‘Golf’s injury list is growing – and it’s only going to get worse’
Next year promises a bumper set of big-money tournaments, but at what cost to the players?
While most of you have probably been lapping up the sun on holiday or on the golf course, I’ve been busy shifting heavy boxes. In theory, deciding to move house at the height of the summer probably wasn’t the wisest move, especially when the golf season is starting to heat up as well. Playing the part of a removal man and painter and decorator has left me with plenty of aches and pains, which probably puts me in good company with many of the tour professionals.
What almost got lost among the excitement at The Open and US PGA was how many players were carrying a niggling injury. Tiger Woods complained of a stiff neck at Carnoustie, while
Justin Rose was nursing a bad back and Rory Mcilroy an inflamed forearm at Bellerive. All three sported some kind of tape, which has almost become the next must-have accessory for every golfer. It used to be a running joke on tour that we never saw John Daly get injured, despite his less than athletic appearance. The difference was that he and many other players put their bodies, if not their livers, through a lot less back in the day. There was never any training involved, which is probably why golfers were compared to darts players and never accepted as being ‘proper’ sportsmen.
The same accusation can’t be levelled at people like Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka, who are part of a new breed of modern-day golf professionals. Even someone like Andrew “Beef” Johnston falls into that category. He might not be stick-thin, but I can guarantee he lifts more than you and I in the gym. He exemplifies how the game has evolved and while technology has played a big part, success is more commonly defined by power and manoeuvrability than finesse like it once was. The players have adapted by becoming more athletic, and now spend as much time working out as they do on the golf course.
I spoke to Nick Faldo about this because he was seen as a trailblazer for introducing workouts into his practice sessions. But he told me that all he ever did was run. There was never any science behind it, because he didn’t really know what he was doing. Now there’s a growing number of trainers and sport scientists who specialise in applying the chain of movement required to swing the golf club to full-body workouts. Players are training smarter and supplementing this by surrounding themselves with people who make sure they are eating well and training properly.
One of the hardest parts for any athlete is trying to stave off injuries, which is why they all plan their schedules so far in advance so they know when and where they’re playing, when their rest periods are and when they have time to do some technical work. Everything is geared towards staying physically and mentally fresh.
That’s why Rory plays only 18 to 20 times a season, split across the PGA Tour and European Tour. It may not seem like a lot – and it isn’t compared to the majority of players – but in his mind he’s giving himself more chances to win by trying to peak for every tournament he plays. Justin Rose got criticised for pulling out of the Wgc-bridgestone Invitational, but he was merely taking precautions to prevent a short-term injury turning into a long-term one.
There’s no doubting that players are pushing their bodies to the limit, and a lot of that is because of how relentless the schedule is. It’s going to get even worse next year when the PGA Tour season finishes early, just before the American football season starts. At the moment, they lose some of their audience during the Fedex Cup playoffs, so I can understand the reason behind moving everything forward. Nevertheless, it does mean that the WGCS, Rolex Series events and Majors will be grouped even closer together, which allows Rory & Co little time to reset and take stock.
It’s already become a big talking point on tour this season about how many pros are picking up injuries, and the danger is that it’s only going to get worse. Both tours have a duty of care to their members, but they also have sponsors to satisfy so it’s not as easy as removing tournaments from the calendar or spacing the bigger ones out across the year. Plus, most players like to use the winter as their off-season, and then the desert swing as their warm-up for the season ahead. Logistically, it’s a bit of a mess and does mean that between April and August next year, there will be a ‘big tournament’ almost every week across the European Tour and PGA Tours.
Players are now starting to realise that they need to become even more disciplined to prolong their careers and maximise their earnings potential. This may mean missing some of golf’s flagship events, simply because they need a rest, or want to peak for a Major. No one will want that, least of all the sponsors who rely on big-name players to bring in the big bucks. The fans are also likely to be left short-changed, and that doesn’t sit right with me or many players on Tour. A rethink is needed, and preferably before the schedule takes its toll on a big name and puts them on
the sidelines indefinitely.
‘IT’S ALREADY BECOME A BIG TALKING POINT ON TOUR THIS SEASON ABOUT HOW MANY PROS ARE PICKING UP INJURIES’
Tiger and many other players have recently been seen sporting KT tape.
Nick Dougherty is a three-time European Tour winner and now a presenter on Sky Sports’ golf coverage. Follow him on Twitter @Nickdougherty5 and Instagram @nickdougherty5