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Before teeing it up, weekend golfers limbering up

Sport-specific exercises can lower scores, reduce chances of injury

By Don Markus

The Baltimore Sun

2:04 AM EST, March 9, 2013

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Like professional athletes who get ready for their respective seasons in training camp, weekend golfers prep their games in the offseason. Some work out feverishly doing golf-specific exercises. Others take lessons to hone their swings. And more than a few simply go out and take their whacks on the driving range.

Jim Kardash, who has owned and operated the Arundel Golf Park in Glen Burnie since 2004, said golfers run the gamut when it comes to conditioning their bodies — and their minds — for a game that takes its toll physically and mentally. It's as true for the best players in the world as it is for weekend hackers simply trying to get a little more enjoyment out of it.

“I think some people train and want to condition their body and some people, when the sun comes out, they grab their clubs and go play,” Kardash said. “In general, you're seeing more people getting a little more serious, not only by taking more lessons for the golf swing, but train and condition their bodies with golf-specific exercise programs.”

Kardash said most golf injuries are related to the upper body, specifically the back, shoulder and elbow, because of the twists and torques needed to execute most shots. Many injuries result from golfers taking their clubs from the trunk of the car right to the first tee without much of a warm-up.

It is particularly true early and late in the golf season, when the weather tends to be colder.

“You should always warm up before you hit the club fast. You should always start by taking easy swings and warm your muscles up and stretch your shoulders and your arms and your back and your hamstrings. That's a given,” Kardash said.

Herb Adams, 74, of Pasadena learned the hard way.

A golfer for many years, Adams tore the meniscus in his left knee a few years ago and also strained his right knee playing golf. The injuries, he said, “wised me up.” Adams now does a regular routine every morning whether he's playing or not.

“As you get older, if you don't do stretching exercises and other exercises in your regimen, it's hard to go out there and hit golf balls without hurting yourself,” said Adams, a retired insurance executive. “You see the pros, they're out hitting balls for an hour or two. Baseball, football players, these guys are young and they are working out before they play.”

Raising fitness awareness

Brendan Post, a PGA teaching pro who has run ClubGolf, a golf-specific fitness club in Gaithersburg, since 2005, said the string of serious injuries suffered by Tiger Woods in recent years made his followers and other golf fans “more aware of their aches and pains. … They probably have someone take a look at their aches and pains before they get worse, and they're out six months instead of a month.”

At ClubGolf, Post said, “even though we're a gym and we teach people what to do, we still see people come in and grab a club out of the bag and start swinging rather than warming up. Some people don't think it's a sport where you need to warm up.”

Post said that when the Web.com Tour — the tour a level below the PGA Tour — had an event at nearby TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, many players used ClubGolf for their pre-round warm-ups. ClubGolf, where golfers also can get their swings analyzed with sensors attached to their bodies, was opened in 2002 by Dr. Greg Rose, a chiropractor and engineer who now operates the Titleist Performance Institute in Oceanside, Calif. Rose does a golf fitness show for The Golf Channel.

“In order to make the golf swing the way you want the golf swing to be, your body has to be in golfing shape,” Post said. “If it's not in golfing shape, you're not going to succeed. It's much easier to make a change in your golf swing if you're in golfing shape. People think they can take a golf lesson and completely change their swings. In a small amount of cases, you can do that, but it's very hard to change a golf swing without changing the body.”

Post acknowledges that seeing top players struggle with their conditioning — even someone as talented as Phil Mickelson has admittedly lost that battle as often as he has succeeded — makes it difficult for the message to resonate with the average player.

The difference, Post said, is that because “those guys have been playing golf since they were a kid, they developed their swing before they got out of shape. And they might not be out of shape when it comes to their golf swing.”

Jerry Ridenour of Frederick has been going to ClubGolf regularly since 2009, a year after undergoing surgery to have an aortic valve replaced. Spurred to take up the game after getting a free golf lesson while on vacation at Disney World, Ridenour was still out of shape and figured he would combine the fitness classes at the gym with the golf lessons.

“They both can be hard at times, but fitness can be harder,” said Ridenour, a 55-year-old accountant.

During a period of unemployment between November 2009 and April 2010, Ridenour went to ClubGolf six days a week for three to four hours at a time. He lost 75 pounds, though he concedes that he hasn't been as diligent about his workouts since going back to work. Ridenour didn't have time to play at all last summer but is working hard to get in shape for this season.

A golfer's body

Ridenour said the exercises he does at the club “all relate very much because a lot of the golf swing is the flexibility and the mobility.” Ridenour said that when he started, a simple body turn meant that the upper body and lower body were moving in unison — something that is counterproductive to a good golf swing.

“Now I can separate upper and lower body,” said Ridenour, demonstrating his improved flexibility. “Most of the exercises are geared to your golf swing.”

One of the exercises Ridenour calls especially helpful is called “The Open Book.”

“You're laying on your side, and then you open to try to flatten your upper back while your hips are on their side, so your hips are vertical and your shoulders are horizontal,” Ridenour said.

The professional athletes who tend to be good golfers, Post said, are those who know how to use their upper and lower torso in unison: pitchers, quarterbacks, hockey players and kickers.

“They have separation,” Post said. “If you can move your upper body but have your lower body stay still, or move your lower body but have your upper body stay still. Most people can't.”

Post says he sees more of his regular members during winter than during spring, summer and fall, when they're out playing.

“Right now, we're going into our tough time of year,” Post said. “If it's 70 degrees out and beautiful sunshine, and you have a chance to work out or play golf, what are you going to do? You're going to play golf. It's hard for me to tell people, ‘Hey, I guarantee if you get your body better, you're going to be a better golfer. So you don't have to practice as much on your golf; you have to practice more on your body.' It's a hard thing to convince people to do.”

Post certainly would have a difficult time convincing Damien Fullard. A self-professed “golf addict” since taking up the game three years ago, the 31-year-old Baltimore caterer doesn't have time for working out because he is playing “three or four times a week on somebody's course.” Then there are the tournaments and golf instruction shows he watches on television.

But even Fullard concedes that he changes his diets to help his overall conditioning and works out with rubber resistance bands to strengthen his arms, shoulders and chest.

“I want to be able to hit it further,” said Fullard, who last week drove to Raleigh, N.C., to pick up a new set of clubs off Craigslist.

Jeff Tignall, a contractor for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. from Arbutus, is just starting to get back into the game. He took a lesson with Kardash last week and hopes to be playing as regularly as he did a few years back.

“If I was doing it right, I didn't know what I was doing. If I was doing it wrong, I didn't know how to fix it,” Tignall said with a laugh.

Tignall isn't especially concerned about getting hurt.

“That's why I'm probably playing golf,” he said.

don.markus@baltsun.com