Interview with Cornel Driessen – Golf and Fitness

All Square talks to Cornel Driessen – Trainer & Physiotherapist working with the likes of Jason Day during his 51 weeks reign as world number 1 and Henrik Stenson who became the world’s number 2 golfer and held a spot in the world’s top 10 for more than 300 weeks. Cornel has taken a break from traveling on the golf circuit with the Pro’s to be with his family.

His clients list includes names like Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Webb Simpson who have more than 40 PGA Tour and European Tour wins combined and boasts four first time major winners and two Players Championships.

What stretches are good before teeing off?

There are always two main aspects to consider for any exercise or stretch you want to do regardless of the sport… avoiding injury and improving performance.

Before doing stretches, the best preparation for golf would be to do “active warm up” movements first, these activate muscle “firing patterns”, increases blood flow and “lubricates” joints to prepare for performance. Following that, Pre-Golf stretches should always be the dynamic kind, not the traditional static “hold” stretches of 10 seconds or longer, (would “switch” off the muscles which would result in a decrease in power and speed). Dynamic stretches are held repeatedly for 2 seconds and then released for 2 seconds in between. A good start would be to do those 8-10 x per muscle group that needs more mobility. Everyone’s bodies and swings are different and need different areas stretched and activated but there are some important exercises and stretches that would make a positive impact on any golfer regardless of skill, age or gender…

Webb Simpson and Cornel Driessen after winning The Players Championship.

The two most important muscle groups in my opinion for both professional golfers, all aspiring youth and the “weekend warriors” would be the Hip Flexors (front of the hips) and Gluteus complex (buttocks and side hips).

Good mobility in your hip flexors (Ilio-Psoas group) allows you to post well, takes strain off your lower back and allows for a better posture in transition and follow through. Flexibility in your Gluteus complex (Gluteus maximus/buttocks; Gluteus medius &minimus/side buttocks; and “deeps 6 hip rotators”)  allows for a better turn, better control in hip acceleration and deceleration and therefore also more power and consistency in your swing. Stiff “Glutes” can also regularly be the main culprit causing lower back pain or injury in golf. 

What are the most common mistakes people make when working out?

Going straight to the gym and randomly lifting weights could be one of the biggest mistake any golfer could make. Unfortunately this is very common in youth and especially some very talented young aspiring golfers with their eyes on turning pro. You are more likely to injure yourself, or decrease your golf performance this way. Heavy weights in gym are not necessarily wrong for golf and you may see some of the pro’s doing amazing lifts on social media, but you must remember their bodies have been evaluated, conditioned and prepared for those over a long period of time and it is definitely not just a random routine. It fits in with a whole program of conditioning, core strength and flexibility first before they start training for power. 

Even for my professional players, none of them has the same routine, performs the same lifts or weights or have the same programs at all. I strongly recommend that anyone who really wants to improve their golf fitness, first consult with a specialist who can evaluate your flexibility and stability, then design and teach you specific exercises or stretches that suit the goals for your golf.

If you don’t want to go to that level or extent, a good general school of exercise for golf would be a combination of Yoga for flexibility and Pilates/ core exercises with good form.

What are the most important aspects of a golfer’s fitness?

Standing above so many other important aspects one could consider, having enough flexibility (range of motion in each segment of your body) and stability (strength to control and coordinate the movement you have).These two aspects would allow avoiding injury and have the biggest influence in a better score card at the end of the day.

Here’s a good illustration I like to use explaining this:
What would happen if you placed a powerful canon on a little canoe and then fire it? It will most surely sink the canoe if it doesn’t first rip it apart before doing so. That is because the canoe just doesn’t have the level of stability to provide the base for the canon’s power. Just so, in doing for example power exercises before you have established good core stability strength and range of motion would be a waste of time, increase your risk of injury, and most likely decrease your control of the ball and your scoring would go in the wrong direction. 

Another example could be a technical drill your coach might prescribe to improve your swing, but not being able to do it might also frustrate you and you might think “you’re just not good enough to get it”, after trying them for a while you might even give up?! Well, it might very well be that you do have a simple physical restriction in flexibility or core strength control. So the real root of the problem can easily be fixed with simple core exercises and stretches! It’s almost like asking a good engineer to execute a project but denying him any tools that he need to do so.

