Watching the biggest golf tournament in Northwest history unfold at Chambers Bay this week is bound to motivate some to try the game.
The pros, after all, make it look so easy and enjoyable as they knock the ball around during the U.S. Open.
And how physically challenging could it really be? You might look in the mirror and think, “I’m in better shape than some of the pros.”
But before you hit the links, it’s important to know the game can be more physically challenging than it looks. It’s a long walk (6.5 miles at Chambers Bay, but less almost everywhere else) on uneven ground while carrying a heavy bag. And how you hold up will be determined by what activities your body is used to.
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Here are some tips that could lessen the aches and pains:
Two months ago, I played a round at Chambers Bay as part of a foursome that included Trevor Pettingill, owner of Elite Physical Therapy.
I hadn’t played in several years and my back was achy by the end of the round. I was a bit surprised because I was in decent shape.
“You probably would have been fine if you had started with nine holes,” Pettingill said.
Essentially, my problem was this: I went from not playing golf at all, to playing 18 holes on one of the toughest golf courses in the world.
Like any other activity, one of the best ways to protect against injury is avoid overdoing it. Start slow, then gradually work your way up to more.
In fact, you don’t even need to walk the course to try golf. The putting green and driving ranges allow you to work on your game for as long as you like, just a few steps from your car.
GET A GRIP
University of Puget Sound golf coach Todd Erwin says the first thing you should do when trying golf for the first time or returning to the game is to learn the proper grip.
“Take five minutes and ask your local pro to show you,” Erwin said.
A bad grip can have a trickle-down effect on your form and can cause pain in your wrists and elbows. Plus, a good grip improves your chances of hitting the ball in the general vicinity of where you’d like it to go. And that gives you the best chance of having fun, Erwin said.
Matt Allen, general manager at Chambers Bay, says hiring a caddie is a good investment if you’re looking to lessen the physical toll of playing the course.
Not only will they carry your bag, but they’ll offer instruction and tips that might result in a shorter walk and fewer strokes.
Erwin suggests hiring an instructor. He’s says it’s best to hire an instructor when you begin rather than after you’ve already picked up bad habits from years of trying to learn the game on your own.
Bad habits, he says, can lead to aches and pain. A good instructor, Erwin says, will start with the grip but also examine the golfer’s flexibility and range of motion. If they have significant shortcomings in these areas, the instructor is likely to recommend the student visit a physical therapist or personal trainer.
Walking for several hours on uneven terrain can be tiring if you aren’t used to it. Going on regular walks or hikes (consider consulting your doctor to see how far is right for you) will help prepare your body for walking the course.
Erwin, an instructor at Tacoma Firs Golf Center, says he sometimes sees clients who wear flat-soled shoes without support.
“Your feet work in golf; you need some stability down there,” Erwin said. But you don’t necessarily need to rush out and buy golf shoes. “Tennis shoes are fine for practicing.”
PICK A PROPER BAG
If you’ve watched a lot of golf, the image you may have of a golf bag is one with a strap that hangs from one shoulder.
But more golfers and caddies are opting for bags with two straps allowing them to carry the bag more like a backpack. This is a good idea, Pettingill said.
“It’s evening out the forces,” he said. “A heavy load on one shoulder will change the way you are loading your spine and your legs and other muscles.”
USE A PUSH CART
Even better than a backpack-style golf bag, Pettingill said, is a push cart. “And those things are pretty easy to move around,” Pettingill said.
Erwin uses a push cart (“I’m 53, why would I carry (the bag),” he said.) and he encourages his college players to do the same.
“It’s hard on your back to carry the bag, so save your back,” he said. “Sometimes we go old-school and I carry my bag, but when we’re done playing, I’m beat.”