A golfer at the top of their game is a beautiful sight, as science, art and skill combine to achieve what logically appears almost impossible. A thought creates a chemical reaction, translates into a billion electrical pulses, activates around 700 muscles and 206 bones to perform a miracle of coordination, organisation and implementation to achieve an expectation. If you catalogued each and every single action in this brief moment it would take months, but you can do it in a second. When it works well, it feels so simple, easy and immensely satisfying. When it doesn’t, it seems like each part of your body is doing its own thing in conflict with every other part.
If the ball doesn’t go where you intended, forget it about, you’ll have another shot to put things right shortly. But if your back goes out, then it’s game over for the day, or worse, for much longer.
So why the difference? What works so well one moment and not the next?
It only takes a tiny amount of inappropriate activity in one seemingly insignificant muscle to upset your coordination, that in turn, places stress on another muscle that is not up to the job. Unfortunately, the majority of us don’t have the degree of sensitivity or self-awareness to notice the small differences from one shot to the next that affects coordination.
Let’s look at one of the many variables that can affect your swing and potentially strain the back.
Do you clench your jaw just before you swing? Would you notice? It’s probably not on your list of things to do, but I see many golfers doing it in preparation. Does it matter? If you unknowingly do this to prepare, it changes the dynamics of your swing. I say ‘unknowingly’ because it could well be clenching your jaw has become a habit. If it’s a habit, you won’t know you’re doing it, and therefore you can’t control it.
Tightening the jaw stiffens the neck. Neck muscles are hugely influential in coordination, so even the slightest tension can compromise movement – just like applying the handbrake before driving.
Try this. Relax your jaw and face, feel the release flow down your neck, shoulders, into your hands, down the back and legs and into the floor. See how much this can free up the swing. Allow your nervous system to contract and release your muscles at the right time to take the strain out of the shot. Now see what if feels like when you clench the jaw. What impact does this have on your body? Is it tight or free? Spend a second to implement this simple technique and your back will thank you for it – and you could also see the ball fly straighter!
Roy Palmer is a teacher of The Alexander Technique and author of Golf Sense: Practical Tips On How To Play Golf In The Zone.