Helping Rising Star David Puig Limit Side Bend to Alleviate Stress on Lower Back

David Puig is one of the bright, emerging talents in the world of professional golf, recently winning the IRS Prima Malaysian Open on the Asian Tour to earn a spot in the 2024 Open Championship.

Though he might be a newer name to many golf fans, Puig had an ascendant amateur career.  In addition to Junior Ryder Cup and Palmer Cup appearances, he was a two-time All-American at Arizona State and named a top contender for the Haskins Award. Truly a blue-chip golf prospect.

However, when Puig first started working with TPI co-founder Dave Phillips as a swing coach in 2022, he had recently missed several tournaments due to lower back pain.  Back pain is obviously not uncommon in golf, but it is particularly concerning in young players, especially those pursuing golf as a career. 

As with every golfer we see, we want to know if the swing or body could be part of the problem.  Here's a look into the key considerations from Puig's 3D data and physical screen which formed his Body-Swing Connection:

If you’ve ever been to a TPI seminar or watched the online Level 1 course, you’ve probably heard us make the following statement: 

“We don’t believe there’s one way to swing, but we do believe there’s a most-efficient way for every player to swing and it’s based on what they can physically do.”

It’s one of the foundational philosophies of TPI.  Essentially, we don’t care what a golfer’s swing looks like, we care how it performs with regards to their unique movement capabilities.  We don’t have a style bias.  We have an efficiency bias.

What’s our definition of an efficient swing?  We consider three factors: 1) Does a golfer know where the ball is going (can they control it)? 2) Do they maximize power with the least amount of effort?  3) Is it repeatable?

While all are critical for consistent scoring, a painful swing is one of the quickest ways to derail a golfer’s game, regardless of handicap.  If it hurts, we don’t consider it repeatable.

Pain is multifactorial, but we always want to investigate if swing mechanics or movement capabilities could be contributing factors.  In our experience, the most common swing characteristic associated with lower back pain is what we refer to as Reverse Spine Angle. 

Reverse Spine Angle is defined as any excessive upper body backward bend (trunk leaning towards the target) or excessive left lateral upper body bend (for a right-handed player) during the backswing.  It can be a byproduct of technique, but it’s very commonly related to a golfer’s physical capabilities.  

As Dr. Rose says in the video above, Puig’s Body-Swing Connection is pretty logical.  We want a golfer to rotate through their mobile joints (ankle, hip, thoracic spine, shoulder, etc). When golfers lack mobility, they often compensate for it by arching their back or tilting their spine excessively.  How else would we expect a golfer like Puig to make a big turn?

Extension and side bend are normal patterns in the golf swing, however, when they become excessive, we red flag it as a potential risk factor.  The PGA TOUR average in our database is roughly 35 deg of side bend at the top of the swing and 35 at impact.  David was side-bending at least 10° more EACH direction (over 45° at both the top of the backswing AND impact).  Therefore, in the downswing, he asked his body to side bend through a range of motion that was 30% greater than the PGA TOUR average (90°+ vs ~70°), in the same amount of time.  

Our spines are not fragile, but high-velocity, highly repetitive movements like the golf swing can create tremendous load on an area like the lower back.  If we want to golfers to be able to play for a long time, we want to both improve their resilience through training and reduce stress through optimizing technique. 

We didn't need Puig to overhaul his swing, but Dave and Greg wanted to encourage him to develop a pattern with slightly less extension and less side bend.  To do this, they not only recommended Puig work with a team to help restore mobility and build strength (Puig trains with Spencer Tatum and sees Dr. Sean Drake for treatment, both in Scottsdale), they also had to teach Puig to use his newfound mobility. 

One of the remarkable traits of elite golfers is their ability to learn new patterns, even after countless swings in competitive environments.  A favorite strategy for helping develop a new feel is a technique called reactive neuromuscular training.  The name might sound advanced, but the concept is simple.  We physically force them INTO the positiion or pattern so they learn what they need to feel to avoid it.  We "feed the fault."  

Here's how Dave incorporated that with Puig:

By pushing him into more side bend, it encouraged him to develop a feel or awareness of less side bend.

Puig is a tremendous talent and hopefully this case-study is example of how evaluating a golfer's Body-Swing Connection can help us give a golfer a better chance to express their talent for a longer period of time.

We can't eliminate back pain in a swing or fix it in the gym, but by evaluating a golfer's mechanics and movement capabilities we can identify common risk factors in their technique and physical limitations in their body that are associated with lower back pain.

If you are a coach, fitness or medical professional interested in learning more about how to evaluate golfers in this way, check out our newly updated Level 1 online course.

If you're a golfer experiencing back pain and want to know if your swing or movement capabilities could be part of the problem, you can find a TPI Certified expert via our Find an Expert page


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