The GolfFit Chronicles, Week 4 & 5
Thursday, May 10, 2012
By Joe Logan

The FitGolf Chronicles, Week 4 & 5


Now, we’re really getting somewhere.


In my first three weekly sessions at FitGolf, physical therapist and owner David Ostrow concentrated on "releasing"  the major muscles in my hip and lower back.  In each case, Ostrow,  a large man with fingers and thumbs that could puncture a propane tank, spent 40 minutes or more working his fingers deeper and deeper into my tight and constricted muscles until they finally released.


It’s hard to describe the resulting sensation, other than to say you get up from his treatment table feeling like a rusty Tin Man who just got a couple of drops of oil in the right spots.  


During each session, Ostrow would explain why he was doing what he was doing, when he was doing it.   He likened the process of unlocking the new and more limber me to constructing a house.  Things have to be done in the proper, logical order.  You can’t build the roof until you’ve laid the foundation and erected the walls.  Four weeks in, we’re still laying foundation.


Which brings us to my hamstrings. With my hip and back muscles, I sort of knew they were tight and inflexible; it’s hard not to know that when your golf swing has devolved into mostly arms, without benefit of much shoulder and hip turn.


Eggs, no hammy


But my hamstrings are another story entirely.  I didn’t need Ostrow to tell me just how bad, how tight, they had become -- I could feel it myself.  For years, I’ve been trying to stretch my hammys, to little or no avail.  I’d work out at my neighborhood YMCA, where Jim, the PT guy, would get me down on my back and push of first one leg, then the other.  I’d cringe in pain and misery.


Until Ostrow enlightened me, one thing I didn’t realize about the sorry state of my hamstrings is that they affect so much else, up to and including my posture when I’m addressing a golf ball.  I’m 6-foot-1 and at address, I tend to slump over the golf ball.  My back, from hips to head, is not ramrod straight, as it should be.  But according to Ostrow, my poor posture wasn’t a back issue so much as a hamstring issue.  Get those puppies stretched out properly and my back would straighten.


Once I was on the treatment table, it didn’t take Ostrow long to determine that my left hammy was much tighter than my right.  On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst, my left hammy was a 6 or 7 on the tightness scale.  Lying on my back, he could only lift my left leg about 45 degrees off the table before I was crying, "Uncle."  Normal is about 90 degrees.



Ostrow rolled me over onto my stomach and went to work "releasing" my left hammy.


"It’s the tighter of the two, and it’s shorter," said Ostrow, as he worked.  "I envision it as knotted and bunched, like a wound up rubber band."


Four sessions


So important are the hamstrings to the golf swing that we will spend the next four sessions getting them released and stretched out:   An hour on the upper part of the left hammy, an hour next week on the lower part of the same muscle.  Then, two weeks on the right hamstring, upper and lower.


"What you have a job hazard," said Ostrow.  "I call it the executive disorder or executive dysfunction."


Like millions of golfers, I spend the bulk of my day sitting at a desk in front of a computer.  In the sitting position, your hamstrings are contracted by about three inches -- even more if you tuck one leg under the other.  This affliction isn’t confined to desk jockeys – same thing applies sales reps who spend all behind the wheel of a car.


The problem, said Ostrow, is that over time, you hamstrings comes to believe that the shortened position is the normal, relaxed position.  They adapt accordingly, becoming permanently shorter.  Ironically, in our quest to stretch the hamstrings, we can occasionally do more harm than good. 


"A lot of people stretch too hard, until it hurts," said Ostrow.  That, in turn, can activate what he calls the body’s "stretch reflexor."


"When we stretch too much, the body gives us pain to warn that you are going to strain the muscle," he said.  "The body’s reaction to that is to actually contract the muscle that is being overstretched."


Week 5


The following week, Ostrow was out of town on business, so my session was with his deputy, physical therapist John LaRue.  While Ostrow worked on my upper left hammy, LaRue worked lower down, closer to the back of the knee.


