backs. The headline of the article says it all: “The Downside of the Modern Golf Swing,”
According to this “pull no punches” analysis from Chamblee, “The orthodox compact modern swing robs (current) golfers of power and leads to injuries that shorten careers. By contrast, the swings of all-time greats like Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, and Jack Nicklaus were longer, more naturally rhythmic and more enduring. Most lifted their left, or lead, heels on the backswing, a no-no in the modern orthodoxy. That helped them make bigger hip and shoulder turn, which gave them more space at the top of the swing to generate power and more time on the downswing to correct any flaws.”
The article continues, “A hallmark of the modern swing is tight, controlled resistance with the right side (for right-handed players) on the backswing – teachers talk about ‘coil’ – and a sudden, explosive change in direction at the top.”
“When you resist with the lower body like that, as most of the players out there do now, it requires a lot of strength,” noted Chamblee. “That’s one of the reasons they have to go to the gym and it’s reasonable to conclude that that violent change in direction puts more stress on the lower part of your back, which can lead to injuries in the long term. I would argue that if Tiger had lifted his left heel, his swing would have endured.”
This argument for a return to a less violent swing has a ring of truth to it, but all those young golfers, who grew up watching Tiger Woods win back-to-back tournaments, will be hard to convince that they should revert to the old-school swing. Most likely, young players like Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, who will likely be dueling for the championship of the Master’ Tournament, will keep swinging the club the way they have always done it. If it causes bulging discs or back muscle pain, so be it.
If you love to play golf, but can’t because of back pain, contact us at Texas Back Institute for an appointment. We want you to get back in the game!