By John Garrity, Sports Illustrated
Posted: Tuesday March 16, 2004 3:01PM; Updated: Tuesday March 16, 2004 6:13PM
Sports Illustrated senior writer John Garrity was a 42-year-old 8-handicapper when he suddenly lost his swing. Since December 1989 he has been looking for it — a modern-day Odysseus adrift on the troubled waters of swing theory. As Garrity travels the world reporting on golf, he visits as many driving ranges as he can, avoiding the dreaded “mats only” ranges that prevent him from teeing it up.
Wednesday, March 10
KANSAS CITY, MO. — I was never going to get back my old golf swing, no matter how much I practiced, no matter how hard I tried.
That’s what Roger Fredericks said, anyway. “To get back your old swing,” he told me a few weeks ago, “you’d have to get back your old body.”
At least I think that’s what he said. I was standing barefoot on a plastic chair at the time, my toes clenched, my heels hanging over the edge, my calves and hamstrings burning. If my back had not been pressed against a wall, I would have vaulted backward like a springboard diver.
“I shouldn’t have to stretch,” I said between moans. “I’m already 6-foot-7.”
Fredericks smiled sympathetically.
The venue for this little episode was a remodeled starter’s shed by the practice range at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. I had dropped by to see my swing savant, Rob Stanger, and Rob — after watching me hit a few balls with my half-thawed winter swing — led me straight to Fredericks, the flexibility pharaoh. “Roger works miracles with golfers,” Rob said. “He’s saved the games of a lot of guys on the Champions Tour — Jack Nicklaus, Ray Floyd, Gary Player, John Jacobs ….”
Those guys, I pointed out to Rob, had games worth saving.
Anyway, he introduced me to Fredericks, who is co-director of the Tommy Jacobs Golf Academy at Mission Hills. In the Academy’s office Roger gave me a brief “facts of life” talk about how my body, from the age of about 18 on, had gradually tightened up, bent, shriveled and dried into the immobile, brittle pile of twigs and desiccated connective tissue he had just shaken hands with. “Golfers come to us to fix their golf swings,” he said, “but most of them don’t have the flexibility or strength to perform a fundamental golf swing. They literally can’t do it.”
To prove his point, he took me out to one of the teaching bays and had me hit a few balls while he recorded my swing on a mini-cam. He then played the video on a monitor. “You have a good swing,” he said, “but look at your shoulder turn — or rather, your lack of a shoulder turn.”
Sports Illustrated – John Garrity – Importance of Flexibility is not a Stretch – Page 2
It was a depressing sight, all right. At the top of my backswing my arms were bent and my hands were barely above shoulder height.
To make his point more emphatically, Roger asked me to make a backswing and hold it. He then grabbed my shoulders and firmly pushed them back another 10 degrees — a maneuver that caused tendons to pop all the way down to my toes. “This is only a 70-degree turn,” he said, “and I’m pushing hard, I’m grinding. Your hip and shoulder turn are inhibited by the tightness of your lower body, particularly the calves, hamstrings and hips.”
This did not come as a surprise to me. A couple of years ago, when I was recovering from some minor back problems caused by picking up too many checks, tapes of my swing showed that my arc and swing plane were deteriorating along with my shoulder turn. To combat the tendency, swing coach Brian Mogg had me hit balls while pushing back a two-by-four with the club head on my takeaway.
That one drill, unfortunately, wasn’t enough to reverse the erosive effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Years of typing on laptops and napping in airplane seats had robbed my body of its elasticity and my golf shots of their power. When I was 45, I hit my 9-iron 150 yards. Two months ago, when I turned 57, my best effort was 130 yards. (And I had to grunt like a weightlifter to achieve that.)
“The good news,” Roger said, “is that you can improve your flexibility, no matter how old you are. Every single golfer that I have put on an exercise program has seen faster swing improvement than those who just take lessons.”
Back at the Academy office, Roger put me through a few diagnostic stretches. The most revealing was the “Sitting Wall.” I was supposed to sit on the floor with my legs straight out and the base of my spine and my head touching the wall. “Nicklaus hated this one,” Roger said.
I could see why. With my back flat against the wall, I couldn’t come close to straightening my legs. My calves and hamstrings felt like they were on fire. When Roger gently pushed down on my legs to assist the stretch, I had to stifle a shriek.
Roger had made his point.
Before I left, he showed me how to do about 20 demanding stretches with names like “Standing at Wall with Towels,” “Kneeling Groin,” and “Downward Dog.” He said if I did the exercises every day, my flexibility would come back and my golf shots would regain their pop.
“Every day?” I asked weakly.
He nodded. “It’s not like strength training, where you lift two or three times a week. With stretching you want to do it every day.”
I couldn’t imagine that I would ever want to do the Sitting Wall, but I agreed to give Roger’s flexibility program a try. If it restored my oily athleticism, I’d be hitting my drives 300 yards and taking the ball out of the cup without bending my knees. If it failed to loosen me up — well, I’d just be another working stiff.