Midway through the session, as John was describing several ways in which a bum hamstring limits your mobility, he took a not-so-wild guess at a case in point: how he suspected I retrieve a golf ball from the bottom of the cup.


"I’d put money on it that one leg comes up, you bend your back down as much as you can, then give a little in the front knee as you reach down with your left hand," said John.  "Meanwhile, you’re learning on your putter with your right hand."


That is exactly how I fish a golf ball out of the cup.


In the days since, the work on my left hamstring has made more difference in my golf swing and, indeed, my non-golfing activities than anything so far.  I can bend over more easily.  It is a noticeable improvement.


This afternoon, we move to my right hamstring.  I look forward to it.



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There is a reason The Big Miss is No. 1
Thursday, May 3, 2012
By Joe Logan

I’ve just finished reading The Big Miss, Hank Haney’s revealing new book on his six years as Tiger Woods’ coach.   I know several people who didn’t like it, dismissed it and accused Haney of betraying Tiger; maybe so, but I couldn’t put it down.


Haney has come under some criticism for writing the book at all, even from fellow coaches Butch Harman and Rick Smith, who suggest PGA Tour swing coaches assume a vow of confidentiality, like a priest or any attorney.


On the other hand, The Big Miss is No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, a rare feat for a golf book.  That’s because it is the most intimate insider-look we are likely to get at one of the most dominant, remarkable figures in the history of sports.  Haney goes where no authorized biography of Tiger is ever going to go.


True, there were several anecdotes and stories that caused me to wince, agreeing that Haney had wandered in to territory that probably should have been off-limits.


To wit: Haney writing about what appeared to him to became a rather distant, cool, relationship with his then-wife, Elin, before the crack-up in his personal life.   Haney also writes that at dinners in the couple’s home, when Tiger would finish, he was up and outtathere.  It’s a small thing, but Haney even recalls one evening, when he and Tiger were watching a ballgame on TV together, when Tiger went to the kitchen and returned with a Popsicle for himself, never offering one to Hank.  That small slight stuck in Haney’s craw for years, seeming to perfectly illustrate Tiger’s self-absorption or narcissism.


The objection that many people, including me, have about Haney including some of those details is that he came by them as a result of being a frequent overnight guest in the Woods’ home.   Compared to the kind of knife-in-the-back recollections we get in the typical Washington or Hollywood tell-all memoirs, Haney’s stories are tame.


Who can blame Tiger for feeling his privacy has been invaded by a man he called a friend.  But let’s be honest: Nothing Haney reveals about Tiger or his marriage is nearly as devastatingly revealing as Tiger’s own self-destructive behavior.


Actually, whether Haney and Tiger were "friends" or not is very much a running theme throughout The Big Miss.  Tiger called Haney a friend, and Haney certainly wanted to be his friend, but in the end, he wonders whether Tiger is even capable of true and deep friendships.


Much of the book details what Haney believes is the impenetrable bubble Tiger has constructed around himself.  Tiger knows everybody, and he is cordial with plenty of people, often referring to them as "friends." But in his time around Tiger, Haney observes little of what he considers genuine friendship.


From Haney’s vantage point, Tiger was never really close to famous athletes like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley.  And when Tiger’s personal life exploded, he even shut out the few guys who thought they were true confidants, like Mark O’Meara and John Cook.  Haney knew he certainly was no intimate confidant.  The only two people Tiger seemed close to were his agent, Mark Steinberg, and a neighborhood high school kid he played practice rounds with at Isleworth, Corey Carroll.


Much of what I liked about the book is that it confirms so many suspicions we all had about Tiger:  That the expectations heaped on him and strain of being Tiger Woods weighed on him much more heavily than he ever let on; that even at his peak, in 2000-2002, Tiger had much more self-doubt than we knew; that despite his protestations to the contrary, Tiger knew exactly what people (and the media) were saying and writing about him; that Tiger can be an aloof, remote, cold-hearted bastard, even to the handful of people seemingly closest to him.


