Getting over golf back pain, rules okay to break, finding great golf footwear, and more.
If the golf shoe fits…
I hadn’t given much thought to tying my shoes since I struggled with the task in kindergarten, but there’s a new golf shoe on the market that made me stop and think about it. It’s the FootJoy ReelFit, which you don’t tie at all—you turn a knob on the back of the heel instead! The knob is attached to a miniature cable woven from multiple strands of aircraft-grade stainless steel that replaces the traditional shoelace in special elongated guides. The technology was adopted from snowboarding boots.
When you turn the knob, the cable gently snugs the shoe to a perfect fit, eliminating pressure points and allowing for quick, precise adjustments. What’s more, it can’t come untied—no matter how many times you drag your feet through the high fescue looking for your ball. Brian Crowell, head pro at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, says, “They’re ideal for someone who is between sizes. For any golfer, though, they provide a solid foundation for your swing.”
In addition to the custom-fit lacing system, FootJoy ReelFit shoes are waterproof and feature full leather linings, a gel collar, and a triple-density outsole. Suggested retail price is $225.
Golf Rules Apparently Meant to Be Broken
Golf is a game in which the players enforce the rules on themselves, but most recreational players are as conscientious about the finer points of the USGA’s regulations as they are with the details of their income tax returns. They often have cute names for their violations, though, which make the violations a little less criminal.
Breakfast Ball – Also known as a mulligan or a Presidential Tee Shot (in honor of Chappaqua’s Bill Clinton). If your first shot of the day is a disaster, you just pretend it never happened and hit another one. In other words, you get a “do-over” even though that’s a definite “don’t do” in the rule book.
In The Leather – It’s not some kinky S&M thing; it’s a putt so short it supposedly can’t be missed, so you just pick up your ball and scurry off to the next tee before anybody notices you’ve actually violated a rule by not finishing the hole (at least in stroke play). The term comes from the distance between the grip (which used to be leather in the good old days) and the head of your putter. The longer the putter, of course, the better.
Drop One – When you lose a ball or hit it out of bounds, the rules say you have to take a penalty stroke and return to where you originally played the first stroke to hit again. Along with the original ball that disappeared into the woods or flew out of bounds, that adds up to three strokes. “This is probably the one rule that the average golfer thinks should be different for recreational play,” says Metropolitan Golf Association Tournament Director Gene Westmoreland. An awful lot of players, especially when they see the groups lined up waiting to play behind them, just “drop one” and hit it from where they think the original ball disappeared. Sometimes they count the strokes right—and sometimes they don’t.
No Pain, Yes Gain
Not every wince on the green comes from a lipped-out putt. A lot of golfers grimace because they’re suffering from the most common physical ailment in the game—chronic back pain. It doesn’t afflict just weekend hackers, either; plenty of pros suffer from back problems—the popular Masters’ champion Freddie Couples comes immediately to mind.
“Lower back pain is absolutely the most common physical problem golfers face,” says fitness guru (and champion golfer) Gail Flanagan, whose Balanced Health Centers in White Plains and Manhattan help golfers, athletes, and civilians tone up their torsos.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Krishn Sharma says, “It’s the twisting motion that causes the problems. The most common injury is a muscle strain.” He adds that golfers who aren’t in very good shape to start with don’t do themselves any favors by carrying a little extra weight around the course—and he doesn’t mean a super-sized golf bag. The other problem is lack of warm up. “The majority of the injuries are the result of a forceful golf swing using a muscle that’s not really stretched out beforehand.”
A regular fitness routine that strengthens the abs and hamstrings and increases flexibility will help a lot, according to Flanagan, who is both a fitness trainer and a registered dietician. She’s also a heck of a golfer: a six-time Westchester Golf Association Player of the Year who last year added the 2006 Women’s Metropolitan Open Cup to her crowded trophy shelf. She insists on warming up before play too: “If I get to the golf course at the last minute and have to choose between hitting some balls on the range and warming up, I’ll choose stretching every time.”
She recommends four stretches that can be done just before you play to warm up muscles and help stretch areas where golfers have the most chronic injuries: neck, hamstrings, and back.
1. “You can do an upper trapezius stretch while you’re talking to your playing partner on the first tee,” Flanagan assures. Bring your right ear to your right shoulder—don’t bring your shoulder to your ear. This stretches the muscles on the left side of your neck. Hold it
twenty seconds, then do the same on the other side and repeat.”
2. “Stand facing something that’s about hip height or a little lower (like a bench) and extend one leg, bringing one foot up to rest on top. Then lean forward to stretch your hamstrings.”
3. “Hold a club with a hand at each end, raise it over your head with your arms extended, then lean to the right and hold it, lean to the left and hold it, repeat. Make sure you don’t hold your breath, which increases your blood pressure.”
4. “To stretch your deltoids and shoulders, hold a towel over your shoulder with your right hand, reach behind your back with your left, and grasp it. Then bring your hands as close together as possible and pull your hands in opposition. Switch hands and repeat.”
All stretches should be done slowly, not forcefully, and repeated several times to get the full effect.