Golf training has a physio's focus
"My swing is so bad, I look like a caveman killing his lunch," top United States golfer Lee Trevino once joked.
The six-time major winner is not from the era in which children take up a sport about the same time they start primary school and have expert help available so that sound habits are introduced early.
That expertise is being boosted at the Russley Golf Club in Christchurch, where physiotherapist Ryan Clark has begun working alongside coaches to help 5-year-olds through to old timers, using knowledge he has gained through his profession and the highly respected Titleist Performance Institute.
Titleist has drawn on the ideas of some of the world's best coaches and physicians to develop its programmes.
Clark, a former Canterbury age-group representative at golf, football and swimming, has been based in London for the past few years. Now that he is back in Christchurch, he is applying his expertise from the TPI courses.
Part of his training took place at the top English course, The Belfry golf resort, and also at Malmo in Sweden.
Clark said he took up golf later than most, which had its drawbacks.
"I've got plenty of swing faults and it's a lot harder to train out of them now. I've got something new to offer and there seems to be a gap in how we approach training and it seems to be a logical fit."
To that end he is running "fun workshops" in the 5 to 12 year age-group, where the youngest children use apparatus such as balance beams, big tennis balls and large targets to build fundamental movement skills, while the neurological pathways are open to being developed.
Older children focus on sports skills that improve accuracy and precision.
"The TPI philosophy is to develop athletes first, create top golfers second and a love of golf along the way."
A child may need to switch between movement and sports skills, depending on the pace of their physical development, Clark said. Children should be encouraged to try as many sports as possible, such as cricket, football and hockey, which is "great for stick and ball control", and dance, which teaches balance and rotation.
He plans to approach schools in the hope of attracting some fresh recruits, to help reverse a trend that has seen golf clubs struggling to retain members.
A US study found that golf was not attractive to youngsters, who valued team sports, musical instruments and gymnastics more highly.
Not surprisingly, much of the TPI focus is on the golfer's swing and Clark can identify any physical restrictions, tightness or injury concerns that could be proving a handicap.
Recently he analysed more than a dozen areas of the body used for a teenager's golfing action and is developing some exercises to help him overcome weaknesses.
Clark has taken a similar approach with screening the Canterbury men's development squad and is also helping those with neck and back pain.
He believes it is vital that golfers, especially those who want to compete at elite level, draw on the knowledge available to provide a complete picture of their game, improve their conditioning and reduce the risk of injury.