Haney doesn’t knock Tiger off his pedestal The Big MissTiger had already done that to himself.  But Haney does give us plenty of insider information and evidence to show that Tiger was, and is, just another flawed human being, albeit one with nearly superhuman ability and determination.


As Haney has pointed out time and again, most of the book is quite positive about Tiger.  Haney regards Tiger as the greatest player who ever lived, even if he doesn’t break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.  Haney is flat-out in awe of Tiger.  He finally just decided that the pressure of being Tiger’s coach and the indignities of dealing with his mood swings, was sucking the life out of him.

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The growing chill between Tiger and media
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
By Joe Logan

Not to make too much of the Q&A video with fans that Tiger Woods has posted on his official website, but I don’t think it’s good news for golf or for golf fans.


Never mind that the 15-minute, 19-question video is b-o-r-i-n-g. More concerning, it is further evidence of a growing chill between Tiger and the media and his desire insulate to himself from nosey scribes with pesky, embarrassing questions.


A little background.  At most tournaments -- all majors and anywhere he is defending champion -- Tiger goes to the media center for a 30-minute pre-tournament sit-down with the assembled media.


Lord knows those interviews can be boring, too, often full of softball questions or rambling non-answers from Tiger.  Tiger, after all, has never been one to spill his guts about anything.  In fact, if you read Hank Haney’s book, The Big Miss, Haney confirms that Tiger derives much mystique and power over other opponents by revealing nothing, letting no one inside his head.


But since his personal life crack-up, Tiger’s cordial but arm’s-length relationship with the media has deteriorated to the point of open hostility.  Monday, at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, Tiger declined to do the usual press conference and instead posted a video on his website of himself answering fan questions.


What’s wrong with that?  Nothing, per se.  I have read a few blogs by people who think the media is getting its comeuppance and deserves the stiff-arm from Tiger.  I won’t argue that point one way or the other.


What I will argue is that if this is what we are going to get from Tiger from now on, he might as well go into exile.  Did you get a load of the questions he hand-picked to answer on the video? 


-- What have you been working on since the Masters?


-- Which is your favorite trophy of the four majors?


Bottom line, if Tiger adopts a new communications policy of going straight to the fans, avoiding the media whenever possible, allowing only softball questions to penetrate his personal space, no nobody benefits. 


Tiger might think he does, but he doesn’t.  What’s good for golf and good for Tiger is him being compelling.  That fan video he posted is not compelling.

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David Ostrow 
The FitGolf Chronicles, Week 3
Monday, April 23, 2012
By Joe Logan

FitGolf Chronicles, Week 3


Last week at FitGolf in Conshohocken, physical therapist David Ostrow released the Iliascus muscle on the front of my pelvis.  This week, to "release" the corresponding muscle in my lower back, he flipped me over onto my stomach and went to work on my left quadratus lumborum.


The quadratus lumborum, which resembles a flank steak, wraps along the side of your back, between the 12th and 11th ribs.  When it become tight and contracted over time, as my has, it contributes to the asymmetry of my entire body, with my left shoulder being lower than it should be and my left hip being higher than it should be.


The resulting affect on the golf swing is that the rotation on my back swing is restricted.  No turn, no torque.  No torque, no distance.


After a few minutes of working on the muscle, Ostrow had me roll over onto my right side, whereupon he gripped my left pelvis with his left hand and the bottom of my rib cage with his right hand – and then me began to pull them apart, stretching my entire left side.


"We are releasing the back muscle," he told me. It didn’t hurt but it was not altogether pleasant, either.


Afterwards, Ostrow took me out into the main studio to show me a side-stretch exercise for the coming week.  After he demonstrated, I tried it.  It felt good – rather, it felt good for me.  I won’t mind doing it all week.