On the technical side, a high priority should be fitness to have the mobility and core stability to turn properly. Learning to turn correctly is arguably the most important factor for a good swing and that also protects your body from injury. The  more control and rotation you have from your lower body and hips, spine that also allow for a good shoulder turn, the more you’ll be able to consistently control the club, face & ultimately the ball. Then only one should focus on increasing  explosive power and club head speed. This requires a good range of motion, especially in your mid-back area and your hips. Once you have movement and control of these areas, then you can add the power.

What are the most common golf injuries?

I won’t bore the readers with the medical terms, but there is a very high incidence of lower back, neck and wrist injuries. It’s also common to see Hip and knee injuries of more of a degenerative nature. Less frequent would be the odd ankle ligament sprains, foot and toes.

How can I avoid injuries?

Building on previous answers, the key is enough movement, function and control. Stay within your limits, don’t swing harder than you can control and listen to your body, if there’s pain, it’s telling you to stop! Don’t just numb it with “anti-inflammatory” or “pain killer” drugs.

It helps to understand that each segment of the body has limits on what it’s designed to do. If a certain part is not functioning properly, and you continue swinging away or ignore pain, another segment or part of the body would “compensate” and you can develop a more serious injury from this. Unfortunately this happens on pro level also a lot. Take for example again if you had a lack of movement (mobility) in your hips or mid spine (T-Spine), you would most likely force your lower back to do more of the movement in the swing than it’s structure is designed to do, therefore resulting in some things like lower back disc lesions or lower back facet joint compression injuries.

To give some simple general “go to” tips for all golfers that could be preventing most of the common golf injuries I’d have to single out keeping your hips and T spine loose and creating and maintaining good core, hips and shoulder girdle strength.
Good mid back mobility (T-spine) (here a foam roller could be key and look for T Spine mobility exercises.
Good Hip mobility (this includes the hip flexors, Glute complex en especially doing mobility exercises for hip internal and external rotation.
Also do a lot of one-legged balance exercises.
For “core” focus on cross over functional patterns for your abs and back extensors and gluteus. Side planks are really important too.

How do I find the perfect gym routine?

I first have to say that a gym routine is a very good tool and does play a part to help improve golf specific strength, but it must be applied in context and serve your specific goals. The bulk of things important for golf fitness can be done without weights. If you take the total time spent on golf fitness by most elite pros there’s a lot of unloaded movement patterns for mobility and stability going on as well! With a few functional tools like a foam roller, elastic bands, a stability ball and a balance pad you can get a lot done, so “the gym” is not the all in all when it comes to golf fitness and performance.

The best way to go about this is to search for a golf fitness professional in your area and have an evaluation done and get a fitness routine from such a person. A very good world wide certification standard for golf fitness professionals would be Titleist Performance Institute’s certification…“TPI-certified”. 
If this is not an option for you, a combination of yoga and pilates, and core exercises would be the way to go if you don’t have a specific strengthening and conditioning program. 

There could be benefit (at least partially) to follow “blueprint” golf fitness routines you can get on line, this would certainly be better than just randomly going to the gym.Bottom line is -if you are not sure, rather get professional help.

How can I feel strong and athletic before and during my round of golf?

I always say to my pro’s “when the time to perform comes, the time to prepare is in the past”. It’s the sum total of the things you do before you play the round that has the biggest influence during. A list of main factors for this to be in place is:

A big “buzz word” word in golf performance is “RECOVERY”. In depth, this could be a very sophisticated subject with cutting edge research and exercise science technology protocols and nutritional supplements, we use to “optimise” recovery, hormonal levels and physical performance. But at the root and basis of all of that stuff is simply basic sleep, exercise and nutrition.One thing I’ve seen over and over is the incredible importance of good sleep, if you don’t fix sleep problems, all other high-end work could be futile down the line.

For anybody who wants to play good golf, as much as taking care of your equipment, coaching and your game is of importance to you, don’t neglect good recovery (sleep) and nutrition.

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Antonio Lafranchi
Antonio Lafranchi
2 years ago

A simple : many thanks for sharing your knowledge, particularly as we are “confinés” … but preparing a nice come back, hopefully soon. Thanks a lot.

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