Golf Combine?

Golf Digest recently asked me to design a combine that would reveal fundamental athletic deficiencies in people who want to improve their golf athleticism. The magazine is on the stands now— it’s the September 2011 issue of Golf Digest. The piece starts on page 101, with a bit of story background in the editor’s letter on page 12.

Some people are surprised when they hear I work with golfers and tennis players. Somehow I have gotten typecast as a strength coach and physical therapist who focuses more on football. It’s the nature of the beast that as a rehabilitation specialist I’m sought after more in sports with a higher incidence of injury, but in reality I absolutely enjoy consulting from the conditioning aspects of many different sports. My role is not so much a sports specific specialist, but more like an engineer looking at the foundation and skeleton of a building before the building takes on a specific design.

To continue the construction analogy, once you hang all the covering, it’s really hard to see the integrity of the structure. Likewise, once an athlete is practicing a specialty, it’s hard to see fundamental flaws. I use screens, assessments and tests to expose these flaws, and then make the corrections competitive, challenging and interesting. It’s also important to expose the athlete’s deficiency both by example and if necessary, by verbal background information.

When asked to develop a combine for Golf Digest, there was a specific back story to the challenge. To learn more about that, go to Episode 18 of Gray Cook radio where I discuss it; you’ll also find that on iTunes, where you can subscribe to the podcast feed.

The combine was designed to be self-administered, and even though we perform a version of this combine on some golfing athletes, the instructions and the information gained from the combine is purposely user-friendly. This means that with very little fitness background, the tests reveals any fundamental flaws. Doing an exercise that mimics a test or is in the same movement pattern as a test can serve as a basic correction when an expert is not available for consultation.

Side note: Coming up with tests is easy. Coming up with tests that mean something and that have solutions attached to deficiencies gets a bit harder.

Functional testing often gets a bad wrap because many times it turns into a battery of tests that don’t  have a reason or a logical system to help understand which deficiency is the most important to address. A combine is simply another way to screen to find out both the things the individual is good at and those that are not so good.

Take a look at the NFL combine the next time it’s on ESPN or the NFL Network. It’s a combination of football history, football science and the latest technology, all in an attempt to find out who has the most athletic potential and, more recently, who also has the greatest amount of athletic durability and longevity.

So, I did not take the challenge from Golf Digest lightly, and offered a screen that has three different tiers to it—a basic movement competency tier, a core stability tier and a power tier. This represents a balance of the powerful forces that come together to create the golf swing.

Now, this combine is designed to expose deficiency. If you have deficiency in movement competency, it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to jump straight ahead to power balance or core stability. The combine was designed in a hierarchy so the self-tester could understand that one level creates the foundation for the next, and I was pleased to see in the final display that Golf Digest got it right.

There is always a small amount of pride when you get your work in print, but the thing that impressed me most about this issue was not my work. It was a piece from an interview with Gary Player. Gary Player is respected not only for his golf ability or the amount of time he has given back to the sport, but also for his raw athleticism. Gary and Guy Yocom lay out 10 rules for being an athlete on page 116 of this issue, and I couldn’t have described athleticism better.

On an adjacent page, there’s a photograph of Gary Player training in 1965. Obviously in 1965 there weren’t a lot of movement screens and assessments. Instead, movement quality and physical capacity went hand-in-hand as a part of sound programming. Gary lays out some of the fundamental tenants of what he considers sound programming, which makes a lot of sense because since 1965 we have experienced so much bad information and fads that no one knows where to start. From that alone, I’m absolutely sure that through most of Gary’s career and even into his senior years Gary could have done well on the combine in the same issue.

Gary possesses an athletic intuition and a love for movement. In his daily exercise and exploration of movement, he was able to challenge his deficiencies and overcome them. When he overcame his deficiencies from a physical standpoint, he probably saw one more piece of his golf game fall into place. He had the observation of a problem and the reinforcement of his correct solution to create a momentum to sustain him throughout a lifetime of athleticism.

As you read Gary’s piece, remember he’s an athlete, not a conditioning consultant. You may see some of his advice as simplistic or you may even disagree with some of it, but I really don’t know if many of us will possess the abilities Gary has in his later years. Gary is 75 now and I would challenge any of us to match his current physical abilities when we’re 75. Sometimes we need to keep it simple, keep it real, expose ourselves to our deficiencies and admit when we need help in fixing them.

Enjoy Gary’s article in Golf Digest. If you have some extra time, read the little combine I presented in the same issue. This is an opportunity for me to apply a much larger concept to golf and golf fitness. It is yet another opportunity to create movement competency before pursuing physical capacity or athletic specialization.

That, I think, is the art of coaching.


  1. Francisco Medeiros says:

    Hi. I’m a portuguese physical therapist (and volleyball coach no active in moment) and I start to use your kind of assessment and philosophie on my treatments or advice for athletes. I found this post very interesting because in these moment I’m treating a golfer (ex-pro) with a lot of “weak links” that I think that was impossibel to find in that patient. Unffortunelly I don’t have the Golf Digest, but I’m sure that your article is a “fine tunning” for golfers of your amazing approach to movement. I still study your athletic body in balance book to integate a “new vision” of movement and how we can deal better with him (I’m 20 years of practice and a lot assumptions about movement and fitness training that I’m really trying to change and understand). Thanks for your work!

  2. Gray, thanks for the information. I agree that Gary Player was far ahead of his time with the amount of importance that he placed on physical performance within the golf arena. He got much more out of his small frame than many larger players reaped from theirs. Thanks again for the groundwork you’ve laid in physical performance. I hope to build on it someday…

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