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Iliacus muscle 
The FitGolf Chronicles: Week 2
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
By Joe Logan

The FitGolf Chronicles, Week 2


With my swing and my body fully evaluated at FitGolf in Conshohocken in Week 1, it was time for David Ostrow and me to get down to work.  The goal in the coming weeks being to improve my flexibility and range of motion, both of which have more or less ossified over time. 


In Ostrow’s judgment, the place to start was pretty much a no-brainer: my hip flexor.


In laymen’s terms, the hip flexor is the group of muscles around the hip and pelvic area that control the rotation and movement of your hips.  In my case, my right side is okay.  It’s my left hip and pelvis that are tight to the point that I can’t rotate properly when I swing a golf club; it’s bad enough, in fact, that when I walk long distances, I tend to limp slightly or almost waddle because my left side won’t turn and flex as it should.


"We’re in the Keystone state and I think of the pelvis as almost being the keystone area of the body," said Ostrow.  "It unlocks a lot."



Digging in the Iliacus


Key to addressing my hip flexor was "releasing" my Iliacus muscle, a teardrop-shaped affair that attaches to the hip by a tendon, then heads north before fanning out and attaching across the upper rim of the pelvis.  It helps pull your leg forward when you walk.


To work on it, Ostrow had me lay face-up on his examining table and he began working the fingertips of his right hand into the Iliacus muscle.  He pressed firmly and steadily with his fingertips without really messaging the area; it didn’t hurt but it was mildly uncomfortable.


Ostrow likened what he was doing to pressing on skin of an onion until that outer layer began soften; then he worked his fingertips in a little deeper, until the next layer of the onion, or my Iliacus muscle, was soft.  Ostrow would continue working his fingertips until the Iliacus eventually, almost magically, released.


In some people, this process takes five minutes, said Ostrow; in others it takes three hours.   My Iliacus took about 30 minutes to release, which is about average -- and there was, as always, a warning.


"When the muscle is about to release, my fingertips get warm to the touch," said Ostrow, holding out his hand for a moment for me to feel his fingertips.  Sure enough, they were warm.  He returned to his work and within a few moments, done.


"When it releases, some people say they feel ‘light,"  said Ostrow. "Some say ‘looser."  Some say ‘softer.""


When I stood, I too could feel a difference.  My left hip felt, I don’t know, looser, freer.  When I took a few steps, my left hip felt like it was moving better.


My asymmetry


The point in dealing with my hip flexor first was to begin to deal with what Ostrow called the "asymmetry" of my entire body.  Because my hip muscles on left side were so tight and contracted, it actually made my left leg slightly shorter, which has all kinds of ramifications on other muscles in your midsection, not to mention your golf swing.


Out in the studio, Ostrow assigned me an exercise to do at home every day for five minutes to keep the hip flexor loose.  Basically, I lie across a giant rubber ball, with my left hip muscles stretched out.  I’ve done it almost every day and, while it doesn’t hurt, I do find myself watching the minutes and seconds bleed off the clock until I can quit.



Seriously, my what is shorter?


As our second session was concluding, Ostrow told me what we’d tackle next week; frankly, it sounded a little creepy:  For reasons he cannot explain, the muscles up and down the left side of my upper torso have tightened and shrunk to the point that my left shoulder is slightly lower than my right shoulder, and my left hip is slightly higher than my right, truncating the area between my left shoulder and left hip.


While it sounds bizarre, Ostrow said that upwards of 90 percent of people have this same phenomenon to some degree.   It can happen on the left side or the right side, and there is no apparent explanation for which side it happens to.  The fact that I am left-handed has nothing to do with the asymmetry affecting my left side, said Ostrow.


What especially surprised me was that I had never noticed any of this until Ostrow had me standing in front of a wall full of mirrors examining my reflection.  Sure enough, my left shoulder is perceptively lower than my might.



The golf test


Nothing puts Ostrow’s work to the test more than playing a round of golf.  I did that three days after our session, on Saturday, monitoring my body at every step.


While my score didn’t drop dramatically – at all, really -- I could definitely feel difference in my left hip.  I walked better, more loosely, and at least in my head, I imagined a slight improvement in my hip rotation when I swung.

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Masters...A few final thoughts
Monday, April 9, 2012
By Joe Logan

A few final thoughts and observations from the 2012 Masters...


  Bubba Watson’s recovery shot from out of the woods on the 10th – the second playoff hole – is an instant classic that will join the Masters all-time highlight reel, along with Tiger Woods’ slow-mo chip-in at the 16th (In your life...!) and Phil Mickelson’s 6-iron at the 13th, from off the pine straw and behind the tree.


• Speaking of Phil, what the ----? 


Okay, that sprayed tree shot at the 4th on Sunday was understandable given the pressure of the moment.  But the decision to try to chop it out of the bushes right-handed, not once but twice?


It was enough to make me revisit my Masters predictions post from a few days ago.  To wit:


I like Phil Mickelson, and he is a true Masters stud, but Phil seems to have lost half a step at 41.  I’ve also found myself questioning Phil’s thought processes ever since he started wearing those too-tight shirts with the weird collars.  Any man who can stand in front of a mirror wearing one of those shirts and think he’s good to go, can no longer be trusted to make completely sound decisions on the back nine at Augusta on Sunday.


Granted, the shirt wasn’t too tight, but my comments about trusting Phil to make sound decisions turned out to be spot on.


• Don’t even get me started on Tiger.  Just when you think he’s back, nah, he’s not.  How can somebody play like he did two weeks ago at Bay Hill, then collapse like a Walmart pup tent at Augusta – a course and tournament he has owned to the tune of four green jackets.


And the guy somehow managed to tarnish his tarnished image even worse by dropping a very audible G—damn bomb on the 13th on Saturday.  Kicking the club at the 16th was what you’d expect from a spoiled 14-year-old.  He embarrassed himself.


• On the issue of Augusta National GC remaining all-male, I’ve got to say I missed the call this time.  I thought they’d embrace Ginny Rometty, the new CEO of IBM.


Why?  Because Billy Payne, the current chairman of Augusta National, is a man of these modern times.  He understands how it appears to the outside world to have a club that purports to be a symbol of promoting and advancing the game to allow to itself to be such blatant symbol of a bygone era.


I know it’s a private club and they can do what they want, invite who they want, create what ever little world they want.  But to what end? And at what cost to the reputation to the club?


It was one thing back when Martha Burk, feminist activist, wanted former chairman Hootie Johnson to induct a woman member, any woman, just to make a point.  This time, it’s almost like a personal snub of a particular woman – an important, success corporate titan of a woman.  You’d think IBM would be pissed off for her.


• This whole "patrons" thing has suddenly started to bug me.  I wince and squirm a little every time I hear one of the CBS guys, and now even the players, assiduously refer to the gallery, the fans, the spectators as "patrons."


C’mom, is "patron" a higher grade of spectator?  The patrons seem to wear the same goofy hats and holler the same dopey lines, like You da man, Tiger!!!


The whole idea is so...artificial and transparent.


• What I really want to know after Sunday is what happened to that "patron" who got nailed by Peter Hanson’s errant drive at the 8th hole.  I can’t find anything anywhere, not even in the Augusta Chronicle. If you missed it, here it is:

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Steve[4/10/2012 6:07:35 AM]
This "patron" nonsense is absurd. Everyone involved kowtows to the Green Jackets. What would really happen if Jim Nantz let go and said "galleries" instead?

Uh, never mind
Friday, April 6, 2012
By Joe Logan

Okay, can I unpick Tiger?


I don’t know what I was thinking.


Talk about an exercise in dumbassery.


Did he really throw a tantrum and kick his club at  the 16th?


I think I’ve got more confidence in my swing.


Somewhere, Hank Haney can’t wipe the smug grin off his face – and he earned it.


Do you suppose Tiger is not aware that people watching him?  Or does he just not care?


For the weekend, I’m now officially rooting for Freddie